5 Tips to Finding the Right College Match for the Student-Athlete

ImageI’ve begun casual conversations with my daughter about her future.  It’s time.  She’s ending her sophomore year and the next 15 months can be overwhelming for any parent, let alone a 16 year old.  Because she’s the baby, and my middle one is graduating leaving the house in a few months, it’s terribly emotional, and I’d love to somehow pretend the whole process is not happening and put off college decisions for the third time, but it’s time!  If we don’t have light, enjoyable discussions about her college plans. that keep communication open and moving, it can get intense if left until crunch time.  There’s just too much to consider and it’s too overwhelming, even without adding high emotions due to time pressure and panic. I’ve found that an attitude of exploration, adventure and casual discussion with time to process works best.  Take the entire 15-18 months to wade through tons of information so that you’re down to 3-5 choices before they begin their senior year.  College visits occur in September and October and early signing happens in November.  The important thing is to find the best match in 5 particular areas among your college choices.

Here are 5 factors that will help sort through colleges and help you and your child find the right college match:

 

  1. ACADEMIC:  Explore career paths and interests, identify schools offering courses and major to match.  Often it’s much easier to change majors at a larger school, so if undecided, identify the biggest school that your child would feel comfortable attending to give them the widest choices.  When school choices are narrowed down, find out the GPA of the teams and graduation rate.  You can find how their job placement is too.  Clarify the balance of academics and athletics and how valued each is at the school.  Often the culture of the school reflects that balance.  It’s also smart to ask what academic support is offered for student-athletes.
  2. ATHLETIC Focus: It’s important to recognize what your child’s athletic goal in college will be; are they looking to have their sport just be a ticket to get accepted to a dream school, or do they want a college team experience, to compete at the NCAA championship level, or want to develop beyond school and compete nationally or professionally?  Ask about school/team/coach goals and ensure an intensity match.  High expectations are attached to scholarships and pressure to perform must be shared with an athlete’s personal desire to excel.  Compare roster size with those who travel and compete.  Your child will need to decide if it’s important to go to the biggest school, to say that they are going to the biggest school even if they never get to compete, or are a team superstar at another school.
  3. COACH: As you go through your child’s junior year, getting to speak with coaches is important.  They may not contact your child, but you can initiate a call or email to ask questions.  As soon as coaches are permitted to speak to your child, do so.  Also encourage them to engage with athletes on the team to ask questions about the coach.  Try to discover the coach’s style of coaching, find if there’s a natural, easy personality connection, what their expectations of athletes are, how long they’ve been at the school and their 5 year plans.  The school’s reputation in a sport has more to do with the coach.  Dynasty’s can be traced to specific coaches.  Look for the right coach over the athletic reputation of the school, especially if the current coach has been there less than 5 years and is building a program.  You want someone who clicks and can bring out the best in your child and who wants to help your child achieve their goals to be the best match.
  4. PROGRAM:  Ask questions about team training.  Do they build athleticism, functional development that is sport specific?  Do athletes improve there?  How many move on to national or professional play?  Are records or championships current or all set in a prior era, under another coach?  What’s the team culture?  Is it more social or are the athletes committed and focused on excelling?  Does the college support the team or are athletic programs in jeopardy of being cut?
  5. SCHOLARSHIP:  Coaches who have scholarships to offer will do so, but it doesn’t hurt to ask what it takes for an athlete to get one at the schools in which your child is interested.  It’s not hard to get a feel for the level of athletes on the current team and size up whether your child would fit in as a contributor.  Understand that accepting a scholarship, especially at the D1 level, is somewhat like being hired for a job and performance is expected.  D3 schools can’t give athletic scholarships, but have scholarship and financial aid packages they create that actually could be more generous than D1 schools have to offer.  Consider the debt load your child will carry post-graduation and make sure they don’t start life in a pit of debt right out of the gate.  

If you have any questions, ask away…  I may not have the answers, but have some interesting perspectives on how to navigate the recruiting process.  My son played baseball with most of his Bucknell University cost covered (Patriot League schools have unique scholarship rules) and daughter will attend Cal-Berkeley on a full scholarship in the fall.  My youngest just began receiving her first pieces of mail and emails and so begins her recruiting season.

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