College Search 101
Division of Play
To understand the pathway to college, it’s important to first define the college soccer landscape. What are the different divisions of play, and what makes them unique?
In the US, broadly there are five different divisions of play. Those are NCAA Division 1, 2 & 3, NAIA and NJCAA levels of competition.
There are over 1000 collegiate soccer programs on both the Men’s and Women’s sides. So how do you go about finding the school that’s meant for you? There are a number of key factors that student-athletes might use in order to find colleges that meet their needs. Here are some of the most important.
- Location – Do you want to attend a school that’s close to home, or perhaps to experience a different part of the country? Narrowing down schools of interest by location can be a great place to start.
- Size of the School – Do you want to attend a big school or a small school? Can you learn in an environment where there are hundreds of students in a class (big school) or do you prefer smaller class sizes? Do you want to experience all that might come with a big school (football, basketball, social activities, etc) or do those things not interest you? Would you rather be a part of a small community where you have the opportunity to really connect with your professors and the community as a whole?
- Academic Programs of Interest -Do you have a sense of what you might want to study? Does the school offer the major/minor and academic programs you might be interested in?
- Culture of the School – each college or university has its own distinct feel. Some schools are huge with a lively social scene (fraternities and sororities). Others are small and perhaps religious, with a certain faith forming the backbone of many student’s worldview. How important is the school’s culture in your college search? Is there a certain campus vibe that you are looking for?
- Cost of school – the cost of a school is an essential factor in the college search process. Having an open dialogue about what your family can afford, and then targeting schools in the appropriate ballpark range is smart. It’s important to note that there are not many athletic scholarships for soccer players and often times families will have some costs to cover to send their son/daughter to college. Make sure the schools you are considering make sense from a financial perspective.
Check out the following link to explore schools using a variety of different criteria: https://bigfuture.collegeboard.org/college-search
Academics play a critical role in the college recruiting process. College coaches are looking for student-athletes and must feel confident the player they are recruiting will be able to handle the academic demands of college. To put it simply, the better a student-athletes grades, the more options that will be available to them.
Here are some key factors to consider when it comes to the books.
GPA: A student’s GPA is the most important academic factor in the recruiting process. Colleges want to see what student’s have done over a long period of time, as it gives some indication as to how they will perform in college. For more insights on the GPA & recruiting, check out the following blog:
Course Rigor: Your course rigor counts!
Almost as important as your GPA, are the classes you take during high school. Colleges will consider your course schedule otherwise known as your “course rigor” by looking at your school profile.If they see that you have taken the easy route, meaning that you have consistently opted for less challenging classes, that probably won’t work in your favor.
Standardized tests are another important academic factor in the college recruiting process. While a student’s GPA and Course Rigor carry the most weight, the SAT/ACT are important. Colleges will typically accept either the SAT or the ACT. From a recruiting perspective it may make sense to take the test earlier in your junior year in order to determine a baseline score. Note that each school is different. More selective colleges will often require SAT subject tests, and at other schools standardized tests are not required at all. Check out the link below for a list of subject tests and requirements at various schools. A link to schools which are “test optional” is also there.
Meet the Requirements
If you want to play NCAA D1, D2 or NAIA level athletics you must minimum academic requirements. NCAA D1/D2 schools require students to complete a minimum of 16 core courses during their high school career. This is known as the “Core Course requirement.” NCAA schools also require student’s to meet the “Sliding Scale” requirement. The higher your GPA, the lower your tests scores need to be and vice versa. Students must also maintain a 2.3 GPA (or higher) and graduate from high school. For some helpful information on NCAA Eligibility check out this link. The NAIA has its own (more simple) list of eligibility requirements which can be found here.
There are limited athletic scholarships in Men’s & Women’s College Soccer. A fully funded Division 1 Men’s Program has 9.9 scholarships available. A fully funded Women’s program has 14 scholarships available. When you consider the average roster size of a college program is around 28 players, you realize that there isn’t enough scholarship money to cover an entire team. Coaches are also allowed to split the money up, offering varying levels of athletic scholarship dollars to various members of the program, but competition for these dollars is very stiff. The following link provides useful soccer specific athletic scholarship information and stats for schools at each level of competition. http://www.scholarshipstats.com/soccer.html
Academic scholarships are more plentiful, and provide another reason for students to focus heavily on the books. If a student’s GPA and/or test scores are in good place, they may qualify for an academic scholarship. Depending on the school, it may be possible for the coach to combine this academic scholarship money with other forms of aid (athletic, need-based, etc). Furthermore coaches know that student-athletes with good grades are likely to continue that strong academic performance in college.
Need based financial aid may also be available for families, as well certain types of grants & loans. Families should become familiar with various schools Net Price Calculator in order to get a sense for what the cost of that school might look like for the family. Federal Aid is determined by the FAFSA form, which families can fill out in the fall of a student’s senior year. The following links provide some helpful information families seeking more information on paying for college and available scholarships.
The college soccer recruiting process is largely a “proactive” endeavor as opposed to a “reactive one.” College soccer coaches have limited budgets to search the country for the best and brightest and so it’s in the best interest of student-athletes to reach out to college coaches directly to hopefully begin a conversation.
Student-Athletes can begin a correspondence with college coaches as early as their freshman year. Email is the best way to communicate and students should be personalized and specific when letting coaches know why they are interested in their program. Students should include their graduation year, GPA, club team, positions on the field and a brief summary of their athletic experience. A Player Profile is also an important component so that the coach can get a feel for the student’s background along with coach references. NCAA rules prohibit D1 & D2 coaches from substantial correspondence with freshman and sophomores but they can send prospects a questionnaire or college ID camp information. So it’s in the best interest of student-athletes to communicate early in high school and to be persistent throughout their high school career. A sample introductory email can be found here.
Video has become an increasingly important component in the recruiting process. It’s very common for coaches to request video at some point in the dialogue with student-athletes. While it’s rare that a coach will recruit a player based on video alone, a well thought out video can go a long way in peeking their interest. Check out the following link for some helpful tips on video. https://pgmethod.wordpress.com/2012/12/
College coaches look for talented student-athletes in a number of places. High-level tournaments such as the Shattuck St. Mary's Showcase (Boys and Girls) where elite teams go to compete is one of the most common places to find scouts. Generally, college coaches can be found in places where they can see very good players competing against each another.
College ID camps have become commonplace in recent years, with schools at every level offering prospective student-athletes the chance to be seen. It’s best to attend camps being held by schools of interest and better yet, at schools where the coach has given some indication they would like you to attend. Showing up to an ID camp of nowhere and hoping the coach will identify you isn’t the best strategy. The following links provide valuable insights on ID camps.
What are coaches looking for?
In addition to talent and good grades, college coaches are looking for good people. They want to find kids that will not only come into their program and help them win games, but student-athletes who will contribute to the culture of their program and University. It’s very common for college coaches to check in with a club coach during the recruiting process to find out more information on a student-athlete, and often times this conversation has little to do with soccer. They want to learn about the student’s personality, work-rate and habits off the field. It’s vital that student-athletes conduct themselves in a professional manner. Coaches are looking for responsible young adults!
As social media becomes more integrated into our daily lives, it’s important that student-athletes present themselves in a positive light. If there are questionable pictures, posts, content on a student’s social media page, that may result in the coach losing interest in that prospect. Be smart about what you post! It will be out there for the world to see.
Have questions about the college process or recruiting?
Please contact Dale Weiler - SDYSA Technical Director - firstname.lastname@example.org