By Laurie Richter
While many athletes wait until junior year to start their college search in earnest, sophomore year is the ideal time to start because an athlete who wants to be recruited for college sports has a much more complicated search than the non-athlete.
A handful of high school athletes will be playing at the varsity level in their sophomore year, but most won’t, especially if they attend large high schools. If you’re not playing varsity yet, don’t let that deter you from researching which colleges are the right fit for you as an athlete. Sending college coaches your stats and videotape from varsity competitions will be important next year, but that’s getting ahead of the game. At this point, you should be doing preliminary research so you can figure out which schools you want to target.
Here are five things you should start doing as a sophomore:
1. Get an accurate assessment of your skill level.
You will save a tremendous amount of time and preserve your self-esteem if you aim yourself correctly when you start to contact college coaches. Too often, kids aim too high and are disappointed when coaches pass them over. Worse, if they wait too long to figure out that they are aiming too high, they may end up with nothing.
Talk to your high school coach, club team coach, and other kids or parents of kids who have been through the recruiting process. They can give you a better idea of where you might fit. It’s also helpful to look at the track record of athletes from your high school who have gone on to play in college. What level are they playing at? How many have gone on? How would you compare your skills to their skills?
2. Research colleges and athletic programs online.
There are 1700 colleges between the NCAA, NAIA, and NJCAA (junior colleges). Use some of the college search programs such as www.Petersons.com or www.collegeboard.com to start narrowing down to a list of 30-50 that you want to research further. Start your search by putting athletics aside for a moment. Consider the academic requirements, if they have your intended major, the size and location, the type of campus atmosphere, and the cost.
When you find a school you like, go to their website, link to your sport, and take a look around. You can learn a lot by looking at the characteristics of the other players on the roster. Look at their size. For many sports, your ability to participate at a given level will be dependent on your size. Look at their high school history. You’ll know if you’re in the same league. If you’re looking at a team with kids who were all-state and you’re not playing varsity as a sophomore, keep looking. Blue chip, elite athletes are typically playing varsity at least three and possibly all four years of high school.
Make sure you consider schools that you might not be familiar with, especially if they have good programs for your academic area of interest, and good athletic programs for your sport. Student athletes often limit themselves to schools they are familiar with and their list gets very small, very quickly.
3. Continue competing on club, travel, or AAU teams.
Hopefully you are already doing this. If not, now is definitely the time to start. You will get the majority of your exposure to college coaches through these kinds of teams. If you are already playing on one of these teams as a sophomore , you will be a known quantity. You will probably have an easier time getting one of the coveted spots on this team for the all-important season between junior and senior year, than the kid who is showing up for the first time.
Football is a different animal because it doesn’t have these kinds of off-season teams. With football, you will have to pursue combines. Choose them carefully. Some will be beneficial to the recruiting process and others will only be beneficial to the wallets of the people who put them on.
Regardless of sport, try to participate in showcase events and summer camps. Again, the more important year is the following year, but by participating now, you will know what to expect, and you may catch the eye of coaches who will follow your development and look a lot more closely the following year.
4. Visit some colleges if the opportunity presents itself.
Before you start choosing specific schools to evaluate, you need to know some basics about the kind of college campus and experience you will be most comfortable with.
Big or small?
Urban, suburban, or rural?
What kind of campus atmosphere?
What are the students like?
Even if they are not schools you would necessarily be interested in, wander onto college campuses near your home or when you’re on family vacations. You will learn a lot about what you do and don’t like and that will make the process of developing your initial list that much easier.
5 And if you do nothing else, keep up your grades.
There are lots of talented athletes that don’t have the grades to gain admissions into the more selective colleges. If you keep your grades up, you will have access to sports programs that more talented athletes won’t have the grades for. If your freshman grades weren’t great, now is the time to bring up your grade point average. It’s almost impossible to improve your gpa as a junior if you have two years of bad grades in high school.
Laurie Richter is the author of the book ‘Put Me In Coach, A Parent’s Guide to Winning the Game of College Recruiting’, a resource that helps parents and student athletes understand the recruiting process and work towards their dream of a college sports scholarship. Her invaluable book is available now from Amazon.