Playing sports at the college level can be very rewarding, but being recognized and recruited can be a difficult process. The majority of college sports are governed by the NCAA, The National Collegiate Athletic Association. If you are interested in competing at the collegiate level you will need to determine what level of competition is realistic for you.
Currently, the NCAA governs 23 sports: Football, Basketball, Cross Country, Field Hockey, Soccer, Water Polo, Bowling, Fencing, Gymnastics, Rifle, Volleyball, Skiing, Ice Hockey, Swimming and Diving, Wrestling, Track and Field, Indoor Track and Field, Baseball, Softball, Rowing, Lacrosse, Tennis, and Golf. There are additional sports universities will recruit for not governed by the NCAA: Men’s Rowing, Sailing and Squash.
Not all universities support all these sports so it is important to research schools you are interested in to determine if they offer the sport.
The NCAA categorizes universities into three Divisions: I, II and III. The distinction is essentially based on the number of sports each university supports. Division I and II schools are allowed to offer athletic scholarships. Division III schools are not allowed to offer athletic scholarships. Ivy League schools are also not allowed to provide athletic scholarships, but compete at the Division I level.
Athletic scholarships can pay some or all costs associated with attending a university depending on sport and Division. To earn an athletic scholarship, prospective student-athletes go through a recruiting process. The process can start as early as 7th or 8th grade for some sports, but typically occurs during high school.
Each sport has different regulations governing the recruiting process so it is important to familiarize yourself with the rules. Students interested in competing at the Division I and II level are also required to register for the NCAA Eligibility Center to determine if they are eligible for NCAA competition.
The first step in recruiting is being discovered, many coaches use scouting services but also have their own network of high school coaches. Talk to your own coaches about your desire to play at the college level and get an assessment of your ability.
You can also set up online recruiting profiles with your athletic resume, statistics and highlight video. Not all coaches and scouts are able to see every player, so online profiles are an effective way to present your athletic abilities.
Students who receive athletic scholarships are guaranteed admission. This can only occur at Division I and II schools. For the Ivy League and Division III schools there is a “Likely Letter” these letters are as close to a guarantee of admission as they can give, some would say 99.99% chance to be admitted.
But students who are not offered athletic scholarship or a “Likely Letter” still can receive help from the coach and the athletic department in admissions. Having a coach as an advocate can mean the different between acceptance and rejection.
By Matthew-Owyang , ThinkTank Learning Admissions Consultant and Academic Counselor