Each year, tens of thousands of high school students vie for NCAA athletic scholarships. Some students hope that an NCAA scholarship will be the first step towards a lucrative career in professional sports, while others see a scholarship as the only opportunity they will have to get a college education. No matter your own motivation is, these tips will give you an idea of what you need to do in order to improve your chances of receiving a scholarship offer.
- Start laying the groundwork as soon as possible. Although the hunt for athletic scholarships is often considered to be a senior year activity, the reality is that many students begin preparations as early as freshman year of high school. These preparations typically include practicing your sport and working out even during the off season; identifying several colleges that you would like to attend and finding out what skills and personal qualities those schools look for in scholarship athletes; and developing and maintaining sound study habits so that academic eligibility never becomes a problem for you.
- Attend camps and invitationals. Many colleges and universities host summer camps or special invitational events for prep students around the country. By attending these events, you'll be able to meet college coaches and team staff members, network with other top high school athletes, and get an idea of how you stack up against the competition.
- Familiarize yourself with recruiting policies. The NCAA has very stringent guidelines regarding the amount of contact that prospective high school recruits may have with college coaches and other school officials. If you violate any of these guidelines, you could jeopardize your scholarship eligibility. Current policies can be found in a handbook called "The NCAA Guide for the College-Bound Student-Athlete," which is available as a free download in PDF format at www.ncaa.org. Be sure to abide by all of the rules in the book, and to follow the procedures for registering with the NCAA Clearinghouse.
- Keep lesser-known schools in mind. Unless you are among the nation's most elite athletes in your sport, you shouldn't limit your scholarship search only to the top schools. For example, if you are a football player, it might be fun to dream about playing at USC, Texas, or Notre Dame. But at some point, you have to ask yourself whether or not you have a realistic chance of winning a scholarship to one of those schools. If your answer is "No," then consider going after a scholarship from a less prominent program such as New Mexico State or Middle Tennessee. You might also want to expand your search to include NCAA Division I-AA schools (Southern Illinois, Grambling State, Cal Poly, etc.) and NCAA Division II schools (Kentucky State, Minnesota-Duluth, West Virginia Tech, etc.).
- Put together a portfolio. Many scholarship hopefuls are mistakenly under the impression that colleges and universities actively monitor every prep program in the country. But the truth of the matter is that no school has the time or the personnel to do so. If you want college coaches to know that you deserve a scholarship, you've got to show them. This can be accomplished by creating an academic and athletic portfolio that will serve as a marketing tool. You should include a personal letter to the coach explaining why you want to play for his or her team, a highlight video of your best plays, letters of recommendation from your current coaches, and a resume containing pertinent academic and athletic information. You will send this packet out to the coach of every team you are interested in playing for, so be sure to make enough copies of all the material.
- Visit campuses and interview with coaches. If a coach is sufficiently impressed with your game footage and portfolio, you will receive an invitation to come to campus on an official recruiting visit. During your stay, you'll get a chance to see what life at that school would be like. You'll get to sit in on classes, meet and talk to current team members, and tour the team's practice and game facilities. You will also have an interview with the head coach or a top assistant so that he or she can assess your personality and demeanor.
If all goes well, you might get a scholarship offer on the spot. Even if you don't get an offer during your visit, that doesn't mean you won't eventually get one. After all, National Signing Day for new recruits isn't until February 1, and some coaches like to wait until November or December to make their final offers.