The College Search: NCAA Athletics

Getting your student athlete into the NCAA involves lots of preparation, including writing a special sports resume and producing a highlight video.

May 12, 2010 8:02:29 AM PDT
If a student who plays sports in high school is interested in participating in Division I or II sports in college, that student and his or her parents should be willing to put in plenty of extra time and effort to have the best chance of making it happen.

In the most popular sports, the NCAA reports that only 3% to 6% of high school athletes go on to play on college teams. The competition is not only good, it's plentiful, and finding ways to stand-out from the crowd can be critical. This takes work, beyond the already sizable effort spent on SAT/ACT tests, applications, and essays that all students face. Still, many families feel it's worth it, especially in the case of a gifted athlete who may be in line for an athletic scholarship.

In this blog, I'll discuss the basics for the prospective student athlete, and provide a series of links to websites where you can register for NCAA consideration and learn much more about the process. In another blog, I'll focus more directly on athletic scholarships.

Getting Started

The official first step in getting onto an NCAA playing field is to register online with the NCAA Initial-Eligibility Clearinghouse. Division III sports do not require this registration. While the deadline to register is broad, the NCAA strongly recommends that high school students do this at the beginning of junior year, or earlier. During registration, the student will supply general background information, and will also be asked to arrange for their high school counselor to send in their school transcript, SAT /ACT scores, and eventually, their final transcript and verification of graduation. Basically, the NCAA requires the same sort of academic information that college admissions officers require. Once registered the student can then list and update their sports-related activities and accomplishments online, as their athletic career unfolds.

Being that this is college we're talking about, it's no surprise that student athletes are also required to take various core courses, and pass them with acceptable scores before they're allowed to participate in college athletics. Each high school can provide this list, which has been pre-approved by the NCAA. Eligibility requirements are also available at the above NCAA website, and if you're serious about this, I highly recommend that you make yourself familiar with that site early on, as it contains a wealth of rules and information, right down to recruiting schedules for individual sports.

Sports Resumes and Highlight Videos

Next comes the self-promotion part of the equation. Liz Eshleman, Director of College Planning and Placement at Devon Preparatory School, and a former university admissions officer, says many students who successfully fulfill their dream of playing in the NCAA begin that trek by aggressively marketing themselves. Eshleman recommends that students compose an athletic resume, similar to an academic resume, which includes sports played, stats (batting average, rushing yards, how fast you ran the 200 hurdles), any participation in community leagues, and volunteering or coaching they've done on the side. But don't stop there. "I would include my current coach's contact information," Eshleman says. "Also include some pertinent academic information: GPA, SAT, current class rank, the number of Honors/AP courses taken." The message here is that coaches are not always looking for mere athletes. The better a student appears academically, the more attractive they may be to a given school's athletic program.

The student and parents should then turn their attention to producing a highlight reel. "A highlight DVD should be about 3 to 5 minutes," Eshleman says. "It should begin with a page/slide providing name, address, contact information, height, weight, sports played, positions played, and a coach's name and contact information." The coach's information is important, because often, conversations between a high school and college coach lead to further contact, including scouting. Eshleman also reminds students to clearly label the outside of the DVD or video case to minimize the chances of it being lost or forgotten. What should go on the tape? Eshleman says to use both game and practice footage, and make sure it's active. "Coaches don't want to see down or dead time," she told me. Be sure to wear your uniform in the footage. It's also important that the video be as professional as possible. You want to keep the coach's interest.

Making Contacts

Next, a student should target the schools in which they have interest, and contact the coaches via letter or email. Eshleman stresses that the letter, as with any other communication to a prospective college, should typed and grammatically correct. I'll add here that parents should absolutely proof-read these before your son or daughter clicks SEND or heads to the post office. Keep the letter short (no more than one page). Express a specific interest in each school; don't send out a form letter. And be sure to include anything you can about your leadership abilities, as well as academic and athletic accomplishments. Ask about the school and the athletic program. Appear interested and motivated. Attach or include your sports resume with the letter, along with your DVD or attached video file. Offer to send a hard copy of the DVD if the file doesn't play on the coach's computer.

There are also showcase camps which high school coaches can discuss with athletes that are great opportunities for exposure, since multiple college coaches often come to these camps to scout and meet players.

Extra Help

Obviously, this is an involved process. Some families may feel a desire for extra help, and if that's the case, there are many companies out there that offer assistance. A Google search for "NCAA Recruitment" netted me several. Rod Krasley of says he speaks to parents at school meetings regularly who have plenty of questions. While it's up to individual families to decide whether to use outside help, Krasley makes the point that sometimes, inside information can be useful. For example, Krasley says there are hundreds of scholarships that go unused in certain sports and at certain colleges annually, and a professional agency might be of some help in steering athletes and their families toward those opportunities. I write more on this subject in my blog on Athletic Scholarships.

Student athletes must also adhere to rules covering amateurism eligibility, meaning they must adhere to certain standards regarding being paid to play sports, or receiving gifts and prizes. An NCAA Rules Guide details these rules and other student-athlete issues. also has an online article for prospective athletes that includes brief descriptions of various issues related to entering the NCAA.

If your student is among the majority who does not qualify for an official NCAA team, it's important to keep in mind that most colleges offer plenty of intramural athletic opportunities that require no special registration or perquisite. But if it's officially-sanctioned NCAA athletics (Division I & II) they crave, it's important to get an early understanding of the process and make sure all the advance work is finished early and thoroughly, before you can say, "Play ball!"

ARTICLES ABOUT COLLEGE, AND THE COLLEGE SEARCH: Need-Based Aid (Institutional), Federal Need-Based Aid, Can I Ask For More Aid?, 529 Accounts, Myths About The Cost, Upromise, The Best Way To Pay, High School Course/Activities, ACT/SAT, How Many Colleges Should I Put On My List?, Compiling A List, Unsolicited Brochures, Campus Visits, Applying For Admission, Types of Applications, The College Search Preface

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