[Updated: 11/14/2013]

For players and their families, matching academic and athletic aspirations with the right college can be very difficult. It can be likened to a jigsaw puzzle with many pieces, except that it’s rare to have all the pieces fit together perfectly at any one school. More likely students and parents will have to figure out where the most important pieces fit best, and be able to live with the ones that don’t. In addition to seeking advice from guidance counselors, coaches, older players, and others who understand the college soccer landscape, the following ideas are designed to make that process more successful.

1. Be Proactive
Don’t wait to “be recruited.” Identify schools of interest. Send coaches an interest letter, academic/soccer resume, coach references and schedule. Personalize all communications - no mass emails or generic letters.

2. Get Started Early
Realize that schools can have different recruiting timetables and admissions deadlines. It’s wise to begin researching during one’s junior year so that you can start conversations with coaches prior to the club season before your senior year. In-depth campus visits usually occur during senior year but it doesn’t hurt to visit schools prior to that to get a sense for what type of school appeals to you.

3. Find the Right Academic Fit
Research which schools fit your academic capability and offer the programs you wish to study. Consult with your high school guidance office and explore the www.usnews.com education section.

4. Size, Location, Environment and Culture of School
Be aware of the academic and social differences between a big state school with 25,000-50,000 students and a small private school with around 2000 undergrads. Identify your comfort level and happiness in living there, not merely in taking classes and playing soccer. For example: City or rural campus? Close to home or far away? Diverse student body? Religious affiliation?

5. Playing Level/ Playing Time
There are a variety of levels of play within college soccer, and even within each Division. Try to identify schools where your abilities would fit and be valued.

Think about your expectations for playing college soccer. Joining a highly competitive program may come with less playing time. Consider programs where you could play more and have more impact if that’s more important to you.

6. Costs and financial aid
Understand how much you can afford to pay and/or take in loans. Pursue all forms of financial aid. Athletic aid is the least likely way for most students to pay for college. Academic achievement is the most likely path to scholarship money.

Remember: Less than 1 percent of all high school athletes receive any form of athletic scholarship, and a majority of those are not “full” scholarships.

7. Ask Questions of College Coaches, for example:

  • Have you seen me play and how do my abilities fit here?
  • If you won’t get to see me play, how to proceed? Video? References?
  • How do tryouts and team selections work? Walk-ons or only recruits?
  • How many are on the roster? JV team? How many seniors and what positions?
  • How do you recruit players? Number of incoming freshmen?
  • Do many transfer or leave the team each year? How many play for 4 years?
  • Do you prefer a certain style of play or formation?
  • What’s your coaching style and philosophy? What are practices like?
  • What’s the time commitment, in-season and off-season? How much travel?
  • How do players balance academics and soccer? Schedule conflicts?
  • How do you support players’ academic efforts? What other help is available?
  • Do players typically graduate in 4, or 5 years? Is there “red-shirting”?
  • How easy is it to balance other interests/commitments – job, social life?
  • What types of financial aid are available? Athletic? Academic? Need-based?
  • If I’m very interested can I set up an overnight visit?

8. NCAA Rules [click here to view]
Acquaint yourself with NCAA rules and terms. Register with the NCAA Eligibility Center (previously Clearing House) if you’re considering Division I or II options. Understand what you can do to get recruited (virtually anything) and what coaches can do (very restricted).

9. Recruiting Services
These may or may not be worth the investment. Before spending money on a service, research it and understand what you’re paying for and how that fits your goals. Most families can navigate the process without paying a service to assist.

10. And probably the best general question to ask at every school:
Why should I come here?

Be proactive, be smart, be realistic and you can do well finding an academic and athletic fit for yourself. Do not believe all the stories you hear about the process, but instead educate yourself. There are no guarantees, but by being smart in your research you can greatly improve your chances of a great four, five years of college both academically and athletically.

Number of NCAA Men’s and Women’s Soccer Programs in Division I, II and III:

 

NCAA Programs

Division I

Division II

Divison III

Total

Men

198

179

401

778

Women

310

225

424

959

Source: www.ncaa.org (December 15, 2008)

 

 

NAIA Programs

Total

NJCAA Programs

Division I

Division III

Total

Men's

217

Men's

137

77

214

Women's

223

Women's

115

61

176

Sources: naia.cstv.com and www.njcaa.org (December 15, 2008)
 

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