Yesterday was signing day for many student-athletes around the country. It is an exciting day for all involved. These student-athlete's have worked extremely hard in their pursuit of collegiate athletics and making the decision of where to play at the next level is certainly not an easy one.
Double edge sword is the first phrase that comes to mind when I think about the college recruiting process. It is truly one of the most exciting times in a high school student’s life but can also be one of the most stressful. Throughout my years working in the high school setting, I have experienced student-athletes being recruited by top FCS and FBS football programs all the way to small Division 3 schools. Each presents its unique challenges, but there is a thread of similarity at all levels.
I love when student-athletes come back to visit after being away at the school of their choice. It allows me to talk with them about their experiences, and what they would change about their decision. In working with student-athletes who are making their decision, and talking with those who are reflecting on their collegiate athletics decision, I have pulled out these five common threads – things they either wish they thought about, or are thankful that they did. I hope this can help alleviate stress and provide clarity for those of you who are currently going through the process.
If I were no longer playing a sport, would I be happy at this school?
This is always my number one question when athletes come to me about their decision. I don’t love being the one to bring up the possibility of a career ending injury, or being recruited over, but hey, someone has to do it haha.
Specifics I like to talk about
Is this school an academic match for my future goals?
I remember a football kicker I worked with who was being recruited by several large Division One schools. He had many options available to him, but what led to his final decision was the quality of the business school at the institution he chose. I was very impressed with his awareness, and it is something I now bring up with my students. The kicker knew that his odds of making it to the NFL were pretty low, so he wanted to have a strong academic background to fall back on, in case the pros weren’t in his cards.
High profile program vs. smaller program
Would you rather be a part of a large, high profile Division 1 team, but not have as much playing time, or would a smaller school where you can play right away be a better fit?
There is nothing wrong with either option. It is perfectly normal to want to be a part of a large, well known and well respected program, even if it means less playing time, or no playing time. It is also completely okay to want to go to a smaller school because you know you want as much playing time as possible. This is a question that forces some students to be brutally honest with themselves. Yes, you may be getting looks from Clemson football, but you may never see the field until senior year – which is okay – but is it okay for you is the real question.
What is the alumni network like?
I like to ask about the alumni network for both the school as a whole, and your specific program. I know there are sport programs that bring back alumni to host career fair days for their current students, and who connect each graduate with a mentor in their area. There are other schools that have very strong alumni connections and networks that are available for everyone, not just athletes. On the other hand, there are some schools that offer little to no support for alumni, or connections to alumni for current students.
Transitioning out of athletics can be an extremely difficult experience. Being an athlete has made up much of your identity for a significant part of your life. You may not feel prepared or sure of where to go next. On top of the transition, you may have chosen a major that allowed for more time to focus on your sport, or that was interesting, but translate in to success in the job market. Having a strong alumni network to lean on can help ease this transition drastically. A strong alumni network can connect you to an alum who is willing to take you to lunch and talk about their field and their path, and it can also lead to job connections and offers.
Can my family make it to my games?
I ask this question because parents don’t like to haha. It may seem selfish when they ask it, but it is worth discussing. Most high school students are used to having someone from their support network watch them play often, and do not think about what it would be like for them to play in stadiums or arenas that their parents are not in. It can be an incredibly lonely feeling to watch your teammates connect with their families after games, while yours is hundreds of miles away.
While it may not be possible for your people to make it to as many games as they did in high school, are you okay with them missing an entire season? Are your home games within driving distance, or would your parents have to fly to games? Again, it is okay and perfectly normal if having your parents or others there is not a deal breaker for you, but it may be something worth considering.
In the end, no decision is final, and don’t let the fear of making the wrong decision force you to make no decision. You have worked extremely hard to get to this point, try and enjoy it 😊
What did you consider when choosing a college?
What other considerations did I miss?
Do you know an athlete who struggled with this process?
Former Athletic Trainer, current Mental Health Professional. Boston sports lover.