Athletic recruitment timeline

You’ve probably seen the headlines where 8th graders who can’t drive yet and haven’t taken Algebra are being recruited to play athletics in college. Both sides of this equation sound a little crazy to me. The idea of a college or university betting its future on an adolescent whose hormones may or may not have kicked in seems a little risky. And, a very young teen deciding where they are going to college five years down the road, really? But this is happening, granted not too often, but the athletic recruitment calendar is skewing earlier and earlier.

High school athletes interested in playing in college need to understand some basic principles. Visits are specifically defined as “official” and “unofficial.” Official visits are paid for by the institution. According to NCAA rules and regulations, these are not allowed before a prospective student-athlete becomes a senior in high school. It’s also important to note that student-athletes are limited to one “official” visit per institution and a total of five overall. The rules also state that the visit cannot last more than 48 hours and that the student must already have registered with the NCAA Eligibility Center, have had their test scores and high school transcripts sent to the college or university.

An unofficial visit is when a student-athlete and any accompanying family members choose to visit a college or university and they are not reimbursed by the institution. Prospective student-athletes are allowed to make as many of these visits as they like during their sophomore, junior and senior years. A typical “unofficial” visit might include a tour of the campus, meetings with coaches and with other student-athletes. Athletic Departments may choose to arrange interviews with the Admissions Office as well.

Even if no colleges are showing you the love, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be proactive in your pursuit of playing your sport in college. Here is a basic athletic recruitment timeline:

Junior year:

  • Compose and revise your college list at the beginning of the year. It’s important to remember that Division 3 schools do not offer athletic scholarships, so if you’re thinking about being recruited for the financial incentives, prepare your list accordingly.
  • Research the performance of your sport at each college or university you’d like to consider. Some sports such as swimming and track are time-based and it’s easy to get a solid grasp on how competitive you’d be at each school. Team sports such as basketball, football, soccer and lacrosse are much more nuanced. Contact coaches at each school before Thanksgiving. Ask your coach to contact each the coaches as well.
  • Make “unofficial” visits.
  • Prepare and send a sports/academic/extracurricular resume.
  • Prepare and send a “highlights” video to each coach.
  • Follow-up with coach with your stats, schedules, etc.
  • Register with the NCAA Clearinghouse in May.
  • Send your final junior year transcript.
  • Participate in camps and showcases during the summer.
  • Make “official” visits as a senior.

Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte. Send questions to:;