Hello Dr. LaScala,
My son might want to continue to swim in college. He will be a sophomore this year and we want to get on track early and avoid making mistakes. I know sports scholarships are rare and that's not the big priority. It is making sure academics come first, but keeping the option to swim in the mix. It sounds complicated.
Dear Danville Dad,
You are right that adding sports to college admission makes an already complex and time-consuming process more confusing and emotional. Often the benefits of youth sports get misdirected when sports are used as a means of getting into a selective university or winning the elusive but highly prized collegiate athletic scholarship. It is not surprising that many young players dream of playing on a national team, going to the Olympics, or playing a sport professionally. What is surprising is how many well intentioned parents, guardians and others ignore the data that indicate how few athletes actually achieve these goals. I am relieved to hear that you understand this important fact.
If a young athlete wants to continue a sport in college, the key is to start early and fully research and understand both the college admission and athletic recruitment processes and how they interact. Here are my top six guidelines to help the college-bound athlete move in the right direction:
1. Put academic success first. The key to being positioned to identify a list of colleges that provides the best combination of academic and athletic options is having a strong academic record throughout high school. The higher your grades and test scores, the more opportunities you will have to attend a good college and play your sport. Your academic record begins in ninth grade and is based on college preparatory courses only.
2. Be honest with yourself about both academics and athletics. You will be expected to take and succeed at the same courses as your non-athlete peers at whatever school you attend. Chances are good that you will be earning a living doing something other than playing your sport when you graduate. So you want to be well prepared for academic as well as athletic competition.
3. Since only exceptional athletes are recruited to play Division I sports, it is important to consider all the options, including Division II and III programs, intercollegiate club and intramural programs. There are many ways to play sports in college.
4. Remember you must initiate the recruitment process. High school students who are considering collegiate sports should start getting informed by the end of the sophomore year. Student athletes can register with the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) on line at www.eligibilitycenter.org early in their junior year. Follow the instructions for completing forms and paying registration fees. There is an excellent NCAA guide that explains the procedures you must follow in some detail. Similar steps apply for the NAIA (National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics) schools. Learn more about this association's programs at www.PlayNAIA.org.
5. Make your college list in the same way as other students, but include in your criteria for selection whether the college has a sport program for you. Plan to apply to at least 3 schools in each probability of admission category (low, medium and high).
6. If you are seeking an athletic scholarship or an academic scholarship the same golden rule applies: consider schools where your athletic/academic skills and abilities are stronger than those of your peers and fellow recruits.
Just like on the court, track, pool or field, knowing the rules, becoming informed and getting prepared is the best way for the college-bound athlete to succeed.
Elizabeth LaScala Ph.D. guides college, transfer and graduate school applicants through the complex world of admissions. She develops best match college lists, offers personalized interview and essay coaching, and tools and strategies to help students tackle each step of the admissions process with confidence and success. Elizabeth helps students from all backgrounds to maximize merit and financial aid awards. Contact her @ (925) 891-4491 or firstname.lastname@example.org.