Helping Your Student Athlete Find the Right College

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By Joe LoVerde

If your son or daughter wants to play on a sports team in college, finding the right institution can be a complicated and daunting task.

Being on a team can enhance the collegiate experience and, for a skilled and determined few, perhaps launch a career as a professional athlete.

For that rare elite athlete, the colleges will often find you. But the overwhelming majority of student athletes will have to hunt for a school that they can afford, that can help them reach their academic goals and where they can play on the college team.

Does your child know what he or she would like to study? If so, attending college fairs, doing research on the Internet and working with the high school college adviser can help find some good options.

What can you afford? Yeah, every athlete’s parent hopes his or her kid gets a scholarship. But, as a parent of two former college athletes, I can assure you that getting a free education for playing a sport is rare.

Unless the cost is not an object based on your personal situation or preparation, research the costs of the schools on your list. The colleges’ admissions counselors can help you learn if your child’s grades and SAT scores could qualify them for academic scholarship money at that institution, which should help you narrow your list.

Does location matter? Does your child want to live at home during college? Does he or she want to dorm? How far away or close to home would they prefer to go? And be aware that homesickness is a common affliction for college students living away.

Next, visit the colleges’ athletic websites. Find the team your child hopes to make. Compare the schedules and the lists of current players. Check the teams’ won-lost records. It will be more difficult to make the more successful teams.

Now you need to get the coach’s attention. Is the school hosting a prospects workout? If so, try to have your child attend. Most websites have questionnaires you can submit on their teams’ Web pages. You can also email the coach. If you are planning to visit the school, ask if it would be OK to sit in on a practice or briefly meet the coach during your visit.

Another option is having our child’s high school coach or travel coach write a letter of recommendation describing your child’s athletic abilities. Chances are, the high school coach won’t have enough time to undertake this task for everyone on the team, so volunteer to write the letter for them. If they read, approve of and sign the letter, send it to the college coaches yourself. Make sure to include your contact information and that of the high school coach.

Also, make a brief film showing your child in action. College coaches don’t have time to watch long videos, and don’t care about how well made it is; they just want to get an idea of your child’s ability in a few minutes.

Post the video on YouTube and include the link with any correspondence to the coach.

If the coach thinks his program can benefit from recruiting your child, he or she will reach out. How much scholarship money is available is based on what NCAA division the school’s teams compete in, and the school’s financial aid limits. In general, Division I schools can offer the most scholarship money; Division II schools can offer less; Division III schools cannot offer athletic scholarships.

And don’t limit your child to schools that offer only a bachelor’s degree. Going to a junior college and perhaps getting an associate’s degree (usually accomplished in two years) could increase your child’s marketability academically and sports wise.

There are rules to be followed in the recruitment of student athletes and, while coaches know them, you may not. Visit the NCAA Eligibility Center at ncaa.org and click the tab “Want to play college sports?” for more information.

Apply to the schools that seem to be the best fit academically and based on the level of interest by the coach. Then help your child weigh his options and make the best decision.

Playing college sports will provide your child, and you, with many fun memories — and may also make his or her college experience more meaningful and beneficial.

Longtime sports journalist Joe LoVerde has had two children who’ve played college sports and hopes to have his youngest child do the same starting next fall.

November 2013

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