Given that only 1 percent to 2 percent of all high school athletes participate in varsity intercollegiate athletics, how can you be one of them?

Share story

Perhaps you’re the athlete who chose cuddling with your soccer ball instead of a stuffed animal. Perhaps you’re the parent whose family vacations include the words “showcase tournament.”

If so, chances are you have dreamed about playing (or watching your child play) sports in college. Given that only 1 percent to 2 percent of all high school athletes participate in varsity intercollegiate athletics, how can you be one of them?

1. Be a great student. The first question college coaches ask recruits is, “What are your grades and test scores?” Coaches need to know whether you are admissible to their school. All qualifications being equal, college coaches will pursue an academically high-achieving athlete over a ne’er-do-well every time. Why? Good students stay eligible.  Good students make good teammates. Good students graduate on time. Unless you can dunk the ball like LeBron James, your transcript carries the day. Take stock of your effort and performance at school. Are you working to the best of your ability?

2. Get evaluated. Ask at least two trusted, expert adults in your sport whether or not you have the potential to play in college; then, determine what level is within reach: NCAA Division I, II or III — or the NAIA? What are your chances of playing your sport within each division? Check out scholarship for specific data. It’s critical that you understand the difference between head count and equivalency sports. For men, full-ride scholarships are only offered in basketball and Football Bowl Subdivision football. For women, Division I head count sports include basketball, volleyball, tennis and gymnastics. All other varsity sports at every level are equivalency sports: Teams are allotted a fixed number of scholarships that may or may not be divided equally among a team’s participants. Division III athletic programs do not award athletic scholarships, but may give student-athletes merit aid. In fact, most intercollegiate varsity athletes are awarded far more scholarship money based on academic performance than athletic prowess.

3. Develop a plan. Once you have targeted your potential level of play, develop a strategy to get there. Some families hire outside help to assist with recruitment and the college application process. The closer to high school graduation, the more compressed your to-do list becomes. Use your particular sport’s recruitment timeline as this framework, coupled with college application deadlines. For example, ninth- and 10th-graders should visit college campuses. Juniors should know which standardized tests they will take — and when — while seniors should have their college essays and applications well in hand by now.

4. Be your own agent. You need to know recruitment rules and market yourself to college coaches. While your high school or club coach may be an advocate, you and your family are ultimately responsible for your future. Most athletes suffer from the misunderstanding that college coaches will discover them on the Internet or at a showcase event without prior legwork. Nothing could be further from the truth. If you really want to play your sport in college, you need to …

5. Take action today! Aspiring college athletes should communicate with college coaches as soon as they are done reading this article. First, create a working list of colleges based on your preferences (level of play, distance from home, academic program offerings). Next, register your interest by completing the athletic department’s online prospective athlete form. Begin an email campaign with your athletic résumé and link to your highlight video. Attend the ID camps offered by individual colleges; they provide great windows of opportunity for determining an athlete’s fit, both in the sport and on campus.

Emily Wagner Gallagher is the founder of Edge Academics & Athletics in Lake Forest Park.