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Eyes on the future: The colleges athlete recruitment journey

By Keirah Chen Sept. 29, 2021

Courtesy of Julia Saunicheva

While the number of high school student-athletes nears eight million per the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), stellar athletes look to extend their athletic involvement beyond high school graduation through the college athletic recruitment process. At the same time, collegiate institutions search for the next generation of talented athletes with the potential to bring success to their competitive teams. The NCAA—which oversees college athletics in the U.S.—is key to facilitating this process, as it regulates competitive sports in over a thousand colleges across the country. In addition to enforcing rules for 24 sports, the NCAA also offers over $3.5 billion in athletic scholarships and financial aid annually.

The NCAA is divided into three divisions with respect to the level of competition: Division 1 (D1), Division 2 (D2) and Division 3 (D3). It estimates that only one percent of high school athletes end up playing at the D1 level. The main difference between the divisions is financial aid—D1 and D2 athletes are eligible for full and partial scholarships, while D3 athletes are not.

Colleges learn about high school athletes by sending athletic scouts—usually coaches or managers—to evaluate high school athletes’ skills at sporting events and predict how successful they would be in college athletics. Jenna Flynn ‘22, who has played for the U.S. Junior National Women’s Water Polo team for six years and announced her verbal commitment to Stanford University's D1 women’s water polo team in August, recalls meeting and conversing with coaches who would scout her at different games. She also maintains friendships with many college water polo coaches, who were able to guide her through the recruitment process with their years of expertise.

For the majority of collegiate sports, college recruiters can officially start contacting players on June 15 after their sophomore year—which is an NCAA policy. However, for some athletes, the process starts earlier, through early recruitment. As a high school freshman, Julia Saunicheva ‘22, a member of the U.S. Junior National Women’s Soccer team and two-time national champion, verbally committed to the University of California, Los Angeles, as part of their D1 women’s soccer team.

“In middle school, I started dedicating a lot of time to soccer as I realized that I had a good chance of being recruited by a D1 school. After attending national-level soccer showcases in freshman year, my coach provided me with a list of colleges that I could communicate with,” Saunicheva said.

The NCAA upholds strict rules around recruiting and publishes a calendar that details when recruiters can and cannot contact prospective college athletes. The stringent policies are partly due to reservations about the mature life decisions that young athletes are required to make and concerns over the accuracy of determining future athletic abilities before athletes are fully developed. However, Next College Student Athlete (NCSA) Sports explains that high school athletes are able to contact college coaches with fewer restrictions. Since Saunicheva started her recruitment journey before her sophomore year, coaches were not permitted to initiate contact with her—thus, she called them on her own time. Flynn communicated directly with coaches through email, text and video call, discussing personal statistics and determining whether she would be a good fit for their respective programs.

While both Flynn and Saunicheva did not compile video highlights, some students create sports portfolios to further promote their athletic skills to recruiters, according to Collegevine. Moreover, students can attend sports camps and showcases at colleges in order to gain additional chances to connect with the athletic staff at the school. Some also hire college recruiting services, which assist prospective college athletes throughout recruitment. NCSA notes that the benefit of hiring such services is that they have access to a greater network of coaches than the average high school student. Furthermore, college visits serve as opportunities to better understand the life of a college student-athlete.

“I went on unofficial visits to some colleges, where I got to experience how life would be as a student-athlete, from eating in the dining hall to doing workouts in the weight room. When it came to deciding which college’s offer to accept, aspects like location, resources and culture helped me choose where I wanted to commit to,” Flynn said.

Becoming a prospective recruited player is not just about athletic excellence—students must also complete at least 16 core high school classes and take the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) or the American College Test (ACT) in order to be an eligible NCAA student-athlete. In college, student-athletes must maintain a minimum grade point average (GPA) of 2.0 in order to keep any athletic scholarships. Both Flynn and Saunicheva note that their future schools have specialized resources for student-athletes, such as tutors who help with academics and counselors who provide guidance on scheduling.

The college sports recruitment process functions as a two-way street, with dedicated high school student-athletes seeking to further their athletic journey and collegiate athletic programs hoping to add on promising players to their rosters.

Beyond college, student-athletes are not bound to athletics—while they can pursue professional sports, developing other passions is a viable pathway as well.


About the Contributors

Keirah Chen

Staff Writer

Keirah Chen is a junior at Leland High School and the Entertainment and Student Spotlight page editor. She likes horror movies, reading, and traveling.

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