SWIMMING IN COLLEGE ~ TIPS & TIMELINE FOR THE COLLEGE RECRUITING PROCESS
Swimming in college and understanding the 'recruiting process' is something we want to help our swimmers better understand as there is a lot of information and interest in this topic. Hopefully this page will help you and your parents navigate this process and find a school that is a good fit for you.
5 pieces of good advice:
Expect to do some homework and work on your correspondence. Get some help, but college coaches want to hear from and about you. Your parents have a part in this, but it is up to you to compete for a spot in a college swim program. Compete!
Take your ego out of the process as much as possible (athlete and family). The goal is to find the right place for you, with the correct mix of academics and athletics. Find that place...and then work out the details.
While in high school, you are not a member of the NCAA, or bound by any of its’ rules. The colleges and coaches are bound by rules, and will let you know what they can and cannot do as they go.
Find schools that have the major you want. Your college diploma will be more important than your swimming times after graduation!
Be mindful of your social media presence. Be attentive to what people will find when they Google you or enter your name into FaceBook, Twitter, etc.
Types of College Swimming (there's something out there for everyone!!)
NCAA Division I—This is the highest level of college athletics and, thus, the most competitive. DI schools typically have large budgets, expensive facilities, and the student-athletes are expected to train and travel extensively.
NCAA Division II—While still a competitive division, DII athletes are provided more balance in their lives, as training and competition aren’t as intense. Scholarships are also offered at this level.
NCAA Division III—No athletic scholarships are offered for DIII student-athletes, but there are many other forms of financial aid. The competition levels are still very high, but practice seasons are shorter, and there’s more of an academic focus.
NAIA—A much smaller community than the NCAA—with a little over 250 schools—the NAIA is a great option for student-athletes who love their sport but are looking for a smaller or private college, or a specific major.
NJCAA—Junior college (JUCO) is a good option for the student-athlete looking to get a sense of what college athletics are like at a two-year institution before transferring to a four-year college. Many student-athletes compete at the JUCO level because they are working on their NCAA eligibility or are trying to save money before transferring to a four-year college.
During your Freshman/Sophomore Year:
There are many options for your swimmer if they desire to swim in college. Start searching for universities on the following webpages:
A great website to help you determine the schools that offer what you want academically, with a swim team, in the part of the country you are looking for, of the size you are looking for, costs what you can afford, etc. is: https://bigfuture.collegeboard.org/find-colleges/how-to-find-your-college-fit/college-search-step-by-step
It is important to narrow down your options. A great way to do that is to decide what kind of school you are interested in attending. Some questions to consider:
Do you prefer the idea of a small school or big school?
Where do I fit in academically based on GPA and SAT/ACT scores?
Do you want to be the fastest or have room to improve to be the fastest?
What kind of team atmosphere are you looking for?
Do you perform best academically when you feel like you are the smartest, or does that not affect your performance?
The National Collegiate Athletic Associate (NCAA) is the governing body of most college sports. Your first step towards playing your sport at the college level is to register with the Eligibility Centers (formerly called the Initial Eligibility Clearinghouse) through NCAA, NAIA, NJCAA - http://www.eligibilitycenter.org . Doing this is establishing your academic eligibility for College Athletics.
Know the NCAA Initial-Eligibility Requirements. There are certain core high school courses you will need to take to be eligible to swim in college.
What you should be thinking/doing
1. Set up your academics
a. Eligible for Honors/AP programs? Other programs?
b. Where do most graduates go to college?
c. Get to know your counselor, and let them know your goals (don’t worry they can change)
d. Complete the PSAT or the ACT equivalent
e. Consider taking SAT/ACT Prep classes (rule of thumb: taking these prep classes is worth 100 pts on the SAT)
2. Let your high school swim coaches know your goals/map out your strategy
3. Start thinking about colleges and programs of interest
4. Whenever possible, take an unofficial visit. Particularly easy if we attend meets at/near institutions of interest to you. Or you can accompany a parent on a business trip or during a family vacation and make a visit at a college that interests you.
5. If at a national/sectional meet, you can approach a college coach as long as these two items are true:
a. You have completed your last event for the meet
b. Your coach has released you to go talk to that college coach.
What Colleges can do:
1. During your freshman/sophomore years, the college coaches can send you a questionnaire in response, and some general team info, but NO recruiting materials can be sent to you. Typically they will send you a questionnaire or profile in the mail through your high school or the swim club. Fill them out, and return them. The school will add you to their mailing list and you will get information about that School and Team. You can always let a school know you are no longer interested later.
2. Keep track of swimmers of interest to them, both locally and nationally.
3. Can talk to swimmer or parent if you initiate the conversation, either by phone or in-person
4. Cannot return a phone message left; you must successfully initiate contact
Important homework for you and things to think about:
Find out about the academic reputation of the school.
Check out the team records and coach’s history with the program. You can visit the college/athletic page of the college website to see this information.
Looking at the line-up on the current squad can also give you an idea of what their coach will be looking for next year. Let’s say that you are a freestyler. If school A has three senior freestylers not coming back next season you know that program is going to be on the hunt for a new freestyler. Maybe it's you!
Also helpful - look up school's top 10 times from last season – most teams keep this as a going log on their website - look and see where you fit in based on last season’s results. Look up that school’s conference meet from last season and see where you would have placed. Most schools are looking for swimmers who can score points at Conference.
Send the coaches of the programs you’re most interested in a cover letter. Include with the cover letter an athletic resume including the following information (most teams have questionnaires posted online):
Your name, birthdate, address, phone number, email
GPA and test scores
How many workouts per week, yardage, hours per workout
If you’ve done weights or a strength training program, running, medicine balls---all dryland information
How many years you’ve been swimming
Send them a record of your times/improvement
Any/all other activities you’re involved with in school or in your community (e.g. taught swim lessons for X years to pre-school children, lifeguard, Community Outreach programs)
Be sure to send them updated letters/info annually! Programs value having student-athletes that genuinely WANT to be part of their program, so show your interest in the school and the team in the opening paragraph. Things such as the academics, the storied history of the institution, and so on. Next mention the program - why you would like to swim there, any friends or family that have been an athlete there, etc. Instead of beginning your letter by rattling off a list of your own achievements talk about them and their program, and they will be more open to hearing what you have done.
During your Junior Year:
After you have begun your junior year, the college coaches can begin sending you official recruiting material.
You should be sending updated information to them, and narrowing your list of universities/colleges.
Sign up/register with the NCAA Eligibility Center (Used to be called NCAA Clearinghouse). You can register online on the NCAA website and the registration fee currently costs $80.
NCAA created a helpful checklist for your swimmer to review before registering with the NCAA Eligibility Center. Be sure to read this checklist before you register.
You should also consider signing up for the NAIA Eligibility Center and/or NJCAA (National Junior College Athletic Association) Eligibility Center. Many NAIA and NJCAA schools offer the opportunity to swim and could be a good fit you. If there is chance your swimmer will be looking to swim at an NAIA School or wants to attend a NJCAA school for a two year program, it is a good idea to visit these sites. You can register online on the NAIA website or the NJCAA website. The registration fee currently costs $80. The NAIA website has helpful information and a checklist for high school student athletes to read before registering. The NJCAA website has a really helpful pamphlet for prospective student athletes.
You can also check out the NCSA website for more helpful information about swimming in college. NCSA is a large collegiate athletic recruiting network. Your swimmer completes and application and pay a fee and they will help you with the recruiting process.
July 1 between your Junior and Senior Years
What you should be thinking/doing
1. Should have a list of schools that you have whittled down a little bit. There is no magic number, but something you have been working on.
2. As part of the process, you should have researched the conference results for each school of interest, and are comfortable you can compete at that level and above for that school. Results are pretty easy to find through the college team websites. Coaches want athletes who can score at the conference level. If not the first year, then the second year. You may have to sell yourself a little if that is not the case.
3. Make sure that academics are set and match up with schools you are looking at. It is okay to reach for a school you really want to attend!
4. You have tried, to the best of your ability, to make an unofficial campus visit to your Top Choices. Communicate to the coaches when you are planning to be on campus, as they may be able to meet with you and tour the facilities. They may also set you up with an appointment or meeting with an academic advisor/admissions person for more information.
5. Check out the applications process and any requirements for your Top Choices a year out. Are there essays you may need to write? What are they like? What are the GPA requirements?
6. Take ACT/SAT. Take them early in the year, so you can consider retaking without going into your senior year.
7. Let your coaches help you by letting the college coaches your Top Choices know of your interest, and act as your advocate!
8. Register with the NCAA, NAIA, NJCAA Eligibility Centers if you have NOT previously registered yet.
What Colleges can do:
1. Send you a media guide/questionnaire.
2. Correspond by US Mail and Email (personal and bulk letters), not limited at all.
3. Some colleges will arrange a ‘junior’ day unofficial visit that you may want to attend.
4. This one is new, tricky and only applies to the top 1-2% of recruits:
a. College coach can make one phone call to an athlete in March of their Junior year, in order to set up:
b. One visit in April of the recruits’ junior year that must be at the recruits High School. College coaches can meet with Athletes and Parents, as well as school personnel and coaches.
5. A lot of college coaches will take advantage of the call in March, but the visit in April has not become a widespread practice as of yet.
College coaches can officially begin calling you on this date. They may only speak with you once per week, but may send unlimited mailings and email.
During your Senior Year: Most of the work should be done by now!
What you should be thinking/doing:
1. Have your list whittled down to 5+/- colleges/universities/schools
2. Work with your parents, counselors, your coaches and your Top Choices to determine if you are interested in a Fall Decision or Spring Decision:
There are TWO (2) “signing” periods for scholarships if you are offered one…..early (November) and late (April). There are pros and cons to both. If you take your visits early and are sure of your decision, then by all means, sign early! It takes a load of pressure off your shoulders in the spring semester! Some coaches may say to wait….they may have more scholarship money available in the spring semester to offer. This is a gamble…..maybe they will, maybe they won’t…..it’s not always a guarantee. ---Some coaches may offer a full scholarship (room/board/tuition/fees/books)…others may offer a partial scholarship, which can include any of those segments. Division I and II schools offer athletic scholarships, Division III only has academic scholarships. If you are not sure, then do wait until the spring. Give yourself more time to think over the decision, and make the one that’s right for you. Let your coaches’ work as your advocate during the process
a. Most schools will have to offer you Fall Decision for it to be an option.
b. Spring Decision (April) may be better situation for most, if you can wait.
3. Applications should have been acquired through the summer, completed and submitted in a timely manner.
Most will require your high school to fill out a section, as well as your teachers. Give your teachers and counselors plenty of time to complete, and monitor their progress in relation to due dates. This is important to keep track of so you don't miss any key dates or deadlines.
4. Schools may offer you an ‘Official Visit’. Set up a schedule of visits in the fall.
You may take 5 “official” visits (where the university pays for any/all of your trip) to college campuses. These 5 visits must be to 5 different Colleges/Universities. Most visits happen then, regardless of Fall/Spring Decision.
What colleges can do:
1. As of July 1, after junior year, college coaches are allowed to contact a recruit by phone, one call per week. Not all schools will call once each week.
2. Set up their Official Visits.
3. Walk the athletes through their Applications, and keep apprised of its progress.
4. Set up In-Home visits with some of their recruits.
Important homework and things to think about:
Be sure to take a copy of the list of questions with you on your visits, to cover all your bases.
Keep a journal/notes of your visits….write down your impressions of each place….what you liked, what you didn’t like, etc. Put down as many details as possible, so that you can compare the campuses after you’ve visited a number of them. Remember, you are choosing the place where you want to be happy for the next 4 years of your life!
It’s very “romantic” to be recruited….having college coaches paying all this attention to you. Be sure to get your questions answered, and keep your eyes and ears open to what is best for you!
If you decide you’re really not interested in a particular school and the coach continues to call you, please tell him/her you’re not interested. It’s a difficult thing to do, but it will save both of you time in the long run. If the coach gets mad or says mean things to you for not wanting to join his/her program, then it probably confirms that you didn’t want to swim for this person anyway!
Your High School guidance counselor can help you through this process, too…he or she can help you with financial aid information and getting your test scores sent to places before your official visits. You may also have resources to tell you about the academic reputations of the schools you’re interested. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and get help! The more informed you are, the more easily you’re going to make the best decision for yourself!
Unofficial visits: You may go to any campus “unofficially” (where you pay for all your expenses) as many times as you like, and at any point in the selection process…during any year of school.
Official Visit: Trip to campus financed by the host school, including transportation, meals and housing. The trip is limited to 48 consecutive hours. Parents may accompany at their own expense. Limit of 5 visits to 5 different Universities.
What about the swimmers who AREN’T getting "chased" by schools?
1. Advocate for Yourself!
This is the first step in a very long process of life and work, where as a young swimmer you need to stand up and “show” these coaches why you’d be a great fit for their program.
Each school has a website about their team and on the website, you can find a questionnaire. That questionnaire is sent to the coaching staff alerting them that you are interested in their school. This is a great first step to do during YOUR sophomore year, before the coaches can reach out to you to give them a heads up you are interested in them.
You have to remember as a swimmer, there’s TONS of you and only a handful of coaches at each school. Don’t expect these coaches to be running around and chasing you down—it should be quite the opposite. If you really want to swim for them, tell them. Show them. That in itself will teach you many life lessons along the way.
Also, don’t let your parents run this process. If you’re the swimmer, advocating for YOURSELF is huge. Coaches want to see you take initiative in this process—they don’t want to hear from your parents. Own your swimming and you will own your success!
2. Explore What You WANT to Study!
Another great way to look into schools is to have a GENERAL idea of a couple career paths you may want to study. This will help you understand:
(a) Whether the schools you’re interested offer the subject matters you want to study
(b) Whether you’re going to require continuing education post college, which may change your financial needs in college
You want to balance this with the opportunity of swimming at a big school or a small school. It’s essentially like being a BIG fish in a SMALL pond or a SMALL fish in a BIG pond. If you know you want to go to medical school, but the big D1 university is offering you no scholarship—while a couple D2 universities are offering you FULL scholarships, maybe you consider the D2 option knowing the debt you’ll accrue through the years of undergrad and medical school.
3. Don’t Think that JUST BECAUSE You Aren’t at a D1 University—You are a Failure!
Did you know most top D2 schools are FASTER than lower end D1 schools? Sure, everyone wants to have that big time college experience—but that may not be in the cards for you. After all, every college is fun and you’ll have a great experience no matter where you go.
There’s been tons of Olympians and National Team members that have come out of an array of different programs—so think of college as a stepping stone, not necessarily the LAST STEP in your swimming career!
4. Look on CollegeSwimming.com!
As a swimmer it’s up to you to know how “valuable” you are to a school, and collegeswimming.com allows you to understand just that. As your narrowing down schools, look at their conference meet times and see how you’d rank currently in their conference.
When it comes to recruiting, obviously, schools want swimmers who will score points and help them rank higher in their conference and nationally. If you’re confused on why you’re not getting a call back or why this other school is really hounding you to come visit, it’s normally due to how much of an impact you can make.
5. Don’t think you CAN’T change your mind!
Figuring out what school to go to can seem like a HUGE life decision. Arguably, it might be one of the biggest life decisions you have had to make by this point in your life—but at the end of the day, you can always change it.
If it isn’t the right fit—you can change it.
Also it is important to note that the age of swimmers swimming is getting older. So before swimming in college seemed like the final cap to a swimmers career, but now with the ISL and post-graduate training groups–your time swimming in college may just be a stepping stone to the NEXT BIG THING. It may not be the end of your career. Understanding this will also help keep this decision in perspective and help you make a great decision on which school to go too.
6 Common College Swimming Recruiting Myths
There are a ton of college swimming recruiting myths floating out there. From having your entire education + spending money being paid for, to the number of scholarships out there, to the very act of how you should go about getting one.
Here are six of the most common myths about getting recruited for college swimming to help you get a better idea of what the recruiting process actually looks like–
1. The coaches will beat down your door.
The dream for every college-bound swimmer is that they are interrupted during an afternoon snack session from a hearty pounding on the front door from an elite, Division 1 head coach.
While you think your swimming is killer, that doesn’t mean the coaches have had time to pick their heads out of a mountain of administrative duties, recruiting other swimmers, and of course, coaching their teams. (Many college coaches also coach club teams and/or teach courses at the institution as well.)
At the end of the day, it’s on you to market yourself in the best manner possible to colleges and universities in order to get that scholarship.
2. Your swimming performance will over-shadow any academic shortcomings.
This is the most dangerous of the college swimming recruiting myths. Unless you are the next Michael Phelps – at which point you’re better off going pro anyways – a high GPA is critical to getting into the school of your dreams, if only for the fact that a less than stellar GPA can make you ineligible for some scholarships.
If your grades are continually faltering you’ll soon find that interest from college programs will fade quickly. Think of it from their point-of-view – nobody wants to have to try and motivate or babysit a student that is not interested in maintaining academic eligibility.
College programs want a student that is going to rep for four years – not flunk out spectacularly after one semester.
(Another key point is that there is much more money available in terms of academic scholarship than for strictly athletics.)
Understand academic eligibility requirements
Academic eligibility is one of the most important aspects of the recruiting process and can be overlooked by families who aren’t sure how to get recruited. There are different eligibility requirements for NCAA, NAIA and JUCO schools—and each school will also have its own entrance requirements—so it’s crucial to actively work to maintain your grades. A great GPA and/or standardized test score can be the difference-maker between you and another recruit. Think about it: A college coach wants to fill their roster with athletes who will work hard. If you can prove you have the academic chops, they have less to worry about. Being academically sound will also open more doors for you scholarship-wise.
3. You should only hit up the dream schools on your list.
Visiting with numerous programs is not only a good personal experience, but you will get a better idea of what you want in a college atmosphere. Whether it is an official or an unofficial visit, get out there and see what the various programs have to offer. It can be easy to dismiss a school on paper, but you will never really know how good of a fit it can be for you until you get there and see it for yourself.
4. You need to produce a 45 minute highlight film.
Relieve yourself of the need of showing the same race in different speeds, of showing slo-mo sequences, and of over-producing the video. If the video is posted up on YouTube or Vimeo, the coach can rewind, slo-mo and freeze-frame as much as they like. Avoid embracing your inner James Horner and ditch the soundtrack. Keep it short and succinct.
5. You can wait until your senior year to start looking.
The recruitment process usually takes over a year, so it’s in your best interest to start looking around and showing intent before your senior year gets started. Putting together a list of prospective schools in your freshman and sophomore years is not uncommon, and having a sizable list allows for options in the event coaches and/or programs drastically change.
While there are some limitations on how much contact college coaches can have with recruits, it is best to get the process started no later than during the junior year.
6. Athletic scholarships will cover everything.
BIG no-no here!! Outside of the major funded sports (football and basketball in particular) there is a very finite amount of scholarship dollars available. Many coaches will try to stretch that money out across as many athletes as possible, meaning that there will be out-of-pocket costs at some point. And even if you are fast enough to get a full ride to the institution of your dreams, there will inevitably be costs and expenses that you’ll incur, not limited to extra travel, spending money, and leisure time expenses.
College Recruiting Links
LemonAid Recruiting - iPhone App / Android App
College Swimming 101
Five most important college recruiting considerations
General Collegiate Swimming Information
NCAA - National Collegiate Athletic Organization
NAIA - National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics
NJCAA - National Junior College Athletic Association
General College, Scholarship, and Financial Aid Information
CampusTours - Virtual College Tours
Western Undergraduate Exchange (WUE)
FinAid! - Financial Aid, College Scholarships and Student Loans
Savingforcollege.com - Funding College and 529 Plans
CollegeApps.com - Get In To The College of Your Choice
FastWeb - Scholarships, Financial Aid and Colleges
Degree Directory - Colleges, Universities, Career Schools and Online Degree Programs
Vault School Reviews & Rankings
National Association for College Admission Counseling
National Association of Higher Education Loan Programs
National College Finance Center
National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities
US Department of Education
FAFSA - Free Application for Federal Student Aid
*** Credit for most of this content goes to the Aggie Swim Club in College Station, TX (www.aggieswimclub.org) ***