College Planning Steps for Prospective Student Athletes as Freshmen and Sophomores
For students considering collegiate athletics, the college planning process is about finding the right academic and athletic fit.
Coach Stephanie Barth
According to OnCampus College Planning Coach Stephanie Barth, “Because of the need to find the ideal combination of right team, right school, it’s critical for prospective student athletes to begin their college planning early, much earlier than non-athlete students typically begin to think about college.”
Tom and Stephanie recently chatted about this topic. You can click here to watch that video, or scroll down to the end of this post, and we’ve included it there for you. For some key action steps for prospective student athletes, keep reading.
Who is considered a “prospective student athlete”?
Stephanie outlines three criteria for someone who would be considered a “prospective student athlete”:
I have decided or have a desire to play college athletics.
I have had a conversation with my parents about my goal to play college athletics.
I have realistic expectations-NCAA I, II III, and Junior College
Key Action Steps Freshman Year for Prospective Student Athletes
The following action steps are important for prospective student athletes during their freshman year of high school, and in some cases even earlier.
Commit to being a good student as well as a good athlete. As college planner Tom Kleese says often, “The high-school GPA you submit for college applications will be based on not four, but actually three years of high-school, and it starts day one of freshman year.” Tom frequently reminds students we work with that you submit your college applications before senior year grades are available, so your freshman year is a full third of the GPA colleges will be looking at. This isn’t meant to induce pressure. It’s meant to remind students to “control what you can control”. That means turn in every assignment on time, every time.
Create a recruiting profile for college coaches to see and evaluate you based upon the sport you are interested in. The platform for the appropriate recruiting profile will differ by sport. For instance, Stephanie works with volleyball players who use University Athlete. For swimmers, a common platform is College Swimming. Other sports have their own recruiting engines. It’s important to research and understand which platform is most commonly used and relied upon by college coaching staff for your sport.
Research schools that may be a good fit. OnCampus College Planning College Search services helps you zero in on the best fit for you, across academic, social, financial, geographic and of course athletic considerations. College Board is a helpful tool for getting started on your own.. As you get started with your college research, a free consultation with us during your freshman or sophomore year is a smart step.
College Campus Visits Are Important Early On for Prospective Student Athletes
College planning coaches Tom Kleese and Stephanie Barth recommend college campus visits early and often. Tom suggests making sure you take your first college campus tour during your freshman year, even if it’s not necessarily a school you think you’ll seriously consider. “Just getting a feel for what College is like in general is important for students. It’s a lot different from high school. Once students have an opportunity to get on campus, walk around, check out dorms, check out the student center, they begin to have a better sense of what the college environment is like. They also tend to get very excited about doing additional visits and research.”
Stephanie adds, “Especially for athletes who are frequently out of town and near or on college campuses for athletic tournaments, camps and events, college campus visits aren’t difficult to work into your schedule when you plan ahead.” With three student athletes of her own, Stephanie has personal experience with this. “Our family visited college campuses, both informal ‘drive-by’ visits and official tours arranged through admissions offices, while we were at tournaments and on vacation. It was actually a lot of fun, and we all learned a lot.”
Key Action Steps Sophomore Year for Prospective Student Athletes
Once prospective student athletes are sophomores in high school, they should continue to be a good student who earns good grades and delivers their best performance in the classroom. After all, you are a “student athlete”, emphasis on the word student. College coaches will be interested in solid academic, as well as athletic performance.
In addition, prospective student athletes should take the following steps their sophomore year of high school:
Contact schools in which you have interest. Permissible contact varies by Division and sport-but could include camps, clinics and one-way emails to coaches.
Visit schools in which there is mutual interest.
Determine when you will take your official ACT exam (Sophomore/Junior year). Based on academic and athletic considerations, as well as your personal schedule, OnCampus College Planning can help you consider when taking the ACT may be most beneficial for you and discuss options for ACT Test Prep.
College Planning Tasks for Juniors and Seniors
As you near the end of your high school career, your activity and action steps toward college planning will heat up and become more unique student-by-student based on your sport, your ability and your college prospects.
This is also when the academic side of the college planning process will become critical.
Register with the NCAA Eligibility Center (Junior/ Senior year). The NCAA Eligibility Center verifies the academic and amateur status of all student-athletes who wish to compete in Division I or II athletics. College-bound student-athletes who want to practice, compete and receive athletically related financial aid during their first year at a Division I or II school need to meet certain academic requirements. For more detail about academic requirements visit the NCAA Eligibility Center.
Getting the College Planning Help You Need as a Prospective Student Athlete
As many parents see clearly, planning for college is more involved and complex than it used to be, especially for prospective student athletes. Thankfully, there are resources available to provide the help families need.
OnCampus College Planning is one such resource that guides high-school students and their families toward a confident college choice that’s the best possible fit for each unique student.
Visit college campuses often. And visit early. If we’ve said it once, we’ve said it 1000 times. Freshmen and sophomores? Do you think it’s too early to visit college campuses? Surprise! It’s not! But don’t take our word for it.
Minnesota sophomore Claire Ficek can tell you all about the benefit of visiting college campuses early. Even before Claire decided to spend her sophomore spring break touring college campuses with her family, we knew she was smart. Claire lives in a suburb of the Twin Cities where she loves riding horses, attending and watching sports events and serving others through mission trips and local service efforts.
Student stories are so important! Claire said it best, “When you hear it from another student, you can really trust what they’re saying.” Thanks for taking the time to talk with us, Claire. Here’s our Q&A with Claire about her college campus visit experience over sophomore spring break this year.
How did college campus visits change your definition of your ideal college experience?
Stuff gets real when you see your name on the Visitor Tag!
Claire: Before I visited, I thought maybe I wanted a huge, public university. I thought I wanted a really big school with challenging classes, down in the South. I thought I needed a lot of sports and a lot of things happening around campus.
Now my definition of an ideal college experience is more focused, and it’s different than what I thought.
I visited all these big universities, and I don’t think I could call those places home. I learned how important it is to me to choose a Christian school, because that’s really important to me. So now my ideal college experience is that I want a small-medium-sized, private Christian college with hard classes, down in the South. Having a lot of sports still matters, but it’s on my want (not need) list. I love high school activities and sports, but I don’t know if I could do something like a Tennessee. Definitely I saw an example of what I want at Liberty. They’re building a brand new business school, and I think I want to major in something business or marketing-related. And because I’m considering a minor in Spanish and want to study abroad, that’s a big consideration, too.
How did you decide which schools to include in your college campus visits?
Claire: For some, it was word of mouth or watching college sports and getting curious about those schools. A couple were recommended to us once friends heard we were visiting over spring break. Some we added because they were close to schools we’d already chosen. And I have a couple of friends going to a couple of the colleges we visited.
Were you anxious about visiting colleges?
Claire: At first I was kind of nervous, especially as a sophomore. When I was on the college tours, they’d ask, “How many seniors are here? How many juniors are here?” They usually didn’t even ask about freshmen or sophomores. I also got nervous when I started to feel like the college that we were touring wasn’t the right fit. Like, “What am I doing here?” When I got nervous, I just turned to my dad and said, “I’m not sure this is the right fit.” My Dad said, “We’re just here to get information and learn. Just take notes. It’s fine.” It’s not like we were there to make a final decision or commit to anything. When I remembered that, I was fine.
One of the best parts was talking to students. That was great. Adults all pretty much say the same thing, “We’re an awesome school.” But I really believed what the students told me when I talked to them.
What types of questions did you ask the students?
Claire: I asked what they were majoring in. Things they liked about the college. Where they were from. How they chose the college. Where else they applied. I learned that these are just college kids that are figuring it out along the way. And just a few years ago, they were right where I am now. That was a relief. They were really nice, and seemed eager to answer my questions. It’s not until you get to talk to the students that you really have a good idea of what it’s like to go to school there. What you learn from the students helps you differentiate one school from another.
Another day, another campus. Duke was beautiful!
When we were visiting Kentucky, we were at a restaurant close to campus. We asked a college sophomore sitting next to us where she was from and what it was like here. Turns out she was from Wisconsin. She admitted that on a big campus, she had trouble finding her way at first, but it wasn’t as bad as she thought it was going to be. It was good to get her input.
At Liberty, students talked about how much they’ve grown in their faith. That’s what I needed to hear, because that’s really important to me. The Liberty students said that their professors are there for them. Liberty is now my first choice, after visiting all the colleges we did.
What about the schools you didn’t like? Were those visits still valuable?
Claire: Yes! Even though I didn’t love every school we saw, it was good to visit both schools I liked and schools I didn’t like. I got to see a mix of large university and small, faith-based colleges.
What type of planning did you do before you started your college campus tours?
Claire: I’m a planner, so yeah, we had it all planned out. My dad made a spreadsheet of all the colleges on the southeast coast. A couple of them I was dying to look at just for fun. We did online research about things like majors, cost, size and other facts about the schools. I then picked my top eight that I wanted to see on this trip. Then we mapped it out using Google maps and Google docs to plan the trip. Then we called the schools in advance or went online to register for campus tours there. It was actually fun and pretty easy.
What advantage is there to seeing a lot of colleges in a short amount of time?
Claire: The good thing was, my focus was on college at that time. We had nothing else going on. No distractions. We could just focus on each school. And then right after that touring the college, we’d write notes and compare it to the last one while we were on the drive. With it all happening in the same week, we could compare them and remember. It’s easy to forget if you don’t take notes.
I used a notebook and made pro/con list of every college while touring. My parents and I would debrief during the drive to the next place. I was able to pick up on things my parents noticed that I didn’t notice. Comparing notes was really important.
So now that you’ve done some college campus visits, are your next college planning steps clear?
Claire: Definitely. I’m going to contact my friends who’ve already gone to college and interview them. I’m also doing a lot of online research for private Christian colleges in the South.
What’s your advice to freshmen and sophomores about college campus visits?
My brother Charlie and me. He and my sister Kate are great sports!
Claire: Start small. Just jump online and look at some colleges you might want to visit. Brainstorming is actually really fun. You could even just go visit a random college that’s close by. (That’s what we did back in December.) See what you like, what you don’t like. I have heard friends who are seniors this year say they didn’t know where they’re going yet two months before graduation. I don’t want to be in that position. I’m a planner, so not knowing in the middle of my senior year would add way too much stress for me.
Also, if you start early, you’re a freshman or sophomore and you can still change the classes you’re taking based on what you learn on your visits. For instance, I learned some things about college foreign language requirements that I didn’t know before we visited.
And remember that the schools definitely want you there. They want you to come visit. The college wants anyone and everyone there to visit because they want you, they want new people in the door. Don’t be nervous. Take your time. If you start early, then you have time. If you start late, then you’re in a time crunch. If you do the behind the scenes work first, then you’ve got three years to do it all on your timeline.
Great advice, Claire. Thanks for sharing your college campus visit experience!
Adding a campus visit to your spring break travel plans can be fun and productive, even if you have never visited a college and college application time is a long way off. For those resisting already, let me address your objections, one by one:
There aren’t any colleges we’re interested in where we’re going (Even better! No pressure to make any big decisions then.)
My child is only in 7th (8th, 9th, 10th grade) (Perfect! It’s never too early to start exposing your child to the college environment to get their wheels turning and get them excited about their future.)
I’ll bet there aren’t any colleges where we’re going (“False.” Dwight Schrute)
We won’t have a car (Uber. Ever heard of it?)
My child won’t want to. (Yeah, I didn’t want to go to balmy rural Nebraska for spring break either. But no one asked me. They just said, “Get in the car, or I’ll really give you something to cry about.” Or something like that.)
We’re staying home (Great! Then you can check out colleges near your home. Perfect day trip.)
I don’t know what we’re doing for spring break yet (A college you’ve always been curious about could help you nail down a destination.)
Look, I can’t make you go on a campus visit. But I can tell you you’ll be glad if you do. It doesn’t have to take up your entire vacation. No matter where you’re going, you can add a campus visit that lasts a day, a morning or an hour.
Why You Should Start College Campus Visits Way Before Junior Year
As a college planner, I’m a huge advocate for visiting college campuses early and often, beginning in middle school and certainly well before junior year. Things are less overwhelming, more familiar and more comfortable the more you do them.
Wouldn’t you rather get your first college campus visits under your belt before you’re in the throes of college planning?
My sons have been taking campus visits since they were in elementary school. (Granted, I’m in the biz, and I’ve visited more than 130 campuses around the country.) Once Jack and Joe were juniors in high school and we were in the thick of college planning, the brilliance of early campus visits came to life for me. During campus visits for schools they were seriously considering, they already had a general understanding of what “College” was. They’d been on big campuses and small campuses. They’d seen private colleges and public colleges. They’d seen colleges in cities and colleges in small towns. The job of evaluating a particular school was much easier because they had something to compare it to.
Options for College Campus Visits That Fit Every Age and Interest Level
Schedule an official Campus Visit Tour.
Go to any college website, and you’ll find “Admissions”. There you’ll find info about visiting the campus. Colleges WANT you to visit, because they WANT to attract prospective students. They don’t care if you’re not applying soon. They love the exposure. Therefore, they make campus visit information easy to find. You can call or email the college to find out when they do tours, and then register for one that works for you. Campus tours typically take 2-3 hours and will give you a good idea of the highlights about that particular campus. Note: To get the most out of your visit, make sure they don’t have spring break at that time. The college website or admissions personnel can provide this information.
Take a Self-Guided Campus Visit.
While not as thorough as a guided tour, you can guide your own campus visit with a map of the campus that you grab from the visitor’s center or admissions office. College campuses are wide open, welcoming places, and you can walk freely all over campus on your own self-guided tour. You’ll get a good idea of what the campus feels like, what type of people are strolling around, what the facilities and amenities look like and more. A self-guided campus visit is a solid option for younger students who can’t be cajoled into an official tour. It also lets you control how long you spend visiting, so you can get back to other spring break activities on your own schedule.
Opt for a drive-by campus visit.
This is exactly what it sounds like. While you’re out and about exploring your spring break destination, drive through the college campus nearby. It’s obviously less thorough than a walking tour, but it accomplishes the goal of getting a feel for the campus. It doesn’t take long, and any campus visit is better than no campus visit.
Piggy-back a college campus visit on other site-seeing.
Just as State Street in Madison is right next to the University of Wisconsin, the best parts of many cities are right near college campuses. College campuses typically have fantastic art museums, wonderful theater productions, great athletic events, beautiful gardens and grounds and fun, quirky bookstores and coffee shops. Check them out!
For more on how to make the most of campus visits including what to ask, where to go, what NOT to do and who to talk to, download our free campus visit guide. It makes for great reading on the drive. We also have a Campus Visit Bullet Journal you can download. This handy one-pager is a helpful note-taking tool while you’re on a campus visit.
Are you conducting your college search to find the right fit? Recently, US News and World Report ran an article by a reporter named Josh Moody with helpful insights on liberal arts colleges. Read the article here. Below, I offer my perspective on the article, liberal arts colleges and types of colleges in general when it comes to your college search and finding the right fit for you.
Moody’s article is honestly one of the best I’ve read regarding liberal arts colleges and what they are, because it doesn’t pit liberal arts colleges (LACs) against big, public research universities in an either/or format. People should think of different types of higher education institutions in terms of a spectrum of choices that offer varying advantages and trade-offs.
I love the quote in the article from Jill Tiefenthaler, president of Colorado College (a liberal arts college), “I strongly believe that a student can get a great education anywhere if they are focused and mature and willing to really put in the effort. In the end, what you get out of your education probably depends more on you than the school that you go to.” In other words, when the student is ready, the teacher will appear. Let’s never forget the individual responsibility of the student in ultimately determining the quality of their education and what they do with the knowledge they’ve earned once they graduate.
The liberal arts education versus vocational education debate has been hot for the last few years as college costs have gone up, because consumers want to know “Will I get a job? What’s the ROI?” Those are fair questions. Liberal arts colleges point to places like Epic Systems that hire smart kids no matter what the degree, and there’s a lot to be said for that. But if you want to be an engineer or nurse, you can’t do those jobs with a broad understanding of many different subjects. You need technical proficiency. So one type of college versus another isn’t categorically right or wrong. It’s just a better or worse fit based on what you want your college experience to do for you.
Where I believe LACs overplay their hand is by claiming that “we teach you how to THINK CRITICALLY instead of just getting a job.” Implication? You can’t gain those skills elsewhere. Come on. My brother-in-law is a mechanical engineer. Do you honestly think that his mechanical engineering courses at Iowa State University didn’t teach him to think critically?
Why all the defensiveness among institutions of higher education? “This vs. that” debates ignore the uniqueness of one student’s college decisions based on the single, most important college planning factor: To what ends is college a means FOR YOU? As I tell students during my College Search work with them, “Get your #1 thing firmly in your mind, your college non-negotiable, and hold all possibilities up to that lens to find your best fit.” In other words, ask yourself, “If I get nothing else from my college investment of time and money, what’s the one thing I must get out of this?” Answering this question will improve your college search and help you find the right fit more easily.
Another school year is winding down. Freshmen, sophomores and juniors, here’s what you need to do this summer and next school year to put your best foot forward for college. In this article, we’ll use the term “rising” to indicate the year of school you’ll be going into in the fall of 2018. For instance, “rising sophomores” are those students who will enter their sophomore year of high school in the fall of 2018.
Rising Sophomores Focus on Solid Academic & Extracurricular Performance
As a rising sophomore, your top three college planning priorities in order should be:
Curriculum planning and academic performance: On the list of Top 5 Things Colleges Look For, #1 is “A rigorous high-school curriculum that challenges the student and may include AP or IB classes.” (GPA is a close second, at#2 on the list.) Check out the full list here. Many high school students forget that when you apply to college, the GPA you’ll submit is based on three years of high school curriculum and grades – not four. Freshman, sophomore (and of course, junior) years are critical years for demonstrating your ability to perform well in challenging classes. For your sophomore year, consider AP courses and push yourself academically. Solid study habits are key. If freshman year went well, great! Keep pushing. If you have ground to make up, now is the time to establish better study habits and improve your academic performance. OnCampus College Planning offers a Better Student Program for this very purpose.
Deep (versus Broad) High School Involvement: The age-old myth that “colleges are looking for well-rounded students” is false. Colleges aim to create well-rounded freshman classes, a diverse body of individuals who represent unique talents and interests. Focus on 2-3 activities that truly interest you and dig in deep. It’s much better to demonstrate full engagement, leadership or involvement in a few things, than it is to have your name on 10 different membership lists with nominal involvement in each. I work with students who are genuinely interested in 10 different things and WANT to be deeply involved in all of them. That’s fine. But ease up if you’re signing up at the expense of academic focus (and your own sanity). Pick your thing(s). YOU DO YOU. And do it well.
Campus Visits to get a feel of what “College” is like. Visit college campuses long before you have any idea what you want to major in or where you want to go to college. Getting on campus early on gives you an idea of what College is like and shows you how one college is similar to or differs from another. Take a day to visit a college campus near you, for the official tour or just to walk around. At this point, it doesn’t matter which college you visit, since you’re not picking schools yet. Tack campus visits on to family vacations. Tag along on an older sibling’s, cousin’s or friend’s college tour. Getting the lay of the college land long before you’re ready to choose colleges gives you a familiarity about College in general that will serve you well when you’re actually choosing what’s important to you and selecting colleges you want to explore.
Rising Juniors Get Ready For Your Heavy Lifting Year for College Prep
I call your junior year of high school the “heavy lifting year” of your high school career in terms of college prep. This is typically a challenging academic year. It’s also when you’ll tackle the ACT (or SAT) and begin thinking about which colleges you want to put in your shopping cart.
As a rising junior, your top three college planning priorities should be:
Prep for the ACT: While public high school students in Wisconsin will take the ACT in February of junior year, I encourage students NOT to have this be your first attempt. My recommendation is that by holiday break of your junior year, you’ve taken your first official ACT exam. If you earn the score you want by then, great! If not, you can use the state-mandated February ACT date to improve upon your score. Many of the students I work with choose to spend summer before junior year prepping for their first ACT in July, September, October or December. Summer’s great, since you don’t have school activities and school competing for your time. At a minimum, rising juniors should take a baseline practice ACT this summer. Schedule yours FREE anytime by giving me a call and scheduling your baseline practice exam at my office.
Prepare for your College Search: Another service I typically provide for students who are entering or in their junior year of high school is College Search. This helps students systematically identify what they want, need, don’t want and don’t need in a college. It helps students with self-discovery, in order to then identify which colleges fit their unique definition of their Best Fit Colleges (their “University of You”, as I call it). While some students wait until the start of senior year, I find that starting much earlier makes the process more enjoyable and effective, and helps students sharpen their focus while they can still impact the last two years of their high school career in terms of academics and extracurriculars. It’s also helpful to make progress on your college search in tandem with ACT or SAT prep, so you know what the colleges you’re interested in require. Then you can know what you’re shooting for in terms of test scores for acceptance and merit aid.
Understand “College Applications Math” and recommit yourself to academics. As you enter your junior year, it’s critical to remember the “math” realities of college applications. You are now 2/3 DONE with the GPA you’ll submit for college applications — not 1/2 done. Because you apply the fall of your senior year, colleges you apply to will actually be looking at three years of high school classes and grades – not 4. Junior year is critical for maintaining (or improving) your academic record. And chances are, your classes will be more challenging your junior year than they were your freshman or sophomore year.
Rising Seniors It’s All about College Applications Prep
If you are wrapping up your junior year, consider this: Twelve months from today, you will have decided where you’re going to college and will probably have mailed your high school graduation invites already! Set time aside this summer to put yourself in a good position for stress-free college applications this fall. As a rising senior, your college prep priorities this summer should be:
Figure out which colleges you might want to put in your shopping cart. Mostly I work with juniors on College Search. But frequently, students entering their senior year need assistance with the College Search process. If this is you, great! Give me a call and let’s schedule time to define your University of You criteria, those things you want, need, don’t want and don’t need in the ideal college experience. I can then guide you on compiling a list of colleges to research and/or visit. Summer is the ideal time to devote time and energy to shopping for colleges, while your schedule’s a little less hectic and you aren’t feeling pressed for time.
Prep for college applications this fall. Summer is ideal for developing college essays, lining up your sources for recommendations and outlining your timeline for college applications. Essay development coaching is available from OnCampus College Planning if you want to sharpen your skills and get some guidance developing compelling college essays.
Shore up your ACT (or SAT) score. You may already have earned the ACT score you want and have checked this off your list. If so, congratulations! If you’ve not yet earned the ACT score you’re happy with, there’s still time. This year for the first time ever, the ACT will be offered in July. You can also choose from test dates in June, September and October, in time for fall college applications. Set a date, register for the exam. And let me know if I can help with ACT prep this summer.