KEEP YOUR COLLEGE OPTIONS OPEN (Published in USA Today HSS on April 20, 2015)

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With the school year winding down, many high school athletes are looking forward to some time off and the opportunity to play their sport with a summer team.  Club teams and select organizations have become big business in the college recruiting arena.  Summer is when many college coaches have the time to “scout” for potential athletes.  If you are getting ready to play on your summer team and you are lucky enough to have college coaches notice you, keep this in mind: Keep all your options open and consider every opportunity.

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Division I is not always the best option

While participating in a sport at the Division I level is a tremendous opportunity and experience, it might not be the best opportunity and it certainly isn’t the only one.  You can find an athletic scholarship in most sports at the NCAA Division II, NAIA and Junior College levels.

These schools offer a great education, an opportunity for a high school athlete to continue his or her athletic career and a scholarship to help cover the costs. Many athletic programs at the Division II, NAIA and junior college levels are as good, or better, than some of the Division I programs. Also, some athletes develop later than others. You may need an extra year to refine your skills, increase your strength, work on your speed, or even work on your grades. There are many former Division II, NAIA and Junior College athletes in the NFL, the NBA and in Major League Baseball.

Don’t rule out Division III schools, either. Although Division III schools don’t offer athletic scholarships, they do offer other financial aid, grants, loans, etc, and the athletic department can generally be a big help in finding sources of money to help with the cost of tuition.

High school athletes and their parents need to understand that participating in college athletics, at any level, is an incredible accomplishment.  Embrace the opportunity and be thankful for any financial assistance.

Determine which college is the best overall fit

There are many things to consider besides divisional competition level when deciding which college to commit to.  The NCAA has two categories of sports: Head Count Sports and Equivalency Sports.  Head Count Sports guarantee full scholarships and are available in six Division I sports – FBS football, men’s basketball, and women’s basketball, volleyball, gymnastics and tennis.  All other intercollegiate sports are Equivalency Sports and the scholarships are generally partial scholarships.

If you are seeking a scholarship in an Equivalency Sport (where partial scholarships are the norm), family budget has to be a major factor.  Even if you are deciding between two Division I programs, the smaller, less expensive school might be the better choice.  Also, remember that the vast majority of college scholarships, whether partial or full, are for one year and then they have to be renewed.  Your scholarship could be reduced if someone faster, stronger and/or smarter is recruited after your first year.  College scholarships are reduced and/or not renewed in every program, every year.

Don’t put all your scholarship eggs in one college basket

Here is an interesting perspective from the parent of a high school volleyball player. The parents and the athlete felt as if her recruiting process was complete because one Big 10 college was “talking” to her. This could be no further from the truth.

Coaches talk to athletes daily, are interested in some and sign a few. What happens if that college coach changes his or her mind, fills their roster with other players, runs out of scholarships or even loses their job? Where does that leave this recruit? Until you sign a National Letter of Intent, you have to keep your options open.  Even college coaches will agree that you really need to be pursuing and communicating with as many schools as possible so you don’t end up with egg on your face.

Bottom line: Consider all your college options, research each program and decide where you want to spend the next four years.

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