WEEKLY RECRUITING ADVICE -
HOW TO PICK THE RIGHT COLLEGE (Originally published in USA Today HSS)
So, you’re having a great high school career, you’ve invested some time in your recruiting process and it paid off! You have several scholarship offers to choose from. What a great situation to be in! WARNING: Don’t pick a school because they have the fanciest locker room or the best uniforms, and don’t be pressured to make a decision if you are unsure. With several schools to choose from you really need to take a step back, consider all factors and be certain that the college you choose will be the right one for you. Deciding which offer to accept is one of the most important decisions you will make and probably the most important one you’ve had to make so far.
There are many things to consider in deciding on a college. You really need to define what is most important to you. Each of us has unique needs and values, and what’s important to you may not matter to someone else. Do you learn better in a smaller classroom environment? Do all the schools you are considering offer your major? Does boy-girl ratio matter? What about coaching style? Does climate matter? How big a factor is the tuition cost? There are so many things to think about it can get really confusing, really quickly. That said, in my mind there are three main areas you should focus on. They are education, environment and athletics. Let’s talk about the important factors of each one.
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First things first. The primary reason for going to college is to get a quality education that will prepare you for life after school. You need to find a college where the education you receive will prepare you for your career. Although not a given, let’s assume you qualify for admission to all the colleges on your list. Here are some things to consider if you are deciding between a few schools.
Major: Make sure the colleges you have scholarship offers from actually offer the major you are most interested in. Not every college offers a degree in Chemical Engineering or Veterinary Medicine. If you know which field of study you want to pursue, make sure the colleges you are considering offer that major. In fact, make sure the colleges have a good reputation in your field of interest. The reputation of the school doesn’t matter if it is not strong in your particular major. So, if you want to study molecular biology, find a school that is strong in molecular biology.
Classroom atmosphere: Do you prefer a school with smaller classes, or do you think you’ll thrive in an environment with hundreds of students in each class? Many students prefer to not be just another number in a class of 200 students. Obviously, there is a much better chance to interact with your professors in a college with smaller classes, but that isn’t important for everyone. You might also consider which type of classes you prefer: lecture style or discussion style. When you go on a visit to any school on your list, you might want to sit in on a class.
Employment opportunities: Do a little research on the colleges you are considering. Do they have a reputation for helping their students find a job after college? What is the success rate for their placement office? The number one objective for any college student is to find a career opportunity when they graduate. I realize that a professional career in your sport might be Plan A, but you should make sure the college you pick has a solid Plan B.
Environment and cost
When you leave home and go to college, you most likely will be living on your own for the very first time. For that reason alone, a comfortable environment is critical to a stress-free transition from high school to college. The culture, location and other attributes of the campus can make the transition to college-life much easier. Additionally, since most athletic scholarships are partial scholarships the family college budget has to be a consideration.
Do some research on the colleges you have offers from and ask yourself the following questions about each one:
- How far away from home is this school? Is the distance from home a deal-breaker?
- Is the location of the campus in an urban or rural setting?
- What is the climate like?
- What is the ratio between men and women?
- What extracurricular or social activities are available?
- Are there things going on in the community other than just campus life?
- Is this a school with a quality tradition, both academically and athletically?
- What is the “all-in” cost to attend?
- Are there other forms of financial aid available?
These questions should help narrow down your choices. If you still have questions, go on an unofficial visit to any college you like. While you’re on campus, soak it all in. Go to the Student Union and people-watch, go to a team practice or game, and take a tour of the campus. Make sure you feel comfortable.
In my opinion, when you first start comparing athletic programs you should put everything on a level playing field. Take away the scholarship offer and dollar amount. Forget that the coach recruiting you makes you feel like Tom Brady or LeBron James. Pretend that all other factors are equal. Is this a program that you would want to play for?
If you can’t genuinely answer yes to this question, you may want to rethink whether or not you want to sign with this school. Then, ask yourself the following questions:
- Do I like the coach? Does his/her coaching style match my playing style?
- When do I realistically have a chance to play or contribute to the team?
- What is the makeup of the team? Are there already multiple players at my position?
- How is the team chemistry?
- Does the coach place any emphasis on education?
- Are there tutors available for athletes?
- What does the competition of the schedule look like?
- How are athletes treated on campus by other students and professors?
These questions might eliminate a college or two from your list. If you don’t know the answers to some of the questions then ask the coach or one of the players. Finally (and obviously), the value of the scholarship offer you receive will undoubtedly factor into any decision.
Here’s the deal
Picking the right college is a decision that will affect you in many ways. You need to consider every factor that matters to you as a student and an athlete before you sign.