USA TODAY High School Sports has a weekly column on the college recruiting process. Here, you’ll find practical tips and real-world advice on becoming a better recruit to maximize your opportunities to play at the college level. Nelson Gord is a former collegiate and professional ballplayer, successful high school head coach, and also the founder of the largest travel baseball club in Illinois. Nelson is just one of many former college and professional players, college coaches and parents who are part of the Next College Student Athlete team. Their knowledge, experience and dedication, along with NCSA’s history of digital innovation and long-standing relationship with the college coaching community, helped create NCSA Team Edition, the free recruiting platform for club and high school coaches.
Receiving an athletic scholarship offer is no small feat—for the vast majority of student-athletes it’s a culmination of years spent working in the gym and hitting the books in the classroom. But sometimes student-athletes are fortunate enough to not only receive one or two athletic scholarship offers, but several. And this can also happen seemingly at once for some recruits, causing a lot of stress related to making a life-changing decision. That’s why coaches and parents need to be supportive and student-athletes need to take some steps in order to make the right decision. What are they? Keep reading to find out.
Don’t rush the decision
As I’ve mentioned before, picking a college can be a life-changing decision—it won’t just affect the student-athlete for the next four years, but in some cases, their entire professional career. It’s true that coaches often prefer to get as many of their target recruits committed early so that they can move on to running their program, but recruits need to resist the pressure and avoid making a hasty decision before they’re ready. It’s perfectly acceptable to tell a coach you need some time to think it over and ask them when they need your response. The coach may give you a week or two, and you should use that time to reach out to your other schools.
Use the best leverage you’ve got
The best leverage you have when negotiating your athletic scholarship offer is legitimate offers from other schools. This is why it’s so important to have a large group of schools you’re interested in and continue conversations with coaches at your top schools, rather than narrowing it down to just one school at the beginning of the process. Note that schools are more likely to up their offer if they are competing for a recruit against a rival school. College rivalries run deep, and this can help your recruiting efforts as long as you have legitimate interest from both schools.
READ MORE: The top three drivers for a coach to increase a scholarship offer
Don’t stop your search
Have you visited every school that you’re considering attending? Are you even sure you want to attend a school if you haven’t visited it? Visits are very important—not only get to know the school and campus, but also to get to know the coaches and program. It also helps to talk to the current team members about their experience and determining whether it’s a positive team environment. Finally, having options is great, but it doesn’t mean that you have to limit your decision to those options. If you have several options on the table to fall back on, this is a perfect time to see if you can generate interest from your “dream school” and see if you have a chance at a roster spot–just be smart about it. You never want to call a coach saying “Hey, I just got an offer from School X, are you interested in me?” A better move would be to promote your offer on social media or recruiting media sites like rivals.com or 247 Sports.
READ MORE: Negotiating your scholarship offers
Discuss the decision with someone you trust
Picking a college can be nerve-racking, especially for a teenager. It’s almost unfair to put this kind of pressure on young people, but nevertheless, this is how the system works. That’s why it’s important to talk to a trusted family member or coach about picking the right school and what you want in a collegiate experience. There’s a good chance you’ll get some smart advice, and even if you don’t, it’s helpful to talk through the process. Some things to consider: the geographic location of the school; your academic interests; social life at the college; and your ability to succeed at the school’s division level.
Learn what a verbal commitment means
A verbal commitment may sound like a done deal, but in reality, it’s not actually binding. Many recruits get confused about what verbal offers and commitments really mean, and it’s important to remember that verbal offers are more like agreements between the athlete and coach, and either party can withdraw at any time. A verbal offer is made official once you sign the National Letter of Intent and financial aid papers have been drawn up. So, a verbal offer basically means you’re very close to getting a roster spot but haven’t crossed the finish line just yet.
In the highly competitive world of college sports an athletic scholarship is a significant achievement, but one that comes with a responsibility and will require more research in order for a student-athlete to make the right decision.