When to start a college search
Have you wondered when your child should start looking at colleges? Is second grade too early? Twelfth grade too late?
We dropped our second son off at college a couple weeks ago. Late at night while I was driving home, my wife was sitting beside me soothing the hurting places with coffee and candy.
Then, from the backseat, our tenth grader says, “Well, it’s time for me to start looking at colleges.”
My wife: “Do we have to do this already? It’s been one hour since we did the last one.”
My tenth grader: “I’m already getting emails from colleges.”
I started into my speech: “It’s time to start looking. Next year…”
My wife: “Could we at least wait until tomorrow? Give me one night to mourn.”
I gave her a night to mourn. But here’s the truth: tenth grade is not too early to begin a serious college search.
One of the most frequent questions I receive from parents is “When do we begin the recruiting process?”
I could honestly tell you, “There is no set time. Each school has different needs and timelines. It is never too late because the recruiting landscape is in constant flux for coaches.”
However that answer does not help you take action.
I believe we can get much closer to a helpful answer. I have asked 22 college coaches about their timeline for recruitment and patterns have emerged that will give you guidance as your family takes on the recruiting process.
Major D1 schools: When to start a college search
First, let’s start with major D1 programs. These are schools in the ACC, SEC, Big Ten, Big 12 and PAC 12. Depending upon the school and sport there are other top tier athletic universities that fall into this category. They have the pick of the available star athletes and generally wrap up their recruiting classes the earliest.
Here is one of the craziest stories I have heard, but if you listen you will hear this kind of craziness in the news every once in a while.
“It is never too early to get noticed by college coaches. The earliest I saw a player and made an offer was when she was 9 years old. This player did play for me and was an All-American. Most players get noticed by their freshman or sophomore year of HS.“
It is typical for major athletic programs to be developing their recruiting list as far out as the freshmen year of high school. From the recruiting list, coaches make verbal offers and then formally sign those athletes when they are seniors on signing day and into the spring.
“I have a list of fifty sophomores right now and a list of about eight freshmen. We don’t actively seek them, instead we watch U16 games and find kids we like. It does start early but we just had a senior who was a basketball player slip thru the cracks and commit last week.
The better the school, the tighter the admissions office and most likely to be done with a class by the Holidays. However, most schools take players into the middle of spring and some even in summer (Internationals especially). Seeing someone become proactive or all the sudden serious about schoolwork as a senior always irks me.”
When should you tell coaches you are interested in a DI school?
- The freshman and sophomore year!
“The timing is going to be dependent on the school. I would say typically, get on the radar during the summer between freshman and sophomore year. The bulk of the recruiting is going to happen during the club season of the sophomore year and the junior year. However, some programs start earlier and some programs look late. I don’t think there’s ever a time that is too late. We added four players to our recruiting class in 2015 during the spring of their senior year. That is unusual but it does happen.”
“Athletes typically will get noticed their freshman/sophomore year. More than likely as time goes on less and less schools will have open roster space. However, you never know and things change all the time with recruiting.”
“We are always looking for good players but unfortunately we have only 12 scholarships and usually we have kids committed early, at the latest in the early stages of their junior year. I recommend they send out emails as soon as their freshman year to all the schools they might be interested in and start getting to know those programs and coaches.”
What should you do if you didn’t start when you were a freshmen but still believe you could compete at this level?
- Start contacting coaches today!
“The process is different for everyone and every school so it is hard to give a written blueprint of how each athlete should go about the recruiting process. Prospects need to start being proactive and reaching out to schools during their sophomore year to be considered “on time”. A lot of commitments come as juniors so the earlier you start the better. That being said, it is never too late. The process is different for everyone so if you are older and haven’t started the recruiting process it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t.”
If you are a junior and have not contacted major D1 coaches and they have not “seen” you and recruited you:
- Few roster spots are available
- Even fewer athletic scholarships are left, even though signing day is still a year off
Yes, pursue these programs if you want, but you also need to be contacting other schools, where more roster spots and athletic scholarships are still available.
Only the most elite high school athletes end up with these opportunities. Making college decisions before you can drive is pretty crazy. Fortunately the recruiting experience is not like that for the majority of student athletes. Most enjoy being a high school student and learn to drive before they have to make this kind of major decision.
The Other D1 schools: When to start a college search
There are 347 D1 schools and 300 D2 schools. On the recruiting timeline, it is the remainder of the D1 schools and the top half of the D2 schools who are filling up rosters next. Though the recruiting timelines are similar, we are going to look at the remainder of D1 schools and D2 schools separately.
D1 coaches are saying…
“The most important time for a basketball player to be a D1 recruit is the spring and summer after his junior year. Certainly it helps to get noticed as a junior if you want to be a D1 player, and the higher level D1 schools tend to be interested in kids at a younger age. But most kids who are D1 players are on that radar by the end of their junior year.
There is no harm in any players looking at D2/D3/NAIA schools. If you aren’t getting a lot of interest from D1 schools heading into the summer before your senior year, you should definitely look into D2/D3. There are absolutely great options to play at that level. Finding the right fit is much more important than finding the highest level.”
One coach who differed in his opinions of the recruiting timeline was Paul Weir of New Mexico State. He felt that it is becoming more acceptable to wait longer to commit to a school. With the new rule changes he may be right. Time will tell. To read more about the recruiting rules changes read this very helpful article from the NCSA: NCAA Eligibility Center Recruiting Rules
“It is never too late. Some programs choose to evaluate and demonstrate interest in PSA’s early, some will do it later on in the process. The bottom line is that each program is going to do what they feel is in the best interests of their organization at that given time. If they feel the PSA can have a meaningful impact they will pursue that individual when they feel most inclined to do so.
Given the changing nature of our profession and the incredible amount of turnover both in coaches and transfers, recruiting is a much more short-term enterprise and happening on a later time frame than even just a few years ago. Feeling that you have to sign or be committed in the fall of your senior year of HS or sophomore year of JC is becoming less and less frequent.”
Other coaches also say it is never too late, but they emphasize that most commitments take place during the junior year. As a result most of the athletic scholarships have been designated during the junior year. If you are a senior and have enough talent to play D1, you may find a roster spot, but chances are the athletic scholarships you were hoping for are not available.
“I don’t think it’s ever too late. The landscape changes quite often and squad positions open up as late as the summer before the season. I think the biggest time however is the junior year. That is typically when most people commit and programs commit most of their scholarship budget.”
“Legally per NCAA rules we cannot initiate contact with a prospective student athlete (PSA) until [September 1] entering their junior year of high school. After that, our sport allows unlimited communication to PSA’s. Texts, emails, phone calls, or private messages on social media are all permissible. These PSA’s can contact us any time; we just cannot be the ones that initiate the call.”
“It is never too late to be noticed to play at a major or mid major Division 1 school. However the opportunities for scholarships will be greatly diminished as time goes by. At the University of New Mexico, we are done with our [incoming] class scholarships and have commitments for [the junior class] as well. (to give you an example) we do still have some money open, but we also have offers out. In the current state of recruiting young people need to be getting information out as sophomores to have the best opportunities to be seen and land what they are looking for.”
D2 schools: When to start a college search
D2 coaches have similar recruiting rules and recruiting rules as their D1 colleagues. Coach Parlow sums up how coaches begin contacting athletes to comply with NCAA rules. Notice, the list of athletes the coaches contact are athletes who have contacted the coach first!
“As a D2 institution we are not allowed to contact Prospective Student Athletes (PSA) [until September 1] preceding their junior year in high school.
When that date arrives we will have a list of players who have contacted us and/or that we have seen play. We will send them an email expressing our interest in them as a student athlete. In that email we will send links where they can learn about our soccer program and everything Converse College has to offer. Those that show interest we will continue to communicate with and invite in for a campus visit.”
“The typical timeline for recruiting a players starts their sophomore year and junior years of high school. Normally, a lot of emails come in from sophomores, and they get on our radar, but we cannot communicate with them until [September 1] leading into their junior year of high school. As soon as that date hits, we will be in touch via email, phone calls and sometimes text messages. We sometimes have players commit as late as April of their senior year. It’s definitely a good idea to start the recruiting process early but it’s also not too late if you’re in your senior year and still undecided.”
“Every program is different but we typically start talking to players during the spring of their junior year. We usually communicate via email and progress to the phone and text as we get more serious about a recruit. If a recruit does not check their email odds are they will miss an opportunity with us.”
“So at the D2 level we are typically closing out our next incoming class at the end of the fall season. For example, between November – March we are closing out the incoming class for the fall. We are simultaneously narrowing down our top needs for the class of juniors. I feel like Division 1 is a year ahead of this.”
“Recruiting is a non-stop process; we often have to be looking ahead. There is never a set timeline as we deal with players on a case by case basis. Some of them are prepared and have taken the tests, applied to the NCAA clearinghouse and have their transcripts ready. More often than not players, especially the international players, are not aware of all the paperwork involved to become eligible to play college tennis, and the process might be longer in these cases. We often find ourselves talking to players in their Senior Year, although some of them are more proactive and start the process their Junior Year. We send out information as soon as possible to the PSA in order to get them accepted as quickly as possible.”
“Every recruit has a different timeline depending on position, skill level, etc. Typically, we have been able to watch you play and track your progress over several years (ideally sophomore summer into your junior summer and then continued into senior year).
The majority of our recruits will be signed during the early period which is November 11th of their senior year. However, most of those same recruits will verbally commit as much as a year to a year and half earlier than actually signing. With that being said, since this is my staff’s first season at Urbana we are recruiting multiple positions over multiple classes that are subsequently atypical to what was described above.”
D3, NAIA, and Junior Colleges: When to start a college search
D3, NAIA, and Junior Colleges are typically the last to fill their classes, though this is not universally true. There are individual schools at each of these levels that are at the top of their division. Often these coaches are great recruiters and have wrapped up strong recruiting classes before their peers of the same division.
Here are coaches from D3, NAIA, and a junior college who talk about the typical timeline at these levels. Recruiting at these levels often takes place beginning the junior year, but it is typical to heavily recruit seniors as well.
“Typically we like to identify the traditional recruit during their junior season and actively recruit them during the summer and throughout their senior season.”
“It would start sometime during junior year and usually after the state championship in October. If I’m interested in a player, I’d send a letter describing who I am a little history about the program and the college and what the cost would be and what our scholarship entails. Then I’ll call the recruit.”
“Typically we send out our first round of communications towards the end of a prospect’s junior year, and by the start of his/her senior year the recruiting process is in full swing. Some student-athletes make up their mind very early in their senior year, and we still have some recruits who are on the fence. The timeline varies for everyone.”
Coaching changes, player injuries, signed recruits deciding not to attend, and other things that can affect recruiting at individual schools.
Though many coaches gave typical times they receive commitments and fill their recruiting classes, there is a general consensus that it is never too late. Individual schools have needs that come up even in for their incoming group of freshmen (aka high school seniors). Don’t be discouraged if you are starting late. There will be fewer opportunities available and many of the scholarships will be gone. But if you are diligent and work hard at doing your research and contacting coaches, you may still find opportunities.
If you are a senior and need to start your college search:
- Do it today!
- Call all of the schools you are most interested in first.
- Do your research and look for coaching changes. New coaches are often have to put together a recruiting class quickly. The previous coach might not have done much recruiting. Recruits who had signed may back out when the coach who recruited them leaves.
- Set your sights on divisions other than D1. Some D2, NAIA, D3, and Junior Colleges will still be trying to round out their rosters late into the spring. A few will still be searching for players in the summer after seniors have already graduated.
If you are freshmen, sophomore, or junior you have plenty of opportunities in front of you.
They won’t magically fall in your lap. Find some schools you are interested in and develop relationships with the coaches today.
Here is another great article about how to get recruited: A Letter to Parents: The Struggle to Get Their Teenager to Contact Colleges
If you want to be a college athlete…
If you are ready to get coaches to notice you… Then the How to Get Recruited Guide will give you a step-by-step plan to turn your talent into offers. There’s a lot to learn about the recruiting process. How to Get Recruited condenses mountains of advice, and converts it to simple action steps that will get college coaches calling.
How to Get Recruited: Got Talent. Get a Plan. Get Recruited.
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Useful links to look at the recruiting calendar for the sport and division you are interested in.
Here is the recruiting calendar specific to sport and division for NCAA Divisions 1 and
Division 1 Men’s Basketball: at the time of this writing was not available, but here is the link where it should be.
Note: The NAIA, D3, and Junior Colleges don’t have many restrictions about when they can contact you.