Narrowing Choices in the College Recruiting Process

Guide: Tips to Help You Narrow Down Your College Choices

The process of narrowing college choices in the recruiting process is not easy, but the work done prior to narrowing makes a big difference. You have to think about narrowing as a process that begins when you enter the recruiting process. You are always heading toward a narrowed list and a final college choice. If you enter the recruiting process haphazardly, most likely narrowing will also be haphazard. However, if you work hard to own your process, and you make and follow a plan, then narrowing your choices will be a little easier.

Here are some tips to help you narrow down your college choices and find the right fit for you.

Girl looking down at map

It Begins With Research

One of the most “unfun” things about the recruiting process is making charts and spreadsheets on the different colleges that you are considering. It’s fun to be courted by colleges. It’s fun to talk to coaches about the potential role you may occupy on their teams. It’s fun to have college coaches attend your games. What is not as fun, but so important, is the behind-the-scenes research that should be done on each college of interest.

This research should begin early in your high school career and become more intense as you progress through the recruiting process.

Taking Notes

Taking notes is important because you won’t remember everything, especially if you begin the process early. Taking notes is not just for phone calls. Taking notes about what you see on social media, what you read somewhere about the university or coach, or what a college player tweets or is quoted as saying in a news article are also important.

Start early and keep a notebook, with all your notes, that can be easily referenced. Then, when it's time to narrow, you can refer back to this information to make sure it lines up with your desires.

Follow Your Colleges of Interest

Following the coaches and colleges that you are interested in on social media is a great way to research. College coaches, assistant coaches and players are on social media quite often and you can pick up a lot of information just from these posts.

It’s also important to follow the college information and happenings outside of the athletic departments. With the unrest today due to social issues and COVID, you can especially learn a lot about what the college's priorities are and how the administrators handle issues that are important to you.

For example, is the college President making announcements about the health and safety of the student body regarding COVID and the racial tensions occurring around the country right now? Much of this information can be easily acquired.

Make sure the information you discover aligns with your goals, values and needs.

Girl talking to a guy at a table

Talk to People About Your College Interests

I know that teens today talk less and text more, but I would encourage you to talk and engage with people directly (when it is safe to do so, of course). The more you talk about your interests, both in sports and academics, the more likely you’ll acquire the information you are looking for.

Many times, if you just mention you are interested in something, someone comes along and either opens a door for you or points you in the right direction towards something you really want.

Maybe this leads to a new college interest, one that you had not initially thought about. Talking to others also creates awareness about what you are looking for. This might bring valuable information to you about your college choices. Other people could know details, or have opinions, about your colleges. It could even spark new thoughts or questions about your college choices, helping you to further narrow.

Every piece of information helps you narrow.

Girl thinking and writing in notebook

Form Working Lists

It begins and ends with working lists, meaning they continually change and get updated. On the most basic level, forming a list of your top colleges, with detailed reasons why they are on your list, makes a difference in helping you narrow choices.

When you begin the recruiting process, your list may be longer than when you are nearing the end of your process.

Your lists shape and reshape themselves according to many factors. Some of those factors are mentioned here.

What Matters to You

As you go through the recruiting process, what matters to you could change. You may change your mind on many factors that play a role in your future. This causes your list to change as well.

Changes Due to College Coach Choices

College coaches are working 24/7 to find potential student athletes to fill the holes in their rosters. When one of their roster spots is filled, it may change their recruiting lists, which may also have an effect on your list.

Outside Factors That Play a Role

Outside factors could also cause you to change your list of colleges. For example, maybe you learn that your grades won’t be accepted at a certain college, or maybe you learn that one of the college players from a certain team is not someone you would want as a teammate. These examples may reshape your lists.

Factors Outside of Your Control

There are many things about the recruiting process that are out of your control. You could get injured in high school, for example. This may cause a college coach to stop recruiting you.

Maybe a college player gets injured. This could potentially open a new door for you, which would reshape your list as well.

A college coach may just stop calling and recruiting you without explanation. It happens. This would also force your list to adjust.

So much can happen throughout your journey. That’s why it’s important to keep up-to-date lists of your colleges, phone calls and other notes that you obtain from researching.

Little girl with arms crossed and angry face

Know Your Non-Negotiables 

One of your lists contains your non-negotiables. These are the things that absolutely must be met before you to say "yes" to a college. Some examples are:

  • The college has to be close to home.
  • The college has to be an engineering college.
  • There has to be an opportunity to play right away.
  • The college campus has to be safe.
  • The campus has to have vegan options in the dorms and around campus.

This is a fictional list, but it gives you an idea. The next step would be to shape your initial list of colleges around these factors. When you have your non-negotiables in front of you, it’s like having a headlight on your car illuminating the road ahead. You then formulate questions and research around those items.

Know the Secondary Factors

Next, form a secondary list of important factors that you'll discover as you continue to grow and mature. A secondary list may look like this:

  • The facilities have to be nice.
  • The dorms have to have single room options.
  • The attendance at games has to be one of the highest in the country.
  • There has to be a major airport nearby.
  • The coach has to have a winning record.

This list is also fictional, but it makes the point that there will be more than just the non-negotiables to think about. Also, just a side note: one person’s non-negotiables could be someone else’s secondary list and visa-versa. The lists are based on individual needs.

Girl contemplating a question with phone in hand

Ask Questions

This is another important aspect of college recruiting. If you don’t ask, you won’t know. That means you'll be making decisions in the dark. You should not feel bad about asking any question of importance, and you should ask the same question to more than just one person.

Seek honesty in the answers. You deserve to know what you are getting yourself into. Sometimes, coaches will oversell or under-sell their situation so it seems more in line with what you are looking for. Asking more than once, and with other people, can help find the absolute truth.

The questions you ask should address your non-negotiables and the other important factors that will make a difference for you.

For example, if a non-negotiable is to have vegan options for food, as stated in the example above, then you can ask about dorm and restaurant choices. Write down the answer and pack it away for when you decide to take visits.

As another example, if one of your secondary needs is to have a dorm room by yourself, then ask the coaches, and administrators if possible, what the opportunities are for single dorm rooms. Write it down and hang on to it for the campus visits.

Then, when you visit campus, bring that list of questions and answers with you. As you walk around campus, make sure you visit the eateries and dorm cafeterias to check out menu options. When you check the dorms during a campus or virtual visit, check out the dorms and read about the room options for freshmen to make sure single rooms are available.

Make sure all of your questions get answered.

Female athlete sitting on park bench with water bottle

Take Into Account What You Feel

After all the work you put into the process, you have a lot of information to work with. After the calls, mail, research, visits, questions and answers, how do you feel about the college, academics, community, campus, coaches and players?

Your gut feelings are important. If you feel any red flags in your choice, those should be addressed. If they are easily addressed, and you know ahead of time what sacrifices will have to be made, then you can adjust your decisions based on those facts. If the flags can’t be addressed, or the sacrifice is too great, then adjust accordingly.

One potentially dangerous move with gut feelings, though, is to decide on gut without research. In other words, you will have some gut feelings throughout the entire recruiting process. If your gut overtakes the research, you may make decisions that lead you down a path that may not work out.

Instead, combine the research with the gut feelings. In doing so, at the end of your journey, when you have to make a commitment, you will be able to make a more informed decision, which should include some gut feelings as well.

You do have choices.