The steps of the college recruiting process
College coaches generally follow specific steps through their collegiate athletic recruiting process. Knowing these steps will help potential recruits understand where they are in the recruiting process and what still needs to occur going forward. These steps include:
College coaches gather a list of prospective athletes who meet basic requirements
To start out, coaches need to gather a large group of recruits. They will identify recruits who meet basic criteria like height, weight, position, grad year, academics, location and more. To do so, college coaches will use the following tools and methods:
- Recruiting media sites like Rivals.com or 247Sports
- Third-party recruiting services like NSR (we have the largest network of student-athlete recruiting profiles)
- Recommendations from high school or club coaches
- Emails and messages from recruits
- Camps and showcases where they can see many potential recruits in one place
At this point in the college recruiting process, around 800 athletes may make it through the initial evaluation process at smaller programs, while nearly 8,000 prospects may make it to the next step at larger programs.
What this means for you: As a recruit, you need to look at the college recruiting process like a funnel, too. Start out with a list of programs that would be a good athletic, academic, financial and social fit for you, and then pare that list down based on your preferences and the interest of college coaches.
Consider attending camps and showcases held by coaches at schools you’re interested in. Create your free NSR Recruiting Profile so college coaches can easily find your information online. And get your name in front of college coaches as much as possible through emails, social media and other ways to contact college coaches. Always include key pieces of information college coaches need to know to conduct their initial evaluation of you as a recruit, including your measurables and recruiting video.
College coaches send out recruiting letters, recruiting questionnaires and camp invites to prospects
The next step for most coaches is to begin sending out messages to a large group of athletes to get an idea of how many might be interested in their program. Athletes who pass the initial evaluation will likely receive one or more of the following:
- Requests to complete a recruiting questionnaire
- Invitations to a camp
- General interest letters from the school
How do college athletic recruiting questionnaires work? They are forms with fields for basic information that coaches want to see about any potential recruit and are very common in college sports recruitment. After coaches send these communications, they will see who responds—and consider how genuinely interested each athlete sounds—and narrow their list of prospects down to between 500–3,000 athletes, depending on the size of the program.
What this means for you: Recruiting questionnaires, camp invites and general interest letters from a school may seem impersonal and not worthy of a follow-up. However, they do serve an important purpose. Respond to each coach with a personalized message, thanking them for the letter and letting them know you are interested in their program. Coaches are very good at spotting generic messages and mass emails.
At this point, many athletes want to know if a college coach is really interested and the answer is usually quite simple: If you’ve received mail (or an email) from the coach, they are most likely evaluating you as a recruit. It’s in your best interest to quickly follow up to ensure you get to the next step in the recruiting process.
College coaches conduct in-depth athletic, academic and character evaluations of recruits
Where do college coaches evaluate athletes they are looking to recruit? At this stage in the college recruiting process, coaches really need to get to know recruits in order to create a ranked list of top prospects. This often means they will get in touch with athletes and start calling their high school and club coaches for an evaluation or recommendation. They may also travel to large tournaments or showcases where many of their recruits will be competing, or they will send athletes personalized invites to their own camps. Official and unofficial visits can also happen at this time, as coaches aim to create a solid list of top recruits.
Once this round of rigorous evaluations is complete, coaches will have a ranked list of about 20–300 athletes, depending on the sport and the division level.
What this means for you: Don’t wait for college coaches to start contacting you! Instead, take the initiative to show them why you deserve to make it to the next round of the college recruiting process. Send them updated athletic and academic stats and highlight videos with your best and most recent footage. Ask your high school and club coach to reach out to college coaches on your behalf. And let coaches know you’re coming to their school for an unofficial visit and that you’d like to arrange a time to meet with them while you’re there.
College coaches extend scholarship offers and lock down commitments
At this point, coaches will have a ranked list of their top prospects and will look to lock down commitments. How do college coaches make offers? As with every step of the college recruiting process, different coaches will approach this in different ways. For large programs at D1 or D2 schools, college coaches will have a list of nearly 200–300 athletes. Not all those athletes will be joining the team, but the coach will start by giving out offers to the recruits at the top of their list and then work their way down until they’ve filled all open roster spots. Coaches may still conduct on-campus visits at this step, so athletes should be prepared to answer if they get an offer.
When can college coaches make you an offer? That depends on the type of offer. Verbal offers—non-binding, handshake agreements between a recruit and a college coach—can happen at any time and age. However, one of the biggest problems with early offers is that both the recruit and the coach can back out of them at any time. For example, if an athlete was given a verbal scholarship offer their freshman year of high school, that offer can still be rescinded by the athlete’s senior year of high school. This leaves the recruit in a tough spot if they haven’t been communicating with any other schools. Offers usually become official when the athlete signs their National Letter of Intent, which typically occurs their senior year of high school.
After all offers are made and accepted, a recruiting class can range from 2–30 athletes, depending on the sport and division level.
Read more about how verbal commitments and offers work.
What this means for you: If you’ve made it to this point of the college recruiting process, you need to be ready to handle some tough conversations about scholarships, offers and financial aid. Talk with your family about narrowing down your target list of schools and make sure to identify the schools you’re prepared to commit to.
College coaches sign athletes and ensure academic eligibility
The last step for college coaches is ensuring that each recruit signs with their program and meets eligibility requirements. Here’s how the committing and signing timeline works in most cases:
- The athlete verbally commits to the school.
- The college coach extends an official offer.
- The athlete signs the official offer.
- The athlete continues to meet eligibility requirements by taking all the necessary core courses and receiving the required GPA in those courses.
Unfortunately, every year, there are athletes who have signed with a college but end their senior year ineligible to compete at the college level. This leaves both the athlete and the coach in a tough spot. The coach will need to go back to their list of top prospects and see if the athlete who ranked number two in that spot is still available, interested and academically eligible. The former recruit will likely need to compete for a year or two at a junior college to gain academic eligibility.
What this means for you: While it’s easy to get caught up in the rush of athletic recruiting and signing with a school, you still need to make sure that you stay academically eligible. If you’re concerned at all that you may not be able to meet the requirements, meet with your guidance counselor to go over what grades you need to meet in your core courses and strategize a way to get there.