College Planning Guide for Student Athletes

View the College Planning Guide for Student Athletes for more about athletic scholarships, recruitment packets, and more.

Sample Cover Letter

The Athletic Cover Letter serves as a formal introduction of a student-athlete to a coach.

Sample Athletic Résumé

The Athletic Résumé highlights a student-athlete’s accomplishments and goals.

The NCAA Eligibility Center

The NCAA Eligibility Center certifies the academic and amateur credentials of all students who want to play sports at NCAA Division I or II institutions.

In order to practice, play and receive an athletic scholarship, students need to meet certain academic benchmarks. The NCAA has made changes to the Division I requirements starting in 2016 and Division II changes beginning in 2018. The NCAA needs to ensure students meet all requirements in order to practice, compete and receive athletic aid. Therefore, it is important to monitor your coursework throughout high school to make sure that you are on track to meet all of the NCAA requirements.

Eligibility Steps

College bound student-athletes can register with the Eligibility Center at any time, but it is recommended that they register early in their junior year by visiting eligibilitycenter.org. Click on the “New Account” link in the upper right corner of the page. After the student creates an account, he or she will begin the new registration process.

Registering with the NCAA Eligibility Center requires a registration fee for domestic students. Think you might qualify for a fee waiver? If you received a fee waiver for the ACT or SAT due to your financial circumstances, you’ll also qualify to have the NCAA Eligibility Center registration fee waived. If a student indicates he or she is eligible for a fee waiver, he or she can still register, but their status will read, “payment pending” until the fee waiver documentation is received from the high school administrator. At that time, the college-bound student-athlete’s payment will be marked as complete.

Once the student-athlete’s payment has been accepted, he or she will receive an email with payment confirmation, as well as an email confirming successful registration with the student-athlete’s NCAA ID.

After the registration process is complete, he or she will be able to visit the “My Planner” page to view and update account information, view test score and transcript receipts, view academic and amateurism statuses, and view any open tasks.

ACT and SAT exam scores should be sent directly from the testing agency. This can be done in the ACT/SAT registration process. Placing the code “9999” in the score recipient box during registration ensures the respective exam score will be sent to the NCAA Eligibility Center.

Request that your high school counselor send an official transcript to the NCAA Eligibility Center after completing your junior and senior years. If you attended more than one high school, the Eligibility Center needs an official transcript from each high school.


Receiving a letter from a coach does NOT mean you are a recruit or that the coach will continue to pursue you. What you received is likely a form letter the coach has sent to tens of hundreds of potential student-athletes as part of the recruiting process. At this moment, there are other athletes around the country opening the exact same letter. The letters could be the result of any number of things including your game results; your participation in camps, showcases, and combines; your high school coach's contacts; or simple word-of-mouth. Until the college coach calls you personally, writes you a personal email, or extends you an official offer, the letter doesn't mean you are being recruited.

Being a student-athlete can be an advantage over applicants that are not student-athletes because it conveys a level of commitment and discipline. Admission offices will always consider how all applicants will contribute to the campus' overall environment. Whether through art, music, or service activity, evidence of engagement is critical for admission to college. Evidence of academic capacity is even more critical. As colleges evaluate applicants, their main goal is to accept students that will successfully graduate. Coaches can submit a list of names to the admissions department, but you need to be committed to the coach and express a strong interest in attending that institution. At the end of the day, the admissions department makes admission decisions, not coaches, and students who think they are a shoe-in for admissions based solely on athletics are often sadly mistaken. In the grand scheme of things, the applicant is a student-athlete, with student coming first.

Most colleges today are cutting recruiting budgets, adding recruiting questionnaires on their websites, and focusing more on showcases. Most coaches do not have the resources to visit potential recruits at their high schools anymore. It's extremely easy for an athlete to be overlooked by college coaches who have thousands of athletes to scout and hundreds of potential venues. College coaches don't read local newspapers and most don't attend high school games. Only the top 3% of high school athletes are truly “discovered.” The other percent need to market themselves to coaches and be pro-active in the process. (See “Recruiting Packet” on page 8.)

Many Division III programs generate excitement, provide tremendous facilities, and produce outstanding athletes. DIII athletes are talented and dedicated and want to continue their passion for the sport. They primarily attend college to get an education first and play athletics second. One of the biggest myths is that student-athletes can just stroll onto a DIII roster; however, many fail to do this and are therefore very unpleasantly surprised. Students should check out winning programs in their area to see the level of competition. Some of these programs have student-athletes that could have played Division I or II athletics had they chosen that route. It's very common to see student-athletes these days playing Division III sports because many DIII schools have strong financial aid programs outside of specific athletic scholarships, not to mention many students will see more playing time in Division III! There are definitely need-based and merit-based financial aid programs which make colleges more affordable.

It is very common for athletes to compare themselves to other athletes to evaluate their own skill level. Often, students look at other players on the team and assume because the teammates were recruited to play at a certain division that means they will be recruited because they feel they are just as good or even better. Remember that coaches look for certain traits in student-athletes. Students may be recruited because they fit in a gap that exists within the current team (e.g., a catcher that is more defensive than offensive). Coaches build around their existing rosters and search for the players needed to create winning programs on and off the field.

To find out more about athletic scholarships, college division levels, recruitment packets and more, check out our new College Planning Guide for Student Athletes.

Marketing Yourself as a Student-Athlete

Building a recruiting packet will ensure that prospective coaches will have the information they need to evaluate you as a student-athlete. The components of a recruiting packet typically include an athletic résumé, cover letter, and sport schedule. Some coaches may also ask you to complete questions or provide video.

According to the NCAA, official visits are visits by prospective students to college campuses paid for by the colleges. You may make official visits starting the opening day of classes your senior year. You may make only one official visit per college and up to a maximum of five official visits to Division I colleges. There is no limit to official visits to Division II colleges. Unofficial visits are visits by prospective students and their parents to college campuses paid for by the prospective students or their parents. The only compensation prospects can receive from the college are three complimentary admissions to a home athletics contest. The prospects may make as many unofficial visits as they like and may take the visits at any time. The only time the prospects cannot talk with coaches during unofficial visits is during a dead period (definition page 13).

What role does technology play?

As new technologies emerge, the NCAA rules and regulations adjust to be inclusive. For example, currently, it is not permissible for coaches to send text messages to student prospects. But, after September 1 of the junior year, most sports’ coaches can send and receive unlimited contacts with a prospect by regular mail or email. As of the printing of this guide, Facebook walls are considered open forums and against NCAA rules. However, coaches can send direct messages through Facebook because they are similar to an email. Twitter is permissible as long as coaches are not using it to contact individual student prospects and are abiding by the standard recruiting rules.

Social Media!

Through their online profiles, students have the freedom to share photos and personal information with friends and other folks in their networks. A student’s online reputation has the power to be evidence of their real-life work ethic, commitment and focus or it could make prospective coaches question their judgment, decision making and fit for the team. Keep in mind that once recruited, college student-athletes are viewed as an extension of the campus’ image, which is why they should familiarize themselves with the college’s code of conduct beforehand to ensure that they represent the school in a positive manner. If you were a recruited athlete today, would your online profile reflect positively on you? Showcase the athletic, academic, and character strengths you possess.

5 Tips for Your Official Campus Visit

  1. See a practice. While it may be fun to see a game or contest, it is far more important to see a practice on a non-game day. A practice shows you just how the program operates, how the coach interacts with the team, how technical the instruction given is, drills and plays used by the team, how hard the players work and their attitudes about teamwork and sportsmanship. Seeing how different teams prepare for different levels of competition will help you decide which school is right for you from an athletic point of view.
  2. Schedule a meeting with the Athletic Department’s admissions department liaison. Ask about the school’s specific admission requirements. If you are fortunate enough to know what you want to study, ask more questions about that program and whether there are any other players majoring in that program as well. Understand what the curriculum is like and what classes you will need to take to graduate with a certain degree and find out about the availability of academic supports like tutoring and peer mentoring. If you are undecided about your major, make sure the school has a variety of academic majors that are of interest to you.
  3. Research the team roster for the next year. Look to see how many students for your position are juniors and seniors. Ask specific questions about where you fit in. If the team already has players in your position, will you get playing time as a freshman? Spend as much time as possible with the younger players on the team. These are the people you might be interacting with for the next few years. If you like the players that you spend time with, then you are already on your way to having a good college experience.
  4. Ask about the team rules and policies. While the Athletic Department may have certain guidelines about player-team conduct, each program is usually left to determine their own conduct rules. Ask questions about food and diet restrictions, dress codes for game days, living arrangements and alcohol policies.
  5. Many student-athletes, because of demands on their schedule during the sports season, will need to take classes in the summer or attend a fifth year of school to complete all the required classes for their major. Find out about summer school classes and fifth year funding options. Each school determines how it handles these two topics and, unfortunately, the answers vary by sport. You must find out this information because it will have a big impact on your summer plans and the possible financial obligation beyond any offered scholarship.

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