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Helping Student-Athletes Make Best College Choice

By Dr. David Hoch, CMAA, and Dr. Steve Amaro, CMAA on March 12, 2019 hst Print

Toward the end of summer, a highly recruited athlete at a school walked into the athletic director’s office. It was evident he had more on his mind than the upcoming season. Since the athletic director had known the individual as both an athlete and a student, the anxiety he exhibited facially and in his body language was very clear. He told the athletic director, “I’ve got a real problem and I don’t think anyone understands it.”

The simple act of listening to students verbalize their dilemmas often helps them find positive directions or solutions. Having previous experience in situations like this, the athletic director asked the young man to sit down and tell him about his problem.

In a fairly common situation that most senior students experience at least once, the student-athlete was conflicted about how to select a college. His situation was a bit more complex than most students, however, in that “All of my friends and teammates are working to get into at least one college, but I have a whole bunch of colleges that want me to go there to play sports and I don’t know which one is right for me.”

While this is an awesome opportunity for a high school student, it is also true that a young person may feel conflicted at this age to want to make “the right decision.” Choosing a college affects the rest of one’s life, so there are some standard questions that should be posed to students – regardless of their NCAA athletic potential.

1. Have you been to the college for a visit?

Far too often, students get wrapped up in school marketing and perceived prestige. They may apply to a school based on mailed handouts and websites. When students select a college, they are making a decision that – at a minimum – will affect the next four years of their lives.

In real life, people don’t buy houses without visiting neighborhoods. Why wouldn’t you suggest or advise students to visit the colleges they are interested in to find out whether they can actually see themselves in that environment? Walking a campus, taking a tour, talking to college students and experiencing the community should be major factors in finding the right college. This may necessitate and involve sacrificing some family vacation time, but it could also be a creative family vacation with enough planning. Regardless, when students visit college campuses, they get a better understanding of their potential future home.

2. Have you met with the coach(es) and future teammates?

Most high school students do not have the luxury of selecting the coach they play for in high school. However, student-athletes can and should meet with the potential coaching staff and future teammates to find out the personality of a program. These visits may reveal whether the coaching staff has a genuine interest in the student, and students can learn about the core values of the program or school. If students find discrepancies between what is advertised in publications and on a website and what the people of the program truly believe, this could give them direction in making their college selection.

3. Does the college have academic courses of study that fit the needs of the student?

Whether the student is a Division 1 athlete or not, selection of a college should involve reviewing the college course of study. What does the student want to study or perhaps what can they see themselves doing once they conclude their college studies? Colleges have specialties, particular majors, graduate programs, and alumni and business connections for internships and job placement. Once students realize they can match their future study interests with a particular college, it helps clarify their decisions.

4. The location and the size of school may affect a student’s decision. Is it a good, comfortable fit?

Students have different learning styles and comfort zones. For some, being on a large campus with lecture halls of more than 500 people may be fine, while this could be a nightmare for others.

Students need to explore how they best learn. Do they prefer that their instructors know their name? Do they want a mentor relationship with a college faculty member? Do they prefer to direct their own course of study with little supervision? All of these questions concern the size of a school, as well as class size, and understanding this factor can help students.

In terms of college location, some students prefer to be closer to their family while others prefer to be farther away from home. Finding out how close a student wants to be to their family and how independent they truly feel can give some clarity to their collegiate decision. Financial obligations may be a factor here as well as some states give in-state discounts and many students will find the “full athletic scholarship” is extraordinarily rare.

The For-Profit College Match

There are a number of for-profit organizations that help pair students with colleges that are looking for athletes. Sometimes their efforts result in unusual or unique opportunities that students may not originally consider. These companies attempt to match collegiate need with student desire to participate in sport, but they should not be solely used as the criteria for attending a specific college.

A four-year or five-year commitment is a long time for any individual, and for many students it is the longest one they have ever made to this point. Again, this question should be posted to high school seniors looking to begin college: “What do you want to do with your life after your athletic career is over?” This helps students to find clarity and can help them find the right college.

Although not all situations are perfect, it is a good feeling when a student returns years later and reports that it was the best decision he or she made. When athletic directors encourage students to explore all their options, they have the necessary tools to make the best college choice