It's easy for high school athletes to picture themselves at their dream school, competing at a prestigious university and playing against the best of the best. But it’s harder to grasp some of the gritty details, such as rigorous training programs, winter breaks spent on campus and little-to-no free time.
Are you ready for the commitment?
Before we even dive into which schools you can compete at, we always ask first: Do you want to commit to playing college sports? Your experience as a college-athlete will differ significantly compared to your high school or club team. Practice and training is much more intense (you’re no longer the best one on the team), most of your time is spent with your teammates, including the off-season and holidays, and your academic performance is closely watched.
You'll be better equipped on your recruiting journey and more prepared for the future if you know what to expect and fully understand the time commitments required of college-athletes.
How to gauge your talent level
Next, you'll want to have a third-party evaluate you to see how you really stack up against recruits across the nation. Knowing where you stand will help you target the right programs and maximize your opportunities.
There are a couple of ways you can go about this. First, you can ask your high school or club coach for feedback. College coaches often reach out to high school and club coaches for input, so there’s a good chance yours is already in the loop. Or you can turn to an online service. Some coaches use scouting services, such as FirstPoint USA, while others use recruiting services such as Be Varsity.
Of course, you can always attend a showcase or camp where college coaches check out talent in person. However, most coaches arrive knowing which athletes they want to evaluate, so you should make sure you’re in contact with coaches ahead of time.
What is a star rating?
Some sports—mostly team sports—use star ratings to rank recruits. Star ratings are a quick and easy way to convey a recruit’s level of talent to college coaches. Most commonly, student-athletes are ranked from no stars, meaning their talent is unknown, to 5 stars or elite athletes.
These are the best players in the country, generally among the nation’s top prospects. They have outstanding athleticism and ability far beyond their peers.
These prospects have excellent knowledge of the game and ability. They will most likely start their freshman year in college and are the best player on their club or high school team.
These student-athletes show dominance on the field and will be an impact player. They have a few areas of development and might not always be consistent, especially when competing against top-tier players.
1- and 2-star recruits
Sometimes overmatched against their peers, these recruits have several areas of development. But the potential to compete at the college level is there and they could become reliable starters.
What star level recruit are you?
There are a couple of ways you can identity where you stand: you can research college rosters, or be evaluated by a third-party.
If you’re interested in a college’s program, go to the school’s athletic website and take a look at the roster. Do your key stats fall in line with the other players in your position? Do you have similar achievements as everyone on the team? If you have comparable measurements, then you probably qualify for that level of competition. If you aren’t quite there yet, take a look at a lower division level until you find a good fit where your skills fall in line with the rest of the team.
Differences between high school and college sports
According to the NCAA, nearly 7 million students currently participate in high school sports, and only 480,000 of them go on to compete as NCAA athletes. Here are some major differences between being a high school athlete and a college athlete:
- Training is more intense.As a freshman in college, you’ll train on the same program as 21 and 22-year-olds. Every practice is like an All-Star game, and it’s extremely rare for a freshman to be the best player on the team.
- Everyone is talented.There’s a whole new dimension added to practice in college. Every player on the team is good, meaning your spot be taken at any point. Think about it from the coach’s point of view—this is a business for them and if you’re not performing, they’ll replace you.
- Your team is everything.You will live with your teammates, travel with them, have classes with them, and spend most of your holiday breaks with them.
- Free time is limited.Practice, games, rehab and training could carve out 30 hours of your week. That’s why time management is crucial. Your parents are there to guide you in high school, but in college you quickly learn how to manage your responsibilities.
Talk to current college athletes
Don’t be afraid to go directly to the source. During official and unofficial visits, you typically get an opportunity to meet with current athletes and ask them about their experience. But in the meantime, you shouldn't hesitate to network with college athletes to learn more about a program. You can start by reaching out to former teammates from your high school or club team who are on a college team. Set up a quick chat, prepare meaningful questions and don’t be nervous! You'll discover that athletes who've gone through the recruiting process are open to helping out a fellow recruit.