For student-athletes in their senior year of high school, the official visit is one of the more exciting recruitment tactics used by college coaches.
Official college visits are not offered to just anyone; only the best of the best are invited by interested coaches. If you end up being one of the chosen athletes to be whisked away on an official college visit, make sure you are prepared and know the right questions to ask so you and the coach both get as much out of it as possible.
What is an "official visit"?
According to the NCAA, when you are invited on an official visit, "the college can pay for transportation to and from the college for you, lodging and meals...for you and your parents or guardians, as well as reasonable entertainment expenses, including three tickets to a home sports event." Before you can be invited, you need to submit a copy of your high school transcript (as well as standardized test scores for Division I schools) to the college, in addition to registering with the NCAA Eligibility Center.
Per NCAA guidelines for most sports, you can only visit a college on an official visit once and have only five total visits to all Division I schools; however, an unlimited number of official visits may be made to Division II schools. Unofficial visits—where travel, lodging, and meal expenses are paid for by you and your family—are also unlimited. (Other specific sport rules regarding visits can be found in this post about what to expect your senior year with recruitment.)
What to expect
Colleges vary when it comes to hosting prospective athletes. Some may have you stay with one student who is on the team and it will be their job to show you around, while some will have you share your time with multiple people.
With most visits, you will be on the campus for about (but no more than) 48 hours, and you will experience every aspect of college life, from checking out a practice, watching a game, and touring the campus to eating at the cafeteria, going to class, and joining in on the social atmosphere.
It will be a jam-packed day or two where you will get to meet up with the coach and discuss your future at the college and on the team. Maybe you'll even get a scholarship offer while you're there! The school can also set up meetings with an academic counselor or professor in your desired major so you can get a better feel for the academics. All in all, it's an intense but potentially very enlightening experience.
Questions you should ask on the visit
Having questions prepared shows a huge level of interest in the college's athletic program and the coach. Here are a few to get you started:
- What is the team's travel schedule like? How does that factor into academics/school?
- How does the coach see you as a fit for the team? Would you be a starter? Walk on? Are there already many athletes in your position, i.e., four offensive wings so you would be the fifth—and would that be worth it?
- How many athletes are being recruited for the team?
- What is the practice schedule like/how many hours per week?
- Is there practice in the off season?
Write these and any other questions you may have down and bring them with you, along with extra paper and a pen.
How you should represent yourself
Grab your Sunday best, because you need to dress to impress. It shows you put time and thought into your trip and that you appreciate the coach extending him or herself to you.
Dressing nicely is just the tip of the iceberg, though. In an interview with former UMass Amherst softball player Bridget Lemire and former Worcester State University field hockey coach Susie Whelan, both expressed how important it is to represent yourself as best as possible off the field. "Most coaches will look at how you treat your parents, how you talk to other people, and how you talk to your teammates," said Lemire. "It may seem small, but it's a very important thing." Whelan added that it is crucially important to be polite.
Finally, when your trip is over and you're back home, the first thing you need to do is write a thank-you note to the coach and your host player(s) to express your gratitude for their help and for sharing their time to make you feel at home.
And why you need to behave
Let's face the facts here: you are a senior in high school who has been invited to a college campus for a night or two. Depending on who your lovely host is, it is very possible that you will be asked to join your new friends for some parties and fun.
There is nothing wrong with following them out, but beware of doing everything they do. If a coach finds out that you were drinking or were out past curfew, your future at the college will be over. No exceptions. You know that scholarship you were given? You can kiss that goodbye as well. While it might seem like the "cool" thing to do because you want to fit in, it's not worth your athletic dreams and college future. And if you're still not convinced, check out this official visit horror story that I am sure will change your mind.
Have you already been on an official college visit as a student-athlete? Share any tips and tricks you might have in the comments!