University Athletics From Recruitment to Enrollment

Dean of Undergraduate Admission, Babson College

Last Updated: Apr 17, 2020

Being a student-athlete in a university or college environment can be an exciting and rewarding experience, but life as a prospective student-athlete is not always fun and games.

The collegiate athletic recruitment process is complex, and students are required to be prepared at all stages of it. Luckily, with the proper information, you’ll be in the game in no time.

The US athletic system

One of the first challenges you will face is fully understanding the collegiate athletic system. The vast majority of collegiate athletes compete in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). Within the NCAA, there are three levels at which students may compete: Division I, II, and III (D-I, D-II, and D-III, respectively). D-I programs are typically the nation’s largest and most competitive and offer a variety of athletic scholarship opportunities. D-II and D-III programs are highly competitive but usually less so than D-I programs; some D-II programs offer athletic scholarships, and D-III programs do not. While the majority of colleges and universities belong to the NCAA, other associations, such as the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) and the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA), also offer athletic opportunities.

The recruitment process

It’s important to understand the role of timing in the recruitment process. The NCAA has stringent guidelines surrounding a university’s or college’s ability to recruit prospective athletes. For a student entering university in September 2011, for example, college coaches cannot initiate face-to-face contact until July 2010. However, students may initiate contact with college and university coaches prior to this date.

Prior to beginning the recruitment process, potential D-I and D-II NCAA athletes are required to register in the NCAA Initial-Eligibility Clearinghouse; D-III athletes are not required to register at the Clearinghouse. The Clearinghouse serves as a centralized location to determine a student’s eligibility as an amateur athlete (students who have derived income or benefits from their athletics prior to enrollment are not eligible to participate in NCAA athletics). It is strongly recommended that students register at the Clearinghouse one year before their intended date of enrollment. For more information, visit

The admission process

Once students have begun communicating with the coaches at their potential colleges and universities, coaches will begin to develop a list of their top recruits. These lists may change throughout the year, depending on the team’s needs at a given point in time. Coaches may request copies of a student’s secondary school transcript or standardized test results in order to advocate for the student to their college or university’s admission committee. The admission committee reserves the right to make all final decisions and will do so with students’ academic and athletic credentials in mind. Final admission decisions are also communicated through the office of admission.

Nurturing student development

Student-athletes must often work harder than most students on campus. In addition to maintaining the academic standards colleges set, many collegiate student-athletes may frequently travel great distances to compete. As you determine which college is right for you, don’t forget to consider the additional services provided to student-athletes. Because of the considerable amount of time D-I and D-II athletes spend away from their campuses, many universities have established tutoring centers or traveling tutors to help student-athletes keep up with their academic requirements. Most D-III athletic programs typically schedule their competitions so that their students travel regionally instead of nationally. They also schedule their distant travel on weekends to avoid the challenges associated with having their student-athletes miss classes in order to compete.

One key to determining the success of a college or university’s student-athletic program is to look at student-athlete graduation rates. If a college is consistently graduating a high percentage of its student-athletes, it probably means that appropriate services are in place to ensure their students’ success.

With the proper perspective, athletics can provide a rewarding complement to your college studies.

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