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Updated on Friday, April 26, 2019
Think of National Signing Day as akin to National College Decision Day, but for the country’s top amateur athletes. Like you, these teens pick a home for the next four years, even signing and sending over a letter of commitment — the only difference is that they’re choosing both a college and a team.
Even if you don’t dribble, tackle or score with the best of them, you could learn by following their example. These seven takeaways from student-athletes’ experience might help you select the right school come May 1.
1. Contact the school to ensure a good fit
Five-star recruits who excel on the field don’t even need to dial: Head coaches from schools all over the country will be ringing regularly.
But many of these prep athletes don’t just take the first offer they get. They might have phone calls with assistant coaches, members of the athletic department and others to ensure that the school offers them what they want out of their athletic and academic experience.
In your case, speaking with the admissions and financial aid offices is one thing, but it wouldn’t hurt to contact the people you’ll be interacting with at the school. For instance, you might reach out to department heads, faculty and professors who would take part in your education in your preferred (or just potential) major.
2. Take ‘recruiting’ visits
The very best young athletes play host to recruiters in their living room. Afterward, they might narrow their college choice list to a handful of contending programs, book their travel and take guided tours of the campus athletic facilities.
To save money and time, you might start by using eCampusTours to make virtual visits. Identify your contending schools and map out your visit. (Unless you’re hoping to be an intramural sports star in college, it’s worth visiting spots other than the campus gymnasium.)
You might not receive as much hand-holding as a heralded basketball recruit, so be prepared to do some exploring on and off campus. Confirm that these are places you could imagine yourself studying and living until your degree is complete.
3. Interact with schools over social media
Incoming freshman football players might follow their prospective teams on Twitter or like them on Facebook to track win-loss records, to see how head coaches handle defeat or to understand the locker room culture.
You could gain a similarly valuable perspective on your favorite universities (or schools within the universities) by at least checking in on students’ social media posts. Learning about campus culture and events, for example, would help you get an idea of whether you’d fit into a given school’s social scene.
4. Get a scholarship if you can
Many incoming college athletes receive full-ride scholarship offers without having to ask for them. It’s not unheard of for some sports’ coaches to make these offers when the student-athlete is still in the eighth grade.
Many other prep athletes, particularly those playing sports that don’t draw national attention, receive only partial scholarships. Like you, they must find other ways to fill the gap in their cost of attendance and living expenses.
As you search for scholarships, ask yourself what value you’d bring to campus, even if it’s not a championship trophy. Then present that case, whether it’s centered on your grades or life experience, to financial aid offices at the schools you’re interested in.
You might not score the full-ride given to football players (or even the partial aid afforded to competitors in lesser-known sports), but you could receive a smaller scholarship that lessens your reliance on federal and private student loans.
5. Research alumni career paths to the ‘pros’
High school athletes who are good enough to play in college might even be good enough to play professionally too. A talented point guard looking for the right women’s basketball program, for example, might award extra points to schools that have graduated guards into the WNBA.
Adopt the same mindset for your job prospects — after all, choosing a college is not unlike choosing a career path.
Say you want to study computer science, but you’re unsure if a particular university pumps out the kind of candidates that startups and tech giants fight over. Put in a little research, whether by talking to a school’s alumni relations office or searching a website like LinkedIn. Then you’ll know whether a campus has served as a springboard to the kind of positions you might one day seek.
6. Commit, but keep your options open
High-profile recruits often verbally accept one school’s scholarship offer, only to turn around and sign with another on National Signing Day. Decommitting and choosing a college elsewhere is inevitable for some teenagers deciding where they want to play college ball.
No one is expecting you to have it figured out immediately either. So there’s no harm in having your heart set on one school at the beginning of your college choice process, but then deciding that a rival school is a better fit. Keep an open mind to ensure you land in the right place.
7. Face the camera and announce your college choice
Of the six college sports that offer full-ride scholarships, football and basketball seem to attract the most attention. Their top-notch recruits have been known to go on TV, start a live stream or otherwise record the moment they announce their school choice.
You might see these college choice announcements as over the top, or even brash, but there’s also something genuine about them. The student-athletes are practically giddy about where they’ll be going to school.
Even if you’re not a fan of the pomp and circumstance of National Signing Day, make sure you enjoy the spotlight you’ll be under on College Decision Day. After all the work you’ve put in (including steps one through six, above), it’s your time to shine. Revel in it.