Deciding on a school is a lot like dating. Would you start dating someone without ever seeing them in person? Without ever going on a… date? Okay possibly? But this is what a visit is, a date. You want to meet the coaches and take an evening stroll through the campus, picturing yourself living there. They want to decide if you are going to be a good fit for their family… AKA their program.
Setting up a school visit will give you an opportunity to get to know the staff on a deeper level, check out the campus, the athletic department, and attend a game or a practice. Really immerse yourself in the experience in the little time you have while you are there. Try the campus food, check out the rec center, the local amenities, the library, and possibly try attending a class. Beyond athletics, see if you can picture yourself living there. Is it a big city and you are a wide open space type? Is it in the middle of farmland and you are allergic to hay and need fast access to a Chipotle? Ask yourself these tough questions now.
While planning your visits, you need to be familiar with each type: Unofficial vs Official. Let’s go over the main differences between the two and which ones might be the best fit for you.
Unofficial visits are the most common form of visits. The term means that you will be responsible to cover the cost of your visit (traveling, accommodations, food, etc.). Unless you are visiting a Division I school, you will be able to plan your visit with the athletic department, schedule a meeting with the coach, and possibly watch a practice as well.
On May 1, 2019, the NCAA changed the recruiting rules for Division I and made it more difficult for schools to organize visits.
If you plan to visit a school you are interested in before August 1st of your Junior Year, you will not be able to have any form of communication with the coach while on campus and will need to also plan and pay for your visit, out of your pocket.
What should your goals be during your Unofficial Visit?
- Attend a class
- Check out the library
- Visit the different housing options
- Meet the training staff (DI excluded)
- Eat in the school cafeteria or food court
- Set up a meeting with an academic adviser
- Hang out on the campus grounds
- Meet the team (DI excluded)
- Stay on campus with one of your future teammate (DI excluded)
- Meet the coaching staff and ask them as many questions as possible (DI excluded)
- Follow-up! After your visit, make sure to send a “thank you” email to show that you appreciate and value their time. Include your schedule and invite them to attend one of your future games.
Going on an official visit is one of the most exciting parts of the recruiting process. Any visit that is fully or partially financed by the school can be considered an official visit. It means that the coach spent valuable money from his program’s budget on you as a promising prospect. Great news! That alone, shows that the coach is more than interested in you as a future player. Unfortunately, these types of visits are getting harder and harder to come by as coaches’ budgets become thinner each year. Generally speaking, the more money a coach spends on your official visit, the higher up on their list you are as a recruit. They are serious about you, and are now willing to invest and begin selling their program to you.
- For DI, athletes are limited to a maximum of five (5) official visits, only one (1) per school. For any other division, athletes are still limited to one visit per school but can visit an unlimited amount of programs.
- A visit can be up to 48 hours long or over the span of a weekend.
- A school can cover the following for you and your parents/guardians: transportation to and from the campus, lodging throughout your visit, three meals per day, and three tickets to a home sporting event.
Do not think that just because you are a talented athlete, you deserve an official visit. As mentioned earlier, due to increasingly limited budgets, coaches seldom offer official visits anymore.
It goes without saying, but if you do get invited, make sure that you are legitimately interested in that school. Do not use this offer as your leisurely weekend entertainment. Pay respect to coaches’ time and schools’ finances.
Preparing for your official visit:
- Register with the NCAA Eligibility Center and purchase your “Certification Account”.
- Have the coach add you to the Institutional Request List. It will allow you to gain priority in the NCAA clearance process.
- Send the admissions office your transcript and a standardized test score.
- Be prepared to potentially receive and offer and think in advance about what your response would be. If you still are not sure, you can politely ask for some time and ask when the offer will expire.
- Put together a list of questions to ask the coach.
Dealing with a verbal/unofficial offer:
Coaches like to give their verbal offer to players by the end of their visit. This happened to me and I was definitely not prepared for it at the time.
If this happens, here is how to handle it:
– Say “thank you” and show appreciation/enthusiasm for the offer.
– Ask, “What are our next steps?”
– Ask, “What is my timeframe to commit?”. Some coaches will give you more or less time to make a decision, the most common timeframe being up to 2 weeks. As always, each coach and school is different, so ASK questions. For my verbal offer, I was given 24 hours to either accept or turn down a “full-ride” scholarship. Not ideal when you were not prepared to receive an offer on the spot.
– Do not make any assumptions or leave anything up to interpretation.
Example of questions to ask:
- What does a normal day look like for an athlete?
- Will I live with my teammates and what does the housing look like?
- Does the school SuperScore tests?
- Does your school stack academic/athletic scholarships?
- How many internationals do guys have and why do you choose to recruit them?
- What are the athletic and academic requirements to maintain my scholarship?
- Do you expect players to be on campus during the off-season or holidays?
For parents/guardians: You are invited and encouraged to attend visits. However, as hard as it is, you need to let your athlete run the show. Let them ask questions and lead conversations. Try to intervene as little as possible.
For athletes: Coaches are scrutinizing you and feeling you out to see if you are the right fit for their program. The main indicator, how you interact/communicate with authority as well as how you behave/talk to your parents. Be respectful, grateful, and courteous but mainly BE YOURSELF. Take time to answer questions thoughtfully.
Let them see the real YOU, not someone you think they want. Coaches look for genuine people for their program and they pick up on phony behavior easily. Being yourself and showing them who you really are will help them picture you being a part of the team.
If you are able, ask the current players for their thoughts about the program. Players will often times give you a straight and honest idea of what to expect. They were once in the same situation, and have nothing to gain or lose by being honest, so do not be afraid to ask them questions (about team camaraderie, campus life, living situation, team schedule, rituals, etc…)
Note: Players that do not play may lean towards making more negative comments. Players that have more playing time and receive recognition are more likely to have good things to say. Make sure to ask questions to everyone to get a well-rounded picture, from the seniors captains to the redshirt freshmen. Take things with a grain of salt and use your own judgment to decide which comments you will put more weight to.
My Personal Experience:
After graduating from Iowa Western Community College, I received a lot of intrigue from various DI schools. As I previously suggested, I used these visits to see if the program would be a good fit for ME.
One of the first schools I toured, I had a negative experience while attending a few practices and a game. The practices had no intensity, lacked a competitive edge, and coaches were not involved or prepared for each session. As a player, I feed off of my coaches’ energy and I need to compete, even at practice. A coach that does not care translates into a lackluster, dispassionate team. I did not see this being a good fit and knew before I left that they did not have coaching staff I would like to play for. If it were not for properly preparing my visit and arranging time so that I could attend practices, I could have said yes to a huge mistake.
Another negative experience I had was at a smaller DI school where housing was a complete mess. The coaching staff was brand new and they were still figuring out how to do things but still not something I was eager to be a part of. The school accepted too many students above their quota, and had essentially ran out of dorms on campus to house any transfers. This meant I would have had to live off-campus, most likely paying my way for food and rent, which as an international student without a budget, was not what I was looking for.
Before planning a visit, see if you can do a virtual tour. A lot of schools offer online tours for you to get an initial feeling of what the school looks like. This will help you feel comfortable about spending money on travel if you already have an idea of what to expect.
Do your best to plan your visit while students are on campus. You would be surprised how differently a campus looks/feels when students are walking to class, games are happening, cafeterias are busy, coffee shops are packed, and traffic is buzzing.