Many high school athletes dream of playing college sports. Some are genuine scholarship material. Some view their sport as something that enriches their lives and will “walk on” or play at the club or intramural level. Either way, athletic dedication, and achievement can make a difference in the admission process. But…. Athletes and parents should know the hurdles if they go down this path and pursue college sports.
The NCAA is the primary source for information. It sets the standards for eligibility for all the divisions of college sports. (There is also the NAIA for smaller programs). Division, I schools can offer full scholarships to play; Division II awards partial support, and Division III does not offer any athletic aid. Playing a Division I college sport usually means the sport will be your full-time job both in and off-season. Division II and III have more flexibility, but they also do not have the public visibility if you are considering an athletic career.
Here are some questions you should consider if you are thinking about playing college sports:
Have you prepared yourself academically to play college sports? Go to the NCAA Clearinghouse to see the academic eligibility requirements to determine if you are a candidate.
Have you been in touch with any college coaches or recruiters? Make sure you know the rules concerning college recruiting: e.g., a Division III coach cannot contact an athlete unless the athlete contacts him/her first.
Will you be able to both play and get your degree? Can you successfully handle your classes and the necessary practice and travel to play the schedule?
Will you be able to major in the subject you want? You may miss labs or seminars due to practice hours or travel. Does the coach restrict which majors you can choose? Even if your plan is a professional sports career, those years are very limited (average length for pro football is 3.3 years and baseball is 5.6 years) and you will need the degree when you finish.
Are you physically prepared for a college sport? You will be competing with others just as good or better than you.
What are the terms of your scholarship? If you are injured, what happens to your scholarship? Can you adjust to not playing?
How are athletes treated at the school? Talk to teammates and students as to how you are viewed, not just by the coaches but by the student body. Are you isolated from the main body of students? College years go by more quickly than you can imagine. If you want to play for your school, make sure you know what it will entail, and make sure you are ready.