My job as a college counselor has allowed me to work with a number of aspiring college student-athletes. Each of them have different ideas and desires with regard to what they're looking for in a college.
Some will tell me they'd like to play at the next level, but it's not necessarily a deal-breaker if they really like the other aspects of the school. Others won't even consider a school if athletics isn't a part of the equation. Neither of these approaches are wrong. Each student has desires and motivations for what they want in their college experience.
The one question I constantly ask aspiring college athletes is the following: "If [insert sport here] wasn't going to be part of your experience at [insert college here], would you still be excited about attending in the fall?"
All too often, high school student-athletes let the athletics side of a college completely dictate their selection process. Maybe they're obsessed with going to a big name or playing at a certain level. But as a college counselor, I want students to consider all potential scenarios. I never want to be the Debbie Downer in a conversation, but it's important to like a college for more than just one reason.
With regard to athletics, things can change quickly. Maybe you committed to a team because you really liked the players in the program or loved the coaching staff. Well, teammates can graduate or transfer and athletic administrators and/or coaches can leave. Worst of all, you could get hurt or something else happens in your personal life that may prevent you from playing the sport you love.
If something like this happens to a student-athlete I work with, I don't want them to look around their college campus and realize they only liked that particular school because of the athletic program. So when I'm working with a prospective student-athlete, I implore them to spend time looking at the non-sports aspects of a school during their research process.
Whether they're getting recruited or not, how they evaluate a school shouldn't change. Students need to check out the dorms, food, academic programs, internship opportunities and anything else that's important to them. Remember, this is likely where you're going to be living for the next four years! There is nothing wrong with loving a school because a recruit clicks with a coaching staff or other players on the team—this just shouldn't be the only thing painting your opinion of a particular institution.
Students will hear about the importance of building a balanced college list throughout the admission process, but what does it mean?
For aspiring college athletes, it means having a mix of colleges that offer different experiences, including what they bring to the table in terms of athletics. I want all my students to have multiple offers of admission to consider in the spring of their senior year, because you've all worked way too hard throughout high school to not give yourself options! You may just find yourself pleasantly surprised when you expand the scope of your search and stumble upon some amazing schools with great athletics that you would've overlooked otherwise.
If you want to play at the next level, that's great. You just need to remember that sports are only going to be one part of your college experience. Hopefully they're a rewarding, meaningful part, but to discount everything else a school has to offer outside of them is to cheat your future self.
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