Many high school student-athletes want an opportunity to play at the next level and be offered a college athletic scholarship. While the percentages are in the range of 3-10% (depending on the sport) of high school student-athletes that get an opportunity to play at the next level, not all of them are offered a scholarship based off of their sports talent as many are only offered a walk-on position. Even fewer are offered an opportunity to visit a campus on the school’s ‘dime’ with an official visit to campus.
In part one of our Campus Visits series, we discussed the prevalence of unofficial visits to see a college campus. Most college coaches, admissions staff, and faculty concur that a visit to a college campus can be extremely valuable. Having been a college coach for 14 years, I would highly encourage you to visit numerous campuses early on in your high school career. I would encourage you to visit campuses that are much different from each other- big and small, city vs suburbia, and various levels of sports competition so you can start to figure out what is the right fit for you.
Over the past two and a half years, I interviewed 65 college coaches and athletic directors for my book, Looking For A FULL RIDE?: An Insider’s Recruiting Guide. Almost every single one of them addressed the importance of making a campus visit prior to committing to see campus facilities, meet with professors, visit the residence halls and cafeteria, and meet with athletics staff. However, many of the college coaches were very straight-forward in offering this specific advice: No Matter How Talented You Are, Do Not Expect You Will Be Offered An Official Visit!
One NCAA Division 1 Head Coach (who asked to remain anonymous so he could speak bluntly) said, “One of my biggest pet peeves in the college recruiting process is that so many high school student-athletes, and especially their parents, have the impression that colleges have an unending amount of money in their recruiting budgets to fly kids in from all across the country on a whim that they may or may not be interested in our college.”
He continued, “I appreciate the anonymity in this as I say this as kindly, yet bluntly as I can…Our recruiting budgets are not like the SEC or ACC, even though we are D1. Here’s the scenario families need to understand. If I can fly myself and my assistant to a college showcase or tournament and see 500-1000 kids play in one weekend for the same costs of flying one athlete in to see our campus and entertain them, who may or may not commit to us…What would you do to be a good steward of the limited recruiting budget for our team? Some recruits, not all, think that just because they are a talented athlete, that they ‘deserve’ an official visit.”
“Please let your readers know that they should see being offered an official visit as a privilege, not a right. Do not ask for an official visit or athletic scholarship in your initial email! You would never believe the number of kids who do this. It’s just demonstrates your attitude of entitlement, which coaches do not want on their teams. The majority of student-athletes should focus on unofficial visits and be gracious if they are offered an official visit.”
This past week, I interviewed another Athletic Director of a major D1 program who echoed these thoughts. He was also speaking on the condition of anonymity in order to protect their school’s image and his self-proclaimed cynicism, “Student-athletes who are offered official visits should really be serious about the school being in their top 3-5 choices. Please do not use these official visits as a fun getaway for a weekend and also act inappropriately while visiting the college. It will get around to other athletic programs as the sports industry is a very tight-knit industry. Do not simply waste a college coach’s time and the school’s finances on taking official visits of schools you have zero intention of attending. Some people think that this will drive their ‘stock’ up in terms of scholarship offers. It’s simply not the way the system works.”
As a recruiting educator who consults with many families and conducts seminars on the process in various high school and sports organizations, I would reiterate these perspectives as being a major problem in the recruiting process. There are a lot of regulations regarding official visits, so this blog is an attempt to simplify some of the information.
If you are granted an opportunity to visit a college on an official visit, below you will find some answers to some frequently asked questions. I will primarily focus on NCAA rules for these visits at the DI and DII levels. (Please note that NCAA D3, NAIA, NCCAA, and NJCAA all have different rules when it comes to campus visits, so it is best to check with the governing body of the prospective college).
Who Pays for an Official Visit?
This is taken directly from the NCAA website: ‘An “official visit” is any visit to a college or university campus by you and your parents that is paid for by the college. The college or university may pay all or some of the following expenses:
- Your transportation to and from the college (for DI basketball and FBS football, this may include coach-class airfare for up to two people).
- Room and meals (three per day) while you are visiting the college/university.
- Reasonable entertainment expenses, including up to six complimentary admissions to a home athletics contest for Division I, or up to five complimentary admissions to a home athletics contest for Division II.’
What Steps Must I Take Prior To The Official Visit?
A prospective student-athlete cannot do an official visit until he or she:
- Presents the institution with a current high school or college-preparatory school transcript (official or unofficial)
- Registers with the NCAA Eligibility Center; and
- Is placed on the institution’s institutional request list (IRL) with the NCAA Eligibility Center.
How Do I Set-Up An Official Visit?
You need to be offered an official visit by the college coach. As mentioned above, this is not something you just call and ask the coaching staff to do for you. Do not have the expectation that college coaches will do this, especially with large roster programs.
How Many Official Visits Can I Do To A Specific Campus?
A member institution may finance only one visit to its campus for a prospective student-athlete (even if they are exploring playing multiple sports). Some sports allow these visits to take place during the junior year of high school while others only allow it at the senior year.
You may only be on campus for no more than 48 hours as part of the official visit. It is important to note that you cannot do an official visit during any dead periods which vary in timing by sport. I would suggest checking the NCAA website for recruiting calendars that describe the specifics for each sport here.
How Many Official Visits Can I Do Overall?
A prospective student-athlete may take a maximum of five expense-paid visits to Division I institutions, with not more than one permitted to any single institution. This restriction applies regardless of the number of sports in which the prospective student-athlete is involved.
What Should I Bring With Me On An Official Visit?
Since the school will already have much of your paperwork already, I would recommend asking the college coach if there is anything specific they would like for you to bring with you. You should also have a list of questions with you to ask admissions, current students, faculty, and athletic staff. I have prepared a set of 13 questions for you to ask a coach in our recent blog here.
What Should I Wear On An Official Campus Visit?
I would recommend your first priority is comfortable walking shoes, as you will typically do a lot of walking. I would encourage you to wear something a bit nicer than just athletic clothes or jeans. You should be wanting to make a good first impression, but you do not have to be in a business suit.
I would think “business casual”. I would recommend a nice button-down shirt (tucked-in) and dress pants for men. For women, I would recommend a casual skirt or dress pants and nice blouse or sweater. I would also encourage you to dress in layers, as many campus buildings have the air conditioning on high when it is summer and vice versa, during the winter months.
The prospective student-athlete may stay in an enrolled student-athlete’s residence hall. You will typically have a student-host who will be in charge of you while on campus. Insider Tip: Remember that the college coach will ask for a report from that student host about how you behaved socially during your visit. Make sure that you represent yourself with maturity the entire time you are on the campus and not on your phone the entire time!
What Will I Be Able to Do While An Official Campus Visit?
On most colleges, you may take a campus tour, meet with the admissions and financial aid staff, tour residence halls, eat in the dining facilities, and meet with faculty in your desired academic major(s). It varies on every college campus and depending on if you are there on a weekday or weekend. The college coach will typically arrange all of the details of your official visit, including attending a home competition, and make sure you spend time with people you need to within the athletic department. Often times this includes the current team, strength and conditioning coaches, athletic training staff, NCAA Compliance Directors, and academic advisers.
The NCAA also states, “An institution may not arrange miscellaneous, personalized recruiting aids (e.g., personalized jerseys, personalized audio/video scoreboard presentations) and may not permit a prospective student-athlete to engage in any game-day simulations (e.g., running onto the field with the team during pregame introductions) during an official visit. Personalized recruiting aids include any decorative items and special additions to any location the prospective student-athlete will visit (e.g., hotel room, locker room, coach’s office, conference room, arena) regardless of whether the items include the prospective student-athlete’s name or picture.”
Can I Do A Try-Out or Play With The Team While I Am On Campus?
Try-outs are not allowed at the NCAA Division I level. However, some sports are allowed to do Identification (ID) Camps which would allow you to pay to participate for a camp held on the campus at various times during the year. However, it is not permissible for an institution to pay any leg of a prospective student athlete’s transportation costs if he or she participates in an institutional camp or clinic in conjunction with an official visit.
NCAA Division II programs may do a try-out while you are there, or may not. There are also stipulations for doing try-outs in terms of timelines (when is your official high school season, etc). To do a try-out, the NCAA also requires you to have a copy of a recent sports physical, including a sickle-cell test. I would not assume you are or are not going to do a try-out when you are visiting a D2 campus. Instead, I would ask the coaches if they are looking to do this prior to your traveling.
There are pages and pages of rules and restrictions in the NCAA Compliance handbooks regarding campus visits (literally these books have hundreds of pages of rules). There are many differences between sports and various levels. This blog is meant to be a resource and is definitely not inclusive. It is recommended if you are invited for an official campus visit, you follow the direction of the athletic staff as to what is permissible and what is not during your visit. Also, if you have not already, I would highly recommend you read our 3 Part blog series on committing to a college. (Part 1: Prior to Committing, Part 2: During Signing, and Part 3: Steps to Take After Signing).
Want to know about Unofficial Campus Visits? Check out part of our campus visits series! click here!
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As a 17 year coaching veteran, Coach Renee Lopez is a recruiting expert for high school student-athletes. She uses her NCAA Division I, II, and NAIA Head Coaching experience to help families navigate the recruiting process to be identified by college coaches and help them find the right “fit” for playing at the next level. She has produced 3 All-Americans, over 30 All-Conference athletes and Her teams have been honored with awards for team academic accomplishments, sportsmanship, and sports ministry. In addition, Coach Renee Lopez has been named Coach of the Year by her peers.
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