Understanding UNOFFICIAL Visits
Over the past two and a half years, I interviewed 65 college coaches, athletic directors, NCAA staff, and other admissions staff for my book, Looking For A FULL RIDE?: An Insider’s Recruiting Guide. The vast majority of these athletic professionals have direct impact on scholarship decisions for high school student-athletes who want to play at the next level. Almost every single one of them addressed in their interviews the importance of making a campus visit prior to committing to a college. Having been a college coach myself for 14 years at the NCAA Division I, II, and NAIA levels, I would agree that campus visits, whether unofficial or official, can be very advantageous for a prospective student-athlete and their family.
If you are seriously interested in pursuing your sport in college, it is highly recommended to visit a lot of college campuses early in your high school career. It allows you to compare campus facilities, gain a better understanding of the admissions process, meet with various faculty in your potential academic major(s), and see up-close the demands of being a college student.
Being a student-athlete creates the need for a whole other level of perspective in evaluating a college. As a recruiting educator who regularly helps families with the college recruiting process through individual and group consulting, I am often approached after a seminar at a club or high school. Usually it is a family who is struggling to make a decision and they are looking for specific criteria to help them in differentiating between a vast amount of opportunities. I always ask if they have done a campus visit to compare and contrast. The majority who are so distraught in making a decision, have only looked at websites and financial numbers. I always recommend making a campus visit to as many schools possible.
In order to help them while on campus (and I get this question so often), I wrote a blog a few months back regarding The 13 Questions To Ask A College Coach to help during a campus 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).
For this current 2 part series, I will address the two typical types of athletic campus visits: unofficial and official. This week, we will focus on the unofficial visit, as it is the most popular of the two, especially early on in the search process. Go here to read Part 2. 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 The Unofficial Visit?
An unofficial visit to a college by a prospective student-athlete is a visit made at the prospective student-athlete’s own expense.
How Many Unofficial Visits Can I Do To A Specific Campus?
Although there are some restrictions for some sports in terms of timing in your high school career for unofficial visits (such as men’s and women’s basketball, gymnastics, lacrosse, wrestling, and with some recent legislation changes, softball), typically you can do an unlimited number of unofficial visits. It is important to note that you cannot do an unofficial 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.
How Many Unofficial Visits Can I Do Overall?
There is no limit on the number of unofficial visits you can take to various campuses. Again, you may not do the visits during dead periods for your sport. It is also important to understand that most sports (with specific recruiting class restrictions on the sports mentioned above), allow you to speak with coaching staff while on campus. Again, there is some recent legislation which will be coming down for NCAA Division I specifically, that will impact this for SOME sports.
What Should I Bring With Me On An Unofficial Visit?
I would recommend that you print off a copy of the campus map. I would encourage you to ask admissions, prior to traveling to campus, of the best location for parking when you first arrive. Parking on many college campuses can be very difficult, especially when you are uncertain of your surroundings.
I would also recommend bringing a copy of your recent transcripts, test scores, a 1-page player profile/resume including your NCAA Eligibility Center ID number, any letters of recommendation, and other supporting materials demonstrating why they should consider you. It is imperative that you spend a lot of time on the college website PRIOR to your visit, to familiarize yourself with the college structure, campus layout, and offices you wish to meet with during your visit.
You should also have a list of questions with you to ask admissions, current students, faculty, and athletic staff. As I mentioned above, if you are able to meet with a coach within NCAA rules, 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 Unofficial 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 encourage you to 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.
Will The School Pay For Anything While I Am On Campus?
The college is very limited in what they are allowed to do while you are on campus in terms of covering your expenses. They may be able to transport you to view practice facilities and their home competition facilities. They are allowed to pick up one meal in the on-campus dining facility or at a local restaurant for the prospective student-athlete and relatives/legal guardians of the student-athlete. I highly recommend that you do not have any expectations of them covering payments of anything for you while on campus.
Can I Stay Overnight in the Residence Halls On An Unofficial Campus Visit?
The prospective student-athlete may stay in an enrolled student-athlete’s dorm if they pay the going rate for regular (non-athletic) prospective students for such lodging. At a majority of colleges, this is complimentary, but some will charge, so it is important to ask. You should ask this when you are setting up the unofficial visit, not just the day of the visit.
What Will I Be Able to Do On An Unofficial Campus Visit?
On most colleges, you may take a campus tour, meet with the admissions and financial aid, tour residence halls, eat in the dining facilities, and meet with faculty in your desired academic major (s). Basically, anything that a “regular” prospective student would do in evaluating a college, is typically allowed.
What About Meeting With The Coaching Staff?
Again, it does depend on your sport. I would inquire, (but do not assume) that a coach has time to meet with you, especially on competition days and if it was not pre-planned. Insider tip: College coaches do NOT like it when you just show up unannounced in their office (Instead, try to arrange through admissions or your high school/club coach a week or two out from the visit). With hundreds of recruits that email college coach each month, they also want to refresh their memory of which recruit you are in terms of talent, academics, and your social media prior to having a conversation with you. Also, they typically had a full day planned and you just altered their schedule. Trust me, setting something up (if the NCAA allows for your sport/graduation year) PRIOR to showing up is highly encouraged.
In addition, I always recommend letting a coach know you are going to be coming to a competition prior to just showing up, if you are looking to have any amount of time with them. Whether they love you as a recruit or do not know a thing about you, it is imperative to understand on competition days, that they may not have a lot of time to spend with you, no matter how far you traveled.
Having been a college coach for 14 years in NCAA DI and II, I will tell you the day of a game is some of the busiest days for a coach, especially the head coach. There is so much that goes on behind the scenes from media interviews, dealing with injuries, coaching staff meetings, and of course, interacting with their current players, administrators, and officials. I would always recommend coming in the day before a competition (versus just the day of a game) to hopefully get a little bit of time with some of the coaching staff.
Also, it is imperative to note that NCAA rules will allow for interactions with coaching staff and sometimes they will not. However, in most sports (other than men’s and women’s basketball, gymnastics, lacrosse, wrestling, and with some pending legislation a few other sports including softball), you most likely can interact with the coaching staff while on your campus visit provided it is not a dead period. In those specific sports for Division I, there are restrictions based off of the time of year as well as your graduation year, so be sure to check the NCAA website.
Can I Attend A Home Competition? Can I Get Complimentary Tickets?
It is possible, again, depending on your sport, for you to receive some complimentary admissions during an unofficial visit, depending on your graduation year. These are typically not handing over physical tickets, but instead via a pass list at the ticket gate that coaches will put you on. Typically, there are 3 complimentary admissions available for a prospective student-athlete and their parents. If it is a nontraditional family (stepparents, etc), two more complimentary tickets may be offered.
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. 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). Tryouts will also require you having 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. I would ask the coaches if they are looking to do this prior to your traveling.
How Do I Set-Up An Unofficial Visit?
It is recommended you set up an unofficial campus visit through admissions, especially if the college coach cannot directly contact you due to your graduation year recruiting regulations. If a college coach cannot contact you directly, you should utilize your high school or club coach to aid in communication. However, in some sports depending on your graduation year, this may not be permissible. Depending on the college, they may also utilize their admissions staff to set-up athletic meetings.
However, I would copy the coach on all correspondence, even if they do not respond. Also, make sure that you have already sent the coaching staff a video link so they have seen you play in some capacity prior to the campus visit. Don’t know how to create a video? Check out our blog on creating a video for college coaches here. Finally, remember all of this correspondence should come from the student-athlete, and NOT the parent. Parents, we know you are just trying to help, but it really actually hurts the process. For more info on this, read our blog, “My Student-Athlete Is Soooooooooo Busy…I’ll Just Contact the College Coach For Them!: 3 Reasons Parents Should Not Contact A College Coach”.
I highly recommend you plan out multiple campus visits early on in your high school careers, even if the coaches are not available to meet with you. Being on different types of campuses will definitely give you a different perspective compared to the college brochures and websites. Want to know about Campus Visits? Read part 2 of our series here: OFFICIAL VISITS.
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Coach Renee Lopez
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.
She presents recruiting seminars across the country, has recently been featured in USA Weekly, with the National Alliance for Youth Sports, on SiriusXM Radio and ESPN Radio. She is the author of the book, Looking For A FULL RIDE?: An Insider’s Recruiting Guide where she has interviewed over 65 college recruiters across all sports and college levels. In addition, she runs 9 Facebook groups to help facilitate conversations on college recruiting education, coaching education, leadership development, and sports ministry. She is also a certified speaker, trainer and coach for the John Maxwell Team, Jon Gordon Company, 3Dimensional Coaching, and the Positive Coaching Alliance.
She also does private consulting for student-athletes and their families to help in understanding the often daunting process of recruiting. (See one family’s testimonial.) If you are looking for help in the college recruiting process, please email Coach Renee Lopez at firstname.lastname@example.org.