When high school athletes reach varsity level, the idea of stepping up to collegiate sports starts to take shape. The majority of students won’t go to college on a sport’s scholarship. For the ones that do get the opportunity, the biggest benefit won’t likely be a spot on the team. It’s the free college education that’s earned across multiple seasons.
The NCAA reports that there are roughly 480,000 college athletes currently enrolled. Of those, 71-87% earn a degree, depending on the division level of their school. That’s a lot of students that at the very least get a higher education virtually for free. However, the reality is only 1.4-12.2% of college athletes go pro, depending on the sport.
To get to the collegiate level most high school athletes have to get in the recruiting game. It’s essentially investing in your education and professional future. A key part of estimating recruiting costs is knowing where you may have to travel. Every athlete needs to sit down and create a list of potential colleges.
Surprisingly, the athletics department shouldn’t be the top priority. Focus first and foremost on finding the right academic fit.
Check the Majors
If you couldn’t play sports, what would you do? That’s what you’re really going to college for. You’re going to have to go to class so you might as well find a college that puts you on the right career path. Regardless of the degree you earn, statistically a college education can significantly increase your earnings.
Major universities will have entire departments dedicated to some disciplines. Many college athletes end up majoring in a related field like sports medicine or physical education. Play it safe and only consider schools that offer at least two majors that you like.
Reputation of the Department/School
The reputation of your school can carry significant weight when you enter the job market or start vying for a position in the pros. You want the school to have an equally good reputation for your major and your sport. Think about the clout that comes with saying you graduated from UCLA or Yale. Those ties with alumni can also open other doors.
Financial Aid and Scholarships
There are a lot of expenses involved with attending college from classes to books to room and board. Even students who receive sports scholarships may not get enough to cover all the costs. The financial aid options vary from one school to the next. Scholarships are often offered by:
· State departments, particularly the education department.
· Federal financial aid is one of the most popular ways to pay for college.
· Countless organizations and non-profits offer scholarships for students.
· Some schools will even offer their own scholarships.
The Education Department has created a handy tool that compares the costs and financial aid opportunities at up to 10 schools.
Colleges that have state-of-the-art facilities, huge libraries, professional laboratories and more offer a superior learning experience. It’s part of the reason some schools get great reputations. Whenever possible try to visit schools in person so you can see the resources firsthand.
Special Programs and Organizations
There are a number of academic programs and organizations that can help you expand your college experience. Mentor programs are a great benefit and can help you find internships during the off-season. The opportunity to study overseas can also be a life-changing experience. Look for programs within your major or department that can help you further your degree.
Your education is only going to be as good as the people teaching the classes. Once you’ve decided on a major, take a look at the bios for professors in the department. Look for professors that have lead studies, published books, belong to professional organizations and received recognitions.
Getting to play at the collegiate level is a major achievement to be proud of no matter what school you go to. But the university you choose can impact your life and career long after you’re done playing sports. Do your best to boost your academics in high school and make your education a priority while you’re recruiting.