It can be very overwhelming to narrow down what schools to consider to play the sport that you love. Breaking down the different factors, as well as identifying what is most important to you and your family when making that decision is crucial. Making a target list of schools will help in the beginning stages of your recruiting process, as well as later on as you get more comfortable with what you want to get out of your college experience. 

Make sure you also take the time to watch our webinar on building a target list of schools here.

Why do I need a Target List of Schools?

Some student-athletes will sit back and wait for colleges to contact them. There are thousands of colleges out there and maybe the schools that are contacting you are not the right fit. The more proactive you are about your recruiting process, the easier it will be to find a school that is the right fit for you. We recommend athletes pick 20-30 schools, to cast a wide net of colleges when starting their college recruiting process. Remember that this list is fluid and will change often as you get a better idea of what schools are a strong fit for you as a student-athlete. 

These 20-30 schools should be a combination of Safety, Fit, and Reach Schools. This will give you a mix of schools with different requirements and give you a diversified look at the different types of schools that are available. Learn more about how to differentiate the difference between Safety, Fit, and Reach Schools HERE.

The Five Factors

There are 5 different factors to consider as you start to build your target list of schools. 

Athletic Fit: What Division and/or conference are you capable of playing for? What do your current coaches think? 

Academic Fit: What schools will you qualify for with your GPA and Standardized Test Scores? Do you know what you would like to major in? 

Social Fit: How important is school size and campus life to you? 

Geographical Fit: Do you want to be close to home? What type of campus are you looking for? 

Financial Fit: Will I qualify for Athletic or Merit Scholarships? 

Finding an Athletic Fit

While many high school student-athletes dream of one day competing at a top NCAA Division I school, the reality is that very few get that opportunity. Roughly 2% of the 8 million high school athletes who seek to compete at a DI school will ever get the chance. If you are one of these top-tier recruits you will likely know this early on. Top tier recruits are often:

  • All-State or All-Country award recipients
  • Spotted early at tournaments and recruiting events
  • Identified by major recruiting ranking websites
  • Solicited with recruiting calls and letters from numerous coaches. Not just letters, but personal calls. A lot of athletes receive letters.
  • Attracting many college coaches to their games

Your college education is going to be your key to success in life after college. You want to think beyond the next 4 years and attempt to get the best education that you can. Work with your club and high school staff to determine whether a college is a good athletic fit. They have coached you for years and have the best point-of-view on you as a potential student-athlete.

Finally, it’s good practice to compare your performance to other players on your team who have similar skillsets and training as you. See where they ended up and reach out to them to see if they are enjoying their experience! 

Finding an Academic Fit 

Before a college coach decides if they are going to recruit you they will look at your GPA, transcript, and SAT/ACT scores to make sure you meet the school’s admission standards. Each program has a certain academic threshold that their admissions department requires for each student-athlete. If you don’t meet that academic threshold, you have a slim chance to attend that college.

Most college coaches will not spend their time recruiting if you do not have the grades, because they will not be able to get you past their admissions department, regardless of how much you could help the team. Remember the NCAA has a minimum GPA and core course requirement that operates on a sliding scale. See the NCAA website to make sure you fit the requirements.

Keep in mind that your teachers and guidance counselors can be great advocates in determining a strong academic fit for you. Ask your teachers for extra help in courses that you are having trouble with. Guidance counselors can be extremely helpful in recommending SAT or ACT preparation options, as well as being someone you can come to about the admissions process for the schools you are interested in.

It is typically a little easier to identify what schools could be a good academic fit for you if you know what major or specialized program you want to study. No need to worry if you don’t know just yet! Many students go into their freshman year as undecided and determine what their main focus will be during their freshman or sophomore year. 

Keep in mind, you don’t have to apply to the 20-30 schools that are on your Target List! That number is solely to get you started and for you to identify which schools you may want to look further into down the road. 

Finding a Social Fit 

There are a number of factors that go into one’s college experience outside of athletics and academics. It is helpful to ask yourself, “Can I see myself going to this school even if I wasn’t competing in my sport?” Taking into account the social factors of a school will give you a better picture of the whole college experience. 

The best way to determine a social fit for yourself is by visiting college campuses (such as during open houses or campus tours) and identifying what you like and don’t like. Down the road, taking unofficial visits or official visits with the team who is interested in you will give a more in-depth look at that particular school, and what your day-to-day looks like as a student-athlete.

School size is usually one of the first aspects of a social fit that students try to identify. A small school will generally offer more intimate classes. This gives you more opportunities to participate, build a close relationship with your professors, and receive extra attention on academic weak points. If you prefer discussion-based classes over lectures, a small school will serve you well. If you are accustomed to being part of a tight-knit community, a small school will be an easy transition. 

Larger schools will allow you to explore a wider range of classes. There are often special facilities and more abundant academic resources available at larger universities. Many students appreciate the anonymity that a bigger school will offer. Larger schools, by nature, have a more robust selection of activities to partake in. These are the schools where you will find nationally known collegiate teams that bring the large student body together and create a strong school spirit.

It is also important to determine what type of campus you are interested in attending as well. Some people want the experience of living in a city with a lot of options for what to do with your free time. Others may want a more rural or small-town feel where it’s a more reserved and relaxed environment. 

Other factors you should consider will depend on what you determine as important to your personal college experience. A diverse student body, the ability to join a sorority or fraternity, or even the living accommodations (if you choose to go away) are all factors that you may need to identify for yourself. 

Finding a Geographical Fit 

Niche data states that 58 percent of students go to a college within 100 miles of their hometown. Some student-athletes are drawn to certain regions of the country, while others may want to be close enough for their parents to be able to drive to every game. It is important to remember that you will be choosing an academic environment for the next four years – not a vacation destination. You will also want to consider whether you would like to go to school in a major city, a college town, or a rural location.

Finding a Financial Fit

The importance and overall cost and available scholarships and aid for student-athletes will vary based on you and your family’s financial situation. It is important to know what schools can offer to assist in your overall tuition deciding if you would like to target them as a possibility or not.  

Some schools may have high maximum tuition (also known as a “sticker price), but may actually offer a scholarship package that will make it as affordable as your home state tuition. Attending open houses at colleges can help in finding out how many students receive some sort of aid, as well as the average amount that is rewarded.

If you can find a school that matches 4 out of 5 of these factors, that is usually a great indication that this school would be a good fit for you! Identify which factors are most important to your decision-making process and it will be very helpful when finding schools that are a great fit for you.

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Mike Babich is a Senior Recruiting Analyst at SportsRecruits. Mike has experience in collegiate athletics as a former football student-athlete at Mount Ida College, as well as a Graduate Assistant and Assistant Football Coach at Long Island University. He also served in the role of an Admissions Counselor for two years at Molloy College in Rockville Centre, New York. He has a passion for helping student-athletes better navigate and understand the recruiting process.