So You Want to Run in College: Here’s What You Need to Know

High schoolers, do you know what you need to know about running in college? What can you do during your high school years to make you more desirable for your college’s team? Any chance you might score a scholarship?

As a former DI runner and now a DI college cross country and track coach, I have watched hundreds of young women go through the NCAA recruiting process, which can be both scary and overwhelming. I have outlined a few tips to help make you a more marketable potential student-athlete (PSA) at the collegiate level!

According to the NCAA, of the nearly 8 million students currently participating in high school sports in the United States, only 480,000 of them will go on to compete at NCAA schools. Of the 6% of those 8 million high school athletes recruited to play at the next level, only 2% of those students will actually be offered an athletics scholarship.

Identify the programs that seem right for you.

Many PSAs are so excited to run in college, that they are not selective enough in targeting the programs that would make the best fit for them. Do your research and identify a few programs to focus your efforts on. Here are the things to look for:

1. Stability of the coaching staff
2. Scholarship opportunities
3. Development of athletes. Do some digging on the roster!
4. Emphasis on academics and academic resources available to student-athletes

Google the coach and some of the athletes. If you have a connection to any of the current or former athletes, contact them and ask them questions to find out what you’d like to know about a team’s culture, your prospects for making the team, whatever else you want to know. If you don’t have a connection to anyone, look for athlete’s blogs or social media feeds to see what you can learn.

Be Proactive!

While you already started being proactive by doing your research, you also need to be proactive in voicing your interest in a program. Start reaching out to coaches and programs that you are interested in during the fall of your junior year but this doesn’t mean just submitting a questionnaire. Each year, I receive 75-100 questionnaires from PSAs. From those, I narrow my list down to 45-50 athletes to target and then bring about 15 athletes on campus for official visits. To be honest, I overlook a handful of recruits because of the sheer volume of emails and questionnaires that go through my mailbox. 

If you are truly interested in a specific school, do not be afraid to reach out! Email, call, or text message the coaches of the programs you’re interested in to establish a relationship. Coaches are busy and inundated with information, and you don’t want to be the one who slipped through the cracks. Of course, be reasonable about it. Give the coach a day or two to respond before contacting again, call at reasonable times, and approach the relationship with professionalism.

Coaches get excited about athletes who are excited about their team.

I don’t like to play games. I like to shoot straight with recruits. Here’s the deal: everyone wants to be wanted. If an athlete doesn’t seem that interested in what my school and program have to offer, she’s off my list, no matter what her PRs are. Yes, I want very talented recruits but at the end of the day, if that athlete isn’t excited about our school, I am going to find a slightly less talented athlete who is excited about representing our program. Recruiting is a two-way street: after you go on an official visit, if you love a program and a school, tell the coach!

Be careful with social media.

Know this. As soon as a PSA pops up on my radar, the first thing I do is Google her name to find all her social media feeds: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, etc. Your social media is my real first impression of you. Every year, there are a handful of PSAs that I pass on simply because of what I see on their social media feeds.

That being said, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t post anything fun or never be silly. Be yourself, but understand that what you post is a reflection on who you are. Think about a potential coach seeing your post and if you’d be embarrassed for her to see it, don’t post it! 

Be open-minded!

Make sure you look at both the academics and athletic programs of your potential colleges. Sure, a big name might impress people, but you need to spend four years of your life studying, socializing and running there. More importantly, the name of a school doesn’t make you a great athlete or person.

Do you have any questions about the college recruitment process? Did you go through the college recruiting process? What other advice would you give to high school athletes?  

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8 comments

  1. Ohmigosh, thank you for reminding them about social media!!! Great post Rue- never experienced it myself, but so glad to know you’re looking at the whole picture for your PSAs 🙂

  2. I love this! I think so many young people are afraid to put themselves out there and that they have to TELL people what they want, put in the research and do the little things, too. It doesn’t magically just happen most of the time.

  3. Great post! I played a different varsity sport in university and ended up staying in town to play for a coach I’d worked with one some rep teams here. I later went on to coach a provincial high school aged team where players then went on to compete at the university level in various schools, and my husband was a varsity coach for 6 years.

    I’m curious about your advice for how to match your ability with the competitiveness/quality of a program. We don’t have Divisions here in Canada, but I see lots of players wanting to go to the school with national champion winning programs, even if that means they’ll be sitting on the bench, vs going to a smaller school or one with a less developed program (though perhaps great coaching!) where they will have an impact right away.

  4. This is a really great post! After talking with my college coach recently and hearing him lament about how parents are going straight to the Athletic Director and over his head (over seemingly small things) I would caution how much you allow your parents to be part of the process. Remember this is your experience and you should take ownership of it. I think the other thing I would add is don’t always expect that a scholarship will be a full ride. I went to a D1 school and received a partial scholarship that ended up paying for 1 full year (we split the funds throughout my four). I chose that over a heftier scholarship because of the location of my school (a major city) and the academic program.

    1. Parents are best kept in the stands…. Treat them all as family, but every family has “one of those you can’t take out in public.”

  5. Very informative, helpful post! I really like how you tell people to be proactive. A few years ago when I coached high school track, that’s what I told my girls- reach out and contact the programs you’re interested in. Unless you’re national level superstar, people probably aren’t going to be knocking down your door. It’s up to you to make contact and start the process.