Every fall I get frantic phone calls from parents who have suddenly realized that their daughter is a senior, and she wants to play softball in college…and she’s not getting calls from coaches every week. Often they don’t have any idea what to do now and worry that it’s too late for her. The best way to avoid this panic attack is to plan ahead. Parents should develop a college search calendar when their athlete enters high school. While much of the active work of finding a college won’t start until the junior year, you need to lay the foundation early to ensure she’s ready both athletically and academically when recruiting time comes.
It’s always a good idea to get a copy of the NCAA’s Guide for the College-Bound Student-Athlete as a freshman and again as a junior. If you get a copy as a freshman, you can be sure right from the start that you’re taking the “core” classes you need to be academically eligible to compete in college. Many juniors and seniors have to squeeze in a class they’re missing or have to repeat a subject that they didn’t do well in as a freshman. If you even think you want to play softball in college, every grade counts! You need to take the right classes and establish good study habits from the day you enter high school. Remember, college coaches look at your grades before they look at anything else!
Athletically, I recommend freshmen and sophomores try to stay in softball shape by working on improving their softball skills year round, by running and doing light conditioning, and by playing the toughest competitive softball they can–both in high school and travel ball.
September: Juniors should check with their counselor to ensure they’re still taking the right core classes and getting the required grades. At this time, you should also schedule the PSAT or PACT Plus as practice for the SAT or ACT.
October/November: Take the PSAT or PACT Plus.
November-February: Consult college guides, my book, Preparing to Play Softball at the Collegiate Level, the Internet, and other resources that will help you identify the wide variety of colleges and college softball programs available. Then make a list of the schools you plan to write in the spring.
December/January: Find out when the SAT and ACT will be offered in the spring, and schedule your first round of tests. I always recommend athletes take each test at least once. There are several reasons for this. Some colleges prefer one test to the other for admissions purposes. But more importantly, I have found that a certain percentage of students will do better on one test than the other (usually the ACT). Because you won’t know if you’re in this group until you take each test, it’s worth the extra effort. Athletes who struggle to qualify on the SAT may squeeze by on the ACT thereby making them academically eligible for college athletics. And strong students who may be looking at tough academic schools or who hope to receive academic-based aid may also benefit by taking both.
Try to take your first SAT and/or ACT in late winter/early spring. This will allow you to get your score(s) in time to include them on your resume. It will also give you time to assess where you’re at and to decide when to take the tests again, whether you need a special SAT/ACT course, tutoring, etc.
February-May: Take your SAT and ACT. This is also the time to begin work on your “introductory” packet for college coaches. You need to develop your resume and a letter of introduction (see my book for models); and, you can begin work on your skills videotape. Ideally, you can make your tape when you’re in shape from high school season, but before you start summer travel ball.
Some coaches may want to see your tape before they start on their summer scouting trips. So, if you make the tape at this time, you can send copies to those coaches who ask for it. Also, by making the tape between March and June of your junior year, it will serve you throughout your entire college search–e.g., you shouldn’t have to make another one!
May-August: During this period, you should be sending out letters, resumes and possibly videotapes to coaches at lots of different types of college programs. Be sure to send back the questionnaires or anything else the coaches ask for when they reply to your letters. If a coach asks for a tape, a schedule, a transcript, get it in the mail as soon as you can! It’s also a good idea at this time to start the NCAA Initial Eligibility Clearinghouse certification process. That way you can have all your Clearinghouse paperwork on file when you start your senior year.
September: If you need to take (or re-take) the SAT or ACT, try to do so at the first opportunity. Check again with your counselor to make sure you’re still meeting all core course requirements. If you sent your NCAA Clearinghouse paperwork in and haven’t heard back, check with the Clearinghouse to make sure your information is on file. Follow up with college coaches who have responded to your letters or who have written you. (Phone follow-ups are the best way to show a coach how interested you really are.) If possible, begin to schedule college visits.
October-December: Because the college search process is different for every athlete, not everyone will be doing the same things during this period. Some players will be taking visits and choosing their colleges. Others will be continuing to send out videos and resumes and identifying those schools that may be seriously interested in recruiting them. If you got a really late start and are only now beginning to think about playing in college, it is still a possible dream. But you will have to do a lot in a very short time–e.g., everything listed in this calendar up to this point will have to be done within a couple of months!
Also during this period, you should begin applying to colleges, at the very least choosing “back-up” schools–e.g., schools that might not be your first choice, but where you know you can get admitted and probably make the softball team. Some of you will also be applying to colleges with early decision options at this time.
January: Get the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), and have your parents begin the financial aid application process. Even if you don’t know where you’re going to college, you should still do this now so that all the paperwork is in place. Much aid is administered on a first come, first served basis, so don’t delay on this.
January-June: Continue to follow up with college coaches. Hopefully, during this period you will choose your college, apply and be accepted. Some of you will accept scholarship offers; others may get great financial aid packages. Ideally, you can enjoy the end of your senior year and begin to look forward to playing softball in college next fall.
June: Oops! There’s just one more thing to do. Be sure when you graduate that your high school sends a final transcript and proof of graduation to the NCAA Initial Eligibility Clearinghouse so that you’re all set and ready to step onto that college field in the fall. Good luck!
by Catharine Aradi