The Internet Home of Track & Field

See College Choice Overview for the rules and environment of college athletic scholarships.  

Part 1 - College Scholarship Overview
Part 2 - Freshman - Sophomore Years
Part 3 - Junior - Senior Years
Part 4 -  Beyond Division I

College Choices for high school track athletes:
The Freshman and Sophomore Years - Getting Started

Getting into the right college with as much financial help as possible comes with planning, research, and self-promotion. A winning game plan combines hard work, athletic talent with athletic accomplishment, average to better grades and test scores, and, knowing what to do when. While emphasis may be on athletic skills, academic skills and test scores cannot be ignored. They are musts for getting an athletic scholarship, especially at NCAA Division I colleges. Each year, there are many very talented athletes that don’t go on to college or find themselves at a junior college not because colleges didn’t recruit them, but because their grades and/or test scores were below par.

How does the Athletic Scholarship Work?

An understanding of the process is a must to help you understand what you must do and why.  Go to the DyeStat article, "College Athletics and Scholarships for Track and Field - What's it all about?" The article provides an overview for understanding the college athletic scholarship process and  information about the number of scholarships available.  With this information, you can better understand why you need to complete steps to achieve your scholarship goal.

Freshman Year

The first year of high school is the time to get oriented to a new atmosphere and organized for the "next level."  It is also a time for exploration of both your new environment and yourself.  Once you get settled and catch your breadth, it's time to start thinking ahead to being a college freshman.  With the cost of college hanging over your head (and your parents), thoughts of scholarship come to mind.  There are many high school athletes all with the same goal.  Getting a scholarship whether athletic or academic or both, comes with some work on your part in the classroom and the track or field.  So start now in your freshmen year. 

But there must be time for fun too.  The answer is in planning.   Start a plan for accomplishing your goal.  As you go along in high school, your plan should be kept current and revised where appropriate.  You don't need to do everything this year; let things evolve; but you do need to get started.  Step one should  include a plan for understanding yourself and what you want your future to look like.  Learning who you are just means identifying likes, dislikes, strengths, weaknesses, attitudes, social skills, athletic abilities in an organized way.   Based on your assessment, you can start the process of deciding what you want your future to look like.   When the time comes to make choices and decisions about classes, athletic involvement and college choice, the self analysis will make your life easier and reduce or eliminate bad choices.  The following "Tto Do" lists are divided by athletics and academics. But in reality, keep in mind that they are interelated and are not separate activities.

Things to Do - Athletics 
Because of the large number of colleges that participate in the NCAA I, the eligibility and recruiting requirements discussed here refer to the NCAA Division I unless otherwise stated.  For information about the NCAA II, NCAA III, NAIA and NJCAA visit their websites. 
  • Go out for cross country and track and field.  Freshmen entering with experience in cross country and track and field should ask to speak with the coach to discuss past experience and how it fits or doesn't fit into the high school team.  Sometimes there will be some getting used to a new training program and a new coach. Give yourself time to adjust to the new routine. 
  • Set goals for the year and keep track of your performance.
  • Use DyeStat TFX to help set challenging yet realistic goals.  Ask your coach to help you develop goals.  You might want to start with the TFX cutoffs as a way of setting performance goals.
  • Discuss your goals with your parents.
  • Obtain a copy of the guides for college bound student athletes from the athletic associations. The guides can be obtained in hard copy or downloaded from websites. Visit the NCAA, NAIA and NJCCA (click on prospective students) sites.
  • Understand the eligibility rules for college athletics. Visit the NCAA, NAIA and NJCCA sites to find out about what core courses you need to take in high school to be eligible to participate in college athletics. It is important to be sure that the courses you are taking will count toward the requirements for both athletic and academic admissions and scholarships.  And, it may be necessary for you to start in the freshmen year in order to get all of the requirements in by graduation.
  • Toward the end of your freshman year, ask yourself how much of a role you want for athletics at the college level? 
  • Toward the end of freshmen year, if your athletic accomplishments fit into the top lists, you might want to write to college coaches at colleges you are interested in to make them aware of your performances and that you are interested in their school and they should keep an eye on you.  Colleges like to know that athletes are also intersted in them.
  • At the end of the freshman year, sometimes colleges mail out brochures about the college to athletes that they think might be good for their athletic program.  They may also enclose questionnaires, cards or request for you to keep them informed of your progress.  You don't need to do anything, unless you want to.   The colleges are trying to generate interest in their program early should they be interested in you during the recruiting year.  The brochures can be useful in learning about the college and should go into your file of college materials.  Keep in mind that there are many high school athletes.  College coaches won't be able to follow all of them.  So if you already have an interest in certain colleges, you might want to write to the coach and keep him informed of your progress and interest.
Things to Do - Academics
  • Start thinking good grade point average or GPA. This is important for college entry and any kind of scholarship
  • Understand core courses and what is required by the NCAA to meet eligibility criteria.  This informationis available at the NCAA website, the Guide for College Bound Students and your highs school counselor.  Cores course may changes.  So, each year make sure you check.
  • Establish a relationship with your high school counselor.  This person can answer many questions and provide a lot of material on eligibility for college athletics, testing for college entrance, careers and other topics.
  • Start thinking about career goals—what to do for a living. Having an idea of the broad area that you want to major in will help you select which colleges to focus on when it comes time to making visits and making a choice.  The counselor also has access to tools that may help do a self analysis for such areas as interest, attitudes,skills necessary for careers/jobs.  Some of these tools you can score yourself; other may need to be scored by the counselorr. 
  • Use the school career software to learn about careers and occupations.  Many high schools have programs that guide you can use to yourself.
  • Start to identify colleges you might be interested in. You don't want to wait until senior year to start looking at colleges.   There are many colleges to choose from.  Some will be a good fit for you and others won't.  Develop a list of things that are important to you.  It might include career majors, area of the country (east coast, west coast), big school, small school etc.  As you learn more about yourself change it so that by the junior year, it is a pretty good idea of the kind of environment you want for college.   Research colleges and come up with a list that might be divided into categories such as:  good academics and athletics, very interested, need more research, good match but need to visit.  Start with your own state or the college of your parents or older brothers and sisters.
  • Start to find out more about college cross country and track programs. What are they like? Where might you fit in?  Big school; small school. 
Sophomore Year

The Sophomore year is generally a little easier since the first year of high school is over.  It should start with an evaluation of  your performance during your freshman year.
Hopefully by now, you've started your plan for getting to college with a scholarship.  If not, check out the tips in the freshman year.

Things to do - Athletics

Because of the large number of colleges that participate in the NCAA I, the eligibility and recruiting requirements discussed here refer to the NCAA.  For information about the NCAA II, NCAA III, NAIA and NJCAA visit their websites. 
  • If you have not done so yet, obtain copy of the guide for prospective student  athlete from the associations.   Visit the NCAA, NAIA and NJCCA (click on prospective students) sites.
  • How did you do last year? Did you meet or exceed your goals?
  • Discuss last years effort and performance with your coach and develop a new set of goals for this year.
  • Research colleges and their athletic programs.  Go to the athletic association sites NCAA, NAIA, NJCAA to obtain the addresses for college web sites and their athletic sites.
  • Contact colleges you are interested in.  Send a letter to the coach telling him/her about yourself and your interest in the college and the athletic program.  Don't expect any call backs from coaches.  While you can call coaches during the sophomore year,  NCAA coaches cannot call you.  Also off campus contact by NCAA coaches to you are not allowed in the sophomore year. 
Things to do - Academics
  • Evaluate your academic performance during your freshman year. How did you do? Did you do your best? Could you do better? What about your GPA?  Check with your high school counselor about core courses.
  • Decide if you need help with your academics. Visit your school counselor, a favorite teacher, your pastor, talk to your parents, for help. Falling behind in your grades may mean make up work in the summer or it may cause you to be ineligible for participating in college athletics.
  • Keep athletic eligibility in mind when selecting classes.Make sure you know what classes meet core requirements.  Check the NCAA website and your high school counselor.
  • Research careers and occupations.
  • Develop a list of careers and majors that interest you most. Think about taking high school courses that might help you decide on a major or career. Talk to your school counselor, parents or friends of your parents that are in careers that interest you.  But check with your counselor to be sure that the course does not interfere with meet the core requirements.
  • Start thinking PSAT/NMSQT.  This is the Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test that is taken in the beginning of the junior year in high school or in some places November of the sophomore year. This test is used as a practice test for the SAT and to identify National Merit
    Scholarship winners. School counselors are a good source for help in understanding tests. Also, more help for understanding tests and test taking can be found at The College Board or ACT web sites. There are also numerous web sites that offer help in understanding tests.
  • Start thinking SAT or ACT.  These are the Scholastic Aptitude Test or the American College Test. These tests are used to determine NCAA/NAIA/NJCAA eligibility. Colleges also used these test results along with other criteria to admit college freshman. Generally the best time to take them is the middle of the Junior Year.
  • Think about where your academic and athletic skills might fit in. Use the Internet to search for information about college programs.
  • Most, if not all, colleges have web pages. Look on the Athletic Program Page to find the cross country and track programs. You will find athletics, coaches name, schedule and results, as well as, accomplishments. Generally you will also find the coach’s address.

Recruiting Information

To make sense of recruiting rules, you need to know a few definitions for recruiting in the NCAA . 

In the NCAA Division I, what you or the coach can do relies on some definitions.  
  • A contact occurs any time a coach has any face-to-face contact with you or your parents, off the college's campus and says more than hello.  A contact also occurs if a coach has any contact with you or your parents at your high school or any location where you are competing or practicing. 
  • An unofficial visit is one by you and your parents to a college campus paid for by you or your parents.  The only expense you may receive from the college is three complimentary admissions to a home athletics game, such as a football or basketball game.  You may make as many unofficial visits  as you like and may take those visits any time.  The only time you cannot talk with a coach during an unofficial visit is during a dead period.
  • Dead period is a date range that the NCAA designates during which almost all recruiting is prohibited.  The only things permitted are phone calls, 1 per week, and correspondence.
  • Official visit is a visit to a college campus by you and your parents paid for by the college.  There are some rules that go with the official visit as to what can and cannot be paid for you during your visit.  Check with the Guide for College Bound Students for more detail and/or the NCAA website.

There is no recruiting in the freshman year.  In the sophomore year there is really no recruiting, except for the following activities.

What you can Do
 What the CollegeCoach Can Do
  • You can receive brochures for camps and questionnairs.
  • You can make calls to coaches at your expense only.
  • You can make an unlimited number of unofficial visits. 
  • Coaches can send brochures for camps and questionnaires only.

During the freshmen and sophomore years, a college coach cannot call you nor contact you off of the college campus, for example at track meets.  Also, official visits are not allowed. 

Starting early will help you achieve your goals.  Use your high school counselor as much as you can.  The counselor is a good source of information about athletic eligibility, all types of scholarships and usually has considerable information about colleges and universities.  The more you do now to understand the process the better.  Good Luck.  At the end of sophomore year follow the To Do steps in  the Junior-Senior Years article on DyeStat.

Part 1 - College Scholarship Overview
Part 2 - Freshman - Sophomore Years
Part 3 - Junior - Senior Years
Part 4 -  Beyond Division I