With over 37,000 track and field athletes competing in the NCAA, you'd think that track and field recruiting is a snap. The truth is that only 6% of high school track and field athletes go on to compete in college, and of those, far fewer receive athletic scholarships. Read on to assess your odds, and learn how to get recruited for track and field.
Track and Field Recruiting Demystified: a Step-by-Step Guide
Track and field recruiting has three simple components:
- your scores: times, distances, heights, etc.
- your grades & test scores
- your willingness to connect with coaches and market yourself
When Does the Track and Field Recruiting Process Begin?
College coaches have easy access to high school track stats. So, by the end of your Freshmen year, coaches from leading D1 universities and colleges have already identified their top recruits and have them on a watch list. Those lists grow Sophomore and Junior year, but up until July 1 following your Junior year, NCAA coaches are not allowed to have direct contact with you, so other than an occasional email, coaches are likely to remain distant and quiet. They can send you invitations to camps and general information about their school's track program, but they cannot blatantly make outright offers to you as a Freshman, Sophomore, or even a Junior. If you top their watch list, they might, however, contact your high school coach when you are an underclassman and let your track coach know they are interested in you. The rules for Division II and III recruiting are slightly different: it's best to view the NCAA’s college-bound athlete guide for more information, including contact rules and timelines according to specific division levels.
Does that mean if you're still developing as an athlete your sophomore or junior year that you won't get recruited? No- you still have a chance! It just means you might have to go out of your way to get coaches' attention once you start putting up the kind of scores that interest them. But that's not difficult, it's really just a matter of sending a few emails or making a phone call.
How Many Track and Field Scholarships Per School?
That varies by division. For Division I Men, it's 12.6; for Women, it's 18. Division II is 12.6 per school for each of their men's and women's teams, DII schools don't give athletic scholarships (but do give other types of financial aid), and NAIA allots 12 scholarships per school per team. Limits on number of scholarships in Junior Colleges vary by school and by conference.
Why the difference in men's and women's scholarships at the D1 level? Girls, this can certainly work to your advantage. For more information about women’s participation in NCAA college athletics, view the NCAA Women’s Sports Inventory and Title IX resource center.
Is Track and Field a Head Count or Equivalency Sport?
Track and Field is an equivalency sport, meaning that coaches can break up those scholarships between different athletes. Even though the average athletic award at Division I schools is about $14,000, because track is an equivalency sport, and because teams are quite big - usually 32-50 athletes per team, unless you are a top recruit, your slice of the pie may be much smaller than that.
With So Few Track Scholarships, Why Even Try to Get Recruited for Track?
For many reasons. First and foremost, it can help with college admissions, an otherwise hyper-competitive and very anxious process for parent -- and kids -- to endure. Many coaches have influence in the admissions process - even at the D3 level. Second, it's a well known fact in the professional recruiting world that employers recognize that high performing college athletes will likely be high-performing professionals, and it can help students stand out when it comes time to find a job. Third, track and field builds life-long fitness, and opportunities to compete extend far beyond the college years. Let's first look at the recruiting process for track and field and then understand how to get a scholarship.
Guide to Track and Field Recruiting
- Let coaches know you exist - and that you're interested in their school. Whether you are a top recruit or a borderline performer, be sure to leave the impression with each coach that you'd love to attend their school.
- Study - Don't Party. Each college issues guidelines to coaches about academic minimums or GPA averages required of their track and field teams. So each recruiting season, every college coach has to weigh the trade-offs between who will score the most points, and which athletes will put up the best grades. Therefore, even if you are not a top athlete but are a strong student, track and field recruiting is still a possibility. The flip side of that is that even if your grades aren't ideal but you are a strong athlete, you also have a chance of being recruited. That said, the academic bar at many colleges with track and field programs is very high and in the outstanding universities (namely the Ivies, Stanford & MIT), if you don't make the academic cut you won't get recruited no matter how great of an athlete you are. Therefore, the very best thing you can do to increase your chances of getting recruited for track and field aside from getting stronger and faster is to study. Sorry - that's probably not the answer you hoped for.
- Plan your SAT/ACT testing in advance. Coaches start following athletes their freshmen and sophomore years - even earlier in some cases. At some point during junior year they need to know whether their target players will be able to meet academic admissions standards. The earlier you can give perspective coaches good ACT/SAT scores, the better it is for you. Statistically speaking, though, most high school students perform better on standardized testing the older they are. And, some select colleges require students to submit all standardized tests ever taken, so if you test too young and don't perform well and plan to apply to those schools whether or not you go in as an athlete, then you've done yourself a disservice. So the decision to test early or test when most high school students do (usually towards the end of their junior year) becomes a balancing act. Complicating the "when to test" question for track athletes is that outdoor track is a spring sport, allowing little, if any, extra time in a junior's schedule for test prep.
- Getting through the "Early Read." Most Division III schools have what is known as an Early Read process. This typically begins no earlier than July after Junior year and goes through September or October of Senior year. At this time, college coaches present their list of potential track and field recruits to their admissions officers, and admissions looks only at each athlete's grades, test scores, and senior class choices to qualify or disqualify them as potential admits.
- Follow-up, follow-up, follow-up. Getting recruited for college sports is a little like finding a job. There may be other applicants with similar skill sets, but it's the squeaky wheel that gets the grease. You certainly don't want to be annoying, but sending coaches emails or texts once a month or once every other month is a good idea, especially during their off-season. Constructing an online profile where you can update your accomplishments and keep your grades and test scores available for download makes coaches' jobs easier. Then, all you have to do is shoot them a short email once a month or so with news of your scores from a recent meet or grade/test results, with a link to your recruiting website. Coaches are busy people and they don't have time for long emails. Show them that you respect their time, and let your website and stats do the talking.
- Campus visit. After a number of phone calls and emails, the next step in the process is an official campus visit. Campus visits help both the coach and athlete assess whether the university and its track & field program are good “fits,” while also exposing the athlete to the university and team. If the campus visit goes well, the next step in the process is usually the extension of an offer from the university coach to the athlete.
How to Get a Track and Field Scholarship
Whether or not you're after a track scholarship, the process is the same as applying as a general recruit. The only difference is that once you see where your meet scores fit in on the D1-D3 spectrum (just look at meet results from college track and field websites), begin to compose a large list of target schools where you could be competitive. Take your time and do your research to learn, in advance, about merit-based and financial need-based scholarships at D3 schools, too. Knowledgeable recruiting consultants like Jack Renkens from Recruiting Realities has some helpful videos about negotiating for scholarship money on his website.
What About Other Financial Help?
college athletic coaches have 'influence' in admissions decisions and can help influence your ability to get a non-athletic scholarship or other financial aid. Merit scholarships sometimes pay more than athletic scholarships, but again, you need good grades to qualify for one. In terms of other need-based financial aid, the rules are different for each college. So just because many colleges with track and field programs do not give athletic scholarships, other forms of financial aid might be available. Your best possible outcome is to get more than one offer because then you have some negotiating leverage. To do that, you have to cast a wide net and contact a lot of schools.
Why Do I Need an Online Profile?
Truthfully, you don't need an online profile but it is definitely an advantage. With the rise of mass-market recruiting agencies, college track and field coaches are getting more email than they have time for. Rather than digging through hundreds- even thousands of emails to piece together a recruit's grades, scores and transcripts, an online profile offers the advantage of presenting a coach with one central location they can go to for all your critical information. A tastefully done online profile shows the coach you put some time and effort into the recruiting process. Why wouldn't you utilize every advantage available to you?
Getting recruited for track and field is competitive, but it’s also exciting. As a high school runner, jumper or thrower, don’t forget that your scores and your grades are your most important assets -- however, your ability to package and showcase your stats along with your academic performance is also crucial to your success. With the right online profile, you have a better shot at standing out to coaches and bettering your chances for getting recruited for track in college.