College Athletic Recruiting Process: What You Need to Know

The recruiting process for college athletes
April 26, 2024
Expert Reviewed


Reviewed by:

Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University

Reviewed: 4/26/24

Are you looking to jumpstart your athletic college career? This article will discuss the ins and outs of collegiate athletic recruiting, admission requirements, the general timeline for recruitment, and some FAQs to get you on the right track.

As you go through high school, you’ll probably have a general idea of what you’d like to pursue in college. If you’re a high performing-athlete going through this process, you might be considering a career in college athletics–but how, and where do you start? 

This article will discuss everything you need to know about the athletic recruiting process to help you prepare for your career as a college athlete.

Steps of Athletic Recruiting Process

You might be wondering when the right time is to start thinking about collegiate athletic recruitment. As per the NCSA, starting the recruitment process as early as possible in your high school career will best set you up for success. 

While some prospective athletes are sure about their college path from the start, it’s okay to make this decision and start the athletic recruitment process as a junior or a sophomore. Just remember that if you start later, you’ll likely have to put in more work and have to settle with playing for a lower division.

One way to understand the collegiate athletic recruiting process is through the recruiting funnel. It outlines the basic steps of the athletic recruiting process from the coach’s perspective.

Source: NCSA Sports

With this in mind, we will go over each stage of the process in more depth to help you better understand how they affect you as a prospective athletic recruit. 

Step 1: Prospective Athletes Enter the Funnel 

At the very beginning of the recruitment process, college coaches will typically consider thousands of prospective athletes from various avenues such as media sites, third-party recruitment, recommendations, emails, and extracurricular camps and showcases. 

Approximately 800 to 8,000 prospective recruits might be considered for the next stage, depending on the size of the program.

Step 2: Coaches Begin Initial Evaluations

With the initial evaluation, college coaches identify recruits that meet basic requirements. They evaluate prospects through their recruitment profile and select candidates based on criteria such as weight, height, position, extracurriculars, and academic performance, among others. 

Step 3: Correspondence is Sent Out to Potential Fits 

At this stage, coaches will begin sending letters, questionnaires, and camp invites to prospective athletes. You will likely be contacted in the form of a request to complete a recruitment questionnaire, camp invitation, or a letter of general interest. You may get one or more of these, depending on the program. 

The list is then skimmed down to about 500 to 3,000 prospective athletes, depending on the size of each program. 

Step 4: Evaluations Continue With a Smaller Class

Once you’ve completed the initial correspondence, college coaches narrow down the application pool and conduct a thorough athletic, academic, and character evaluation. 

During this process, coaches reach out to you, your high school coaches, and any other recommendations. At times, they may also travel to see you compete or extend invitations to specialized camps to see how you’re able to perform. 

At this stage, coaches aim to narrow down the list of recruits to 20 to 300. This number is dependent on the sport and division level of each program. 

Step 5: Coaches Extend Offers to Recruits 

If you’ve reached this stage of the recruitment process, you are likely to receive a few offers. At this point, college coaches expect to lock down commitments with athletic recruits. 

For larger programs and divisions, you may be one out of a list of up to 200 to 300 potential athletes. Coaches will first send out offers from the top of the list and work their way down until the roster is filled. 

Step 6: Signing Athletes 

The final step in this process is for coaches to sign athletes and ensure they meet the academic requirements of the program. 

As per the NCSA, the timeline for the recruitment process is as follows: 

  • The athlete makes a verbal commitment 
  • The coach provides an official written offer to the athlete
  • The athlete signs the offer
  • The athlete must continue to meet requirements for admission to the specified program (this will include the completion of core courses and meeting the GPA standards)

Athletic Recruiting Eligibility

Now that we have gone over the athletic recruitment process, we will go over some requirements that are crucial to being considered as an athletic recruit. We will discuss what is necessary to be an ideal candidate, from early recruitment to being signed as a college athlete. 

Generally speaking, there are three primary collegiate athletic associations you can consider: 

  • National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA)
  • National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA)
  • National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) 

We will be going over the different requirements for eligibility for each.


The NCAA is the largest collegiate athletic association in North America, recruiting for Division 1 (D1), Division 2 (D2), and Division 3 (D3) schools. The NCAA’s primary focus is recruitment for D1 and D2 schools, considered the most competitive factions of collegiate sports.

If you’re looking to apply for D1 and D2 schools, you’ll start by creating a certification account that allows the NCAA to assess your eligibility for these programs. The NCAA bases eligibility on the following components: 

  • Core Course Requirements: The NCAA requires that you pass 16 high school courses, which include a certain number of classes in English, science, mathematics, and social sciences.
  • GPA: Your eligibility will also be assessed based on your GPA for the core courses mentioned above. D1 schools require a minimum of 2.3 on a 4.0 GPA scale, while D2 schools require at least a 2.0 GPA.
  • ACT or SAT Scores: In addition to your core course GPA, the NCAA will also factor in your ACT or SAT scores. The NCAA will determine your eligibility on a sliding scale relative to your core course GPA.
  • NCAA Sliding Scale: The NCAA will use a combination of your GPA and your ACT or SAT scores. If you have a lower GPA, you may still be eligible for each program, depending on whether your SAT or ACT scores make the cut for your respective division.

With this said, the NCAA offers resources for prospective recruits to self-assess their academic eligibility before applying. 

On the other hand, recruitment for D3 schools with the NCAA does not require the same eligibility verification. This means that you won’t have to create a certification account with the NCAA; they will not be assessing your eligibility based on your academic performance.


Unlike the NCAA, meeting the eligibility requirements for NAIA D1 and D2 schools is not as rigorous. To qualify for NAIA schools, you must be a high school graduate in good standing. In brief, to be eligible for admission as an athlete at an NAIA school, you simply need to meet the admission requirements for your school of choice. 

Additionally, NAIA requires prospective recruits to meet at least two of the following: 

  • A minimum score of 18 on the ACT or 860 on the SAT for critical reading and math sections. 
  • A GPA of at least 2.0 upon application. 
  • Graduate in the top 50% of your class.


To be eligible for the NJCAA, you must have a high school diploma. Students who have not graduated from a standard high school can also be eligible, given that they are able to complete their GED or any state-approved high school equivalency test. 

Typically, students who do not meet the eligibility requirements for NCAA or NAIA recruitment start off in the NJCAA. Student-athletes who have aspirations to compete for NCAA or NAIA can meet their eligibility requirements after two years of competing for the NJCAA.

What Do College Coaches Look For?

Depending on the school, division, and sport you apply for, coaches look for specific attributes during recruitment for collegiate athletics. With this said, we will go over five general characteristics that coaches seek in their recruits.


The most evident trait college coaches look for would be your athletic ability. Given that you’ll be playing in a highly competitive environment, coaches need to ensure that you’re able to keep up physically with the current players on their roster.

As you choose which route to take when applying for collegiate athletics, make sure that you’re honestly able to assess your physical capability. This will help you find the right program based on what you can do. 


In addition to your physical conditioning and athletic ability, coaches also look for mental resilience when they recruit for college sports. If you’re a high school athlete, you likely know how significant mental strength is for your sport. 

College coaches want to know that a single mistake or a bad game won’t get to you. As an athlete in a highly competitive program, you’ll want to keep pushing forward and finding ways to get past mental blocks that prevent you from performing at your best.

Academic Performance 

Aside from the obvious academic requirements for associations like NCAA and NAIA, coaches look for a certain level of academic achievement in their recruits. Academic success, especially as an athlete, often presents a window to your drive for achievement and work ethic.

Additionally, student-athletes with a high GPA and SAT or ACT scores are more likely to keep up with the college requirements to stay in their athletic programs. This gives your coach more assurance that they won’t be losing a star played based on poor academic performance. 


One of the most important things that college coaches consider is your attitude and ability to receive and apply feedback. This is crucial to securing a role as a college athlete. It determines how well you’re able to play with a team and dictates your potential as a recruit.

Coaches often look for prospects who can let go of their ego and actively want to do better. This means that the ideal candidate in terms of coachability is someone who can gracefully and humbly receive feedback. You will need to keep an open mind in terms of their performance and game strategy.

The best part of being coachable is that it’s something you can develop, so if it’s something you find challenging, know that coachability comes with practice and persistence.


The last thing to consider as a potential recruit is how you present yourself on and off the field. According to the NCSA State of Recruiting Report, 35% of college coaches ranked character as the most important in the recruiting process. 

Coaches want to make sure that their athletes can manage themselves and their behavior. During their initial evaluation, coaches will often talk to your peers, coaches, and references about the kind of person you are. Your character is essential to coaches as it reflects your team and college.

When Do Colleges Stop Athletic Recruiting?

The short answer to this question is that colleges stop athletic recruitment in senior year; however, there is more to it. The general timeline for recruitment will depend on the sport and division you apply for. Below, we will go over the general timeline and what to expect for each division. 

Division 1

D1 recruitment comes in two parts. Depending on the sport you play, recruitment may start and end earlier. For instance, high-caliber sports (Elite Division 1) such as football, basketball, and baseball begin scouting and recruitment in your sophomore year up to the end of junior year. For any open spots, coaches will typically wait until senior year to fill them. 

For the rest of D1, coaches usually begin recruitment shortly after, making offers at the end of junior year through to your senior year. If you haven’t received an invite by your senior year, it may be best to start looking into D2 schools. 

Division 2

D2 recruitment follows the timeline of general D1 recruitment. Typically, coaches will begin to show serious interest in prospective student-athletes in their junior year, with some receiving offers before the start of their senior year. 

With this said, most coaches are inclined to wait until senior year. They will often wait until senior year game film becomes available to see how well you’re able to perform.

Division 3 

Recruitment for D3 schools is much more flexible as each school sets its own timeline. This means that if you’re applying to be a D3 athlete, you’ll have more time to secure a spot. D3 recruitment is often based on senior year game film and can make offers as late as the end of your senior year.

As the recruitment timeline for each division differs slightly, the same can be said for both team and individual sports. Generally, it is good to know that recruitment for team sports often begins and ends earlier than individual sports.

FAQs: Athletic Recruiting

Now that we have gone over the athletic recruiting process, we’ll cover some FAQs that might answer any other lingering questions you might have

1. When Does Athletic Recruitment Begin?

Athletic recruitment can start as early as your coaches recognize you as a stellar athlete. College coaches can show their interest and begin evaluating prospective recruits well before high school. However, from a legal standpoint, coaches can only make offers to student-athletes after September 1st of their junior year. 

Some exceptions are Elite D1 sports like football, basketball, and baseball. Coaches recruiting for these sports can make offers earlier in high school.

2. When Should I Start Thinking About Athletic Recruitment?

It is best to start thinking about your athletic career as early as possible. This can be as early as your first year of high school. The earlier you start working towards your goal to become a college athlete, the more time you’ll have to prepare and train to be a competitive candidate for higher divisions. 

If you’re unsure about which path to take, you can wait until the beginning of recruitment (junior year, for the most part). However, it is important to remember that waiting longer might limit the likelihood of competing in higher divisions. 

3. What Should I Look For When Choosing the Right School?

While you’re aiming to go to a school with a stellar athletic program, it’s also important to consider aspects aside from your athletic program. You can ask yourself questions about what matters to you in your college career and what your school can bring to the table. 

If community is very important for you, or if it has a great program for your subject of focus, then it can be worth considering. It’s also most important that you pick a school that meets your athletic skills or needs, whether that is a D1, D2, or D3 school. It’s essential that you apply wisely to increase your chances of getting recruited.

4. I Haven’t Heard Back. What Do I Do?

If you’re heading towards the end of the collegiate athletic recruitment period and haven’t heard back, it could be due to a number of reasons. One big reason applicants don’t hear back is that they’ve targeted schools that may not be the best fit. 

An important thing to consider when you start applying is whether you’re a realistic candidate for a specific program. If you’re finding this challenging, you can always ask your high school coaches or guidance counselors for help. They’ll be able to inform you about your options and find the best program for you.

Final Thoughts

Working towards being a college athlete can be challenging. It tests your mental and physical strength, character, and work ethic as a high school student. Remaining passionate and focused on your goals will keep you on the right track. 

With this said, there are many factors to consider as you think about a potential career as a college athlete. This article aims to provide some guidance throughout this process, leaving you less guesswork for the journey ahead.  

Best of Luck!

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