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Friday Scholarship Guide

The "Getting-Recruited-To-Your-Dream-College" Formula


The "Getting-Recruited-To-Your-Dream-College" Formula. What is that supposed to mean?
It stands for all of the (six) factors/dimensions, which are central to a comprehensive, well-rounded decision of a prospective student-athlete. In other words, if you get as close as possible to reaching 100% along all of these dimensions, then you can be pretty certain that you have found a good fit with a school. Keep in mind that you define the maximum (100%) yourself!

Our starting point is the fact that the recruiting process is complex. "It's complicated" might just describe it in an even better way.

But why is it complicated? Isn't it the easiest thing in the world to find a school to go and play for? Get a degree, practice, compete? What's so hard about it and would could possibly go wrong? Well, if you want to get it right ... a lot. This edition of the Smarthlete Friday Scholarship Guide will shed some light on what this could possibly be.

Let's have a look at it:

  • You might pick a school, which doesn't offer your field of study
  • You might feel overwhelmed with the academic requirements
  • You might feel completely unchallenged
  • You might pay (way) more than you had intended to
  • You might sit on the bench
  • You might not like the environment (location, conditions, facilities)
  • You might not get along with the coaching staff
In order to avoid all of these outcomes to the extent possible, you are well-advised to take a very close look at the below graphic. It displays the 6 dimensions, which are absolutely key according to our experience, working with student-athletes with the goal of getting recruited and seeing them do well in college.

Chances are you currently study for your upcoming SAT/ACT, working your way through 50 questions a day ... :)
Ready for a simple graphic? Who knows, you might just see such a diagram in your SAT/ACT test soon ...


The first graphic would show an example of your "Perfect Fit" with a school. All good along all six dimensions - a dream scenario!
Let's assume that the other two graphics (University A and University B) show your athlete's assessment with two schools that have made an offer. Both schools would be perfectly in line with the "Athletic Goals" (Dimension #3), but that's more or less about it for University B. University A ranks really high or very close to 100% along all six dimensions and because of that: makes for a great fit with this school. Another way of understanding the graphic is by looking at the size of the area within the colored borders.

Let us walk you through each of the dimensions in greater detail:

#1 Your Academic Level

Whether you are able to target the right schools will have a huge impact on the kind of scholarships and grants you'd be able to receive. But even before getting to that point, you may just lose plenty of time by targeting the completely wrong schools, with very few chances of getting accepted. On top of that, it could also be you don't feel comfortable with a school because of the different academic profile of its student body.

Example: Chances are slim a 920 on the SAT will boost your chances of getting into Harvard and even more so, you might feel like you're going to have to spend so much more time maintaining a solid GPA than you could have possibly imagined.
If 920 is in fact what you are able to do, then a school with a mid-range of 850-1,000 might suit you better or perhaps a community college to start with (that would equal your 100% in this dimension).

#2 Your Athletic Level

The same goes for your specific athletic level. How strong are you? Do you think of yourself as stronger than your stats, personal bests (PBs) or results would indicate? That would be quite an obstacle to you being successful.
Or are you pretty down-to-earth and realistic about the level you have displayed to this point?

Even if that's the case, the question about your potential is not an easy one to answer and is often a bit of a deal breaker. You can think of yourself as the next NBA super star, but if the college coaches don't agree, you won't get that scholarship offer from a "Power 5" team, you're hoping for.

Example: Say, you are a center back (soccer) in a decent junior club team, playing 3 out of 4 games. You deliver what's expected of you, but you're really lacking the physical features many coaches look for on that position. If you hang on to your assessment of deserving to play in a Top-10 team, because you know better than others what you are able to deliver, then you might not do yourself the biggest favor - you will lose time, get nowhere and eventually lose out on opportunities with other schools.

#3 Your Athletic Goals

What do you want to achieve? Are you about to embark on the college journey because you just love to get better each and every day or are you actually within reach to make a living out of your sport? If you want the latter, you have to get yourself in a position to get recruited by a top program. Depending on sport, some teams simply provide a much better platform than others to prepare you to move on to pro sports, whereas others are nowhere close to making you fit for such a goal.

Example: You are one of the best swimmers in your region and you receive a full scholarship offer from a small D2 school. Great offer, no doubt, but it so turns out that the school neither has any kind of track record of making swimmers significantly stronger over time nor are they in the position to recruit several other athletes on your level to allow you to get exposure to a competitive environment day in, day out.

#4 Your Career Goals

Let's take an easy one here to start with. You are looking to study business, straight-forward business, marketing perhaps, but that's as much of a preference that you can think of.
But say, you are aiming really high in terms of what you want to do with your degree afterwards. Wall Street? Well, you better make sure you don't attend a school at the bottom of one of the many rankings. We're not saying it couldn't work, but it's a fact that your chances just look way better if you are able to graduate from a school, which has proven for decades they prepare their graduates for the business world. Or here's an even trickier one:

Example: You want to go to med school at some point after receiving your undergrad degree. Not any med school, a pretty good one if you could have it your way. Research, research, research - you gotta get this right or otherwise you might be facing a real uphill battle.

#5 Total Cost of Attendance

Let's talk money. Let's face it, it's important and no, not everyone can receive a full-ride. Here are the basics: your academic and athletic level/performance (see above #1 and #2) will get you scholarship money. And no surprise: the higher, the better!
Whatever the remaining portion of the total cost of attendance at a school (that is: after receiving scholarship money), you will need to cover yourself through a combination of personal savings, family or loans (obviously after applying for FAFSA - eligible students only). That can be a lot of money.

What kind of budget do you have? What are you able to invest for a full academic year? What are you willing to invest? Is there a difference when it comes to stronger (academically/athletically) schools compared to weaker ones or not at all? These are hard questions to answer at times.
Strong academic schools in most cases come at a larger price tag. So do stronger teams, in case they'd only be able to have you on the team as a "walk-on"; without offering any athletic scholarship.

Example: Imagine you are a strong tennis player without the results needed to get into a ranked (Top-50) program. But you're committed to turn pro after your time in college and in order to do so, you know you need to get into one of these programs. Because of that - and thanks to your parents' generous support - you have received an out-of-pocket budget of up to 50,000 USD to spend; meaning you are able to speak to schools and even signal that a walk-on position in Year 1 would be possible and appreciated.

#6 Characteristics Of The School/Athletic Program

Last but not least, what kind of school are you looking to attend? Do you know the difference between a 4-year school and a 2-year school? The difference of attending a school, which offers no on-campus housing whatsoever? And how is a D1 institution different from a NAIA school?

Does is make a difference for you whether you commit to a private school in the South of the country or a public school in the Midwest?

Example: Imagine you have been speaking to 2 schools in particular. One in the North (Wisconsin) and another one in Texas? You know where and when you perform best and it so turns out to be very warm weather. Although the offers are almost the same - the setting (hot climate) really turns out to be a very important factor for you. Your best possible outcome along this dimension (100%) could be you ending up at a school in such an environment. But getting close to 100% could als have to do with something completely different:
Example 2: How about the coaching staff? Without you ever being able to know for certain: are they here to stay or have they displayed a track record of moving around, looking for new coaching positions after staying with a school for a year or two? Say, the coach has built a legacy, been there for 10+ years and you just get along tremendously. Hard to imagine this could be better anyplace else that's your 100% right there.

We may not call it the "Getting-Recruited-To-Your-Dream-College" Formula every day and others might just call it way different. Bottom line is: it actually doesn't matter what you call it. What matters is that the above is a recurring conversation that we keep having with prospective student-athletes, as it applies to every single individual in one way or the other.

Sometimes what matters most is the money. Sometimes it's the dream of winning Olympic gold and other times it's the "Stanfords", "Yales" and "MITs" a student dreams of getting into.

No matter the athlete's goals, this website (Smarthlete) offers assistance with getting this - your very own - formula right:

  1. DO-IT-YOURSELF:
    Sign up with a recruiting profile, move over to our "Find a University" section and find information on all schools in the U.S. for your sport. We even calculate your very own "Personal Fit" rating, which gives you an indication of how well you'd fit with the school/team.

  2. COLLEGE PLACEMENT:
    Have this formula be broken down into bits and pieces by working through the entire recruiting process with one of our recruiting experts. Amongst other things, we work with you towards understanding exactly the kind of schools that would be a good fit for you. No school fits everybody and there's definitely the right school out there for you. Interested in having somebody support you with this important decision for life? Complete our evaluation form or email contact@smarthlete.com

If you look for more information on topics related to this blog section, check out some of these blog editions of our Friday Scholarship Guide:

We hope this article was informative, inspiring and helpful for you. Feel free to contact us in case you have any question or input - we'd love to hear it! :)