College Recruiting Timeline

College sports recruiting timeline

There are college programs, looking for recruits as early as 3-4 years in advance. This is in stark contrast to other programs, looking for recruits as late as in the 12 months prior to the recruiting class starting.
Reason enough to understand what you should do when and why it's always better to start early.

"Start early (enough) or you will be left with only a handful of options."

Freshman year

  • Start thinking about your future. What do you want to do with your life; academically, athletically?
  • Think about what kind of school would fit to you? Big, small, rural or in a city, private or public? The criteria are endless, but you may be able to define some that are important to you.
  • Understand the level of play or athletic performance you will need to display to get recruited by your dream school.

Sophomore year

  • Build your recruiting profile, for example your Smarthlete Profile.
    Understand what is still missing and start working towards adding those bits and pieces.
  • Collect game highlights, if your sport is a team sport (e.g. soccer, volleyball, lacrosse, basketball, etc.)
  • Consider getting a first college highlight reel, which you can use when contacting coaches.
    (Don't worry, you can "update" the video later on, as you get stronger)
  • Research schools and start building a list of schools you are interested in.

Junior year

  • Finalize your "longlist" of schools.
    1/3 should be schools you would love to get recruited by, but are a long shot
    1/3 should be schools which are perfectly within reach for you
    1/3 should be schools you would be fine going to, but not your first choice.
  • Think about how to present yourself and reach out to coaches.
    “Coach, check out my video!” won't do it :)
  • Get in contact with college coaches.
    This could be by reaching out on your own or by working with a recruiting service.
  • Register with the NCAA or NAIA Eligibility Center (in case applicable).
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Smarthlete Features

Your Recruiting Process on Smarthlete

Use our University Database for your sport, see your Personal Fit & contact any coach.

Senior year

  • Apply to school(s).
  • Be prepared to commit the very latest in your senior year.
    For most D1 schools and some other lower division school, commitments may be made in your junior year already.
  • Sign in “Early Signing Period” of “Regular Signing Period” (for NCAA D1 or D2).
  • Master all remaining administrative paperwork.

International recruiting

If all of the above feels like way too early to you, that is an understandable feeling. Keep in mind that American students grow up thinking about college and planning their class schedules and activities in line with their future college education. Additionally, studying and playing in college is studying “at home”, although a few hundred miles away.
Because it's a somewhat bigger decision for Internationals to leave their home country and get an education abroad, most Internationals wrap up their mind way later.
We do recommend you kick-off your recruiting process 18-24 months before your intended college starting date, as this will leave you with

  • enough schools to look at and
  • enough time to complete everything

When should you start the recruiting process?

Start your recruiting process the very latest in your high school junior year!

Recruiting Advice

As soon as you know that college is going to be your future (you definitely want to study and continue with your sport after high school), we recommend you start thinking about your career goals & your recruiting process.

Are coaches ever done recruiting athletes?

The simple answer is: No. But, you don't want to risk that your dream program is one the programs, which has filled all positions and awarded all scholarship money.
Any coach knows that injuries may happen, athletes may lose eligibility and/or decide to drop out. It happens all the time and for scenarios like those, college coaches have to be prepared and maintain a pipeline of athletes they are interested in, but unable to recruit at this point.
Yes, there are coaches looking for athletes as late as 2 weeks before college move-in day, but in a perfect world they don't.
And even if college coaches are done recruiting for the upcoming recruiting cycle, they may already have shifted their focus towards the academic year thereafter.

Next Read

Read up on the various Scholarship Types you may qualify for.