Helping Your Student-Athlete Choose the Right School
(The following is a blog post I wrote for womenshockeylife.com. As coaches we need to help guide our student-athletes through their university and college application and decision making. Remember, most families are going through the process for the first or second time. As coaches, we have seen many student-athletes experience it and can provide some sage advice along the way.)
It is that time of year that many students in grade 12 are making university decisions - my daughter included. It is a stressful time and students often feel that this decision might be THE very most important decision they will ever make. To be sure, it is a big one but, also one that most often turns out for the best - no matter what school is chosen.
Below are some tips and hints to get student-athletes pointed in the right direction. There are many ways to go about finding the right school and I hope these thoughts will help.
First, here are a few important things to ponder:
1) Approximately 90% of university graduates say they enjoyed their university experience.
2) More than 85% of university graduates say they could have had as good or better experience at another university.
3) 75% of students switch majors at least once during their undergraduate studies.
4) You are allowed to switch universities too! (It's true!)
Now, I also know that for student-athletes the stakes are much higher if they plan on playing at the university or college level, and there may be some financial offers or incentives in the form of scholarships. So, here are what I consider the most important factors to think about when choosing a university as a student-athlete.
1) Will the university or college provide me with the academic program I am looking for?
2) How much money do I have access to for my education each year?
3) Is the university or college situated geographically in a location that works for me? (e.g. UBC might just be too far for students from Ontario)
4) Is the university or college the right size for me? Will I be happy being "just a number" or will I be more comfortable at a smaller school where I know everyone?
5) Will I make the team? Will I play regularly or not?
6) Did I feel comfortable when I visited the campus, met the coach, met some other student-athletes? (Yes, you MUST visit the campus!!) Your "gut feeling" is important.
Student-athletes certainly have a much more difficult time when deciding on universities and colleges. The athletics side adds a whole new dimension to the decision making process. It's easy to be a top tier athlete when coaches will be making first contact and offering places on teams and scholarship money. It's much more difficult to be a "second tier" athlete, non-recruited or a walk-on. Here are some valuable tips for those athletes to find a road to playing at the university or college level:
1) Give yourself lots of time. Start the process of looking at schools in the fall of your grade 11 year (if not earlier!)
2) Consider where you will fit in athletically at a certain school. Honestly compare yourself to other players you know and how they have fitted into that or other programs.
3) Try to put yourself in the position of not playing as often as you would like. Do you want to be a "bubble" athlete who may not play much in a top tier program or would you rather be a go to athlete in a second or third division program?
4) Narrow the number of schools you are interested in down to a manageable number - maybe six or seven. Have some "reach" schools both academically and athletically as well as some "safety" schools where you know you will be accepted and will play.
5) Contact the coaches at the schools you have chosen. I know they get A LOT of e-mails so, maybe send snail mail or better, call the coach directly and then follow up with a note.
6) Visit the schools and meet the coaches. This is an important two way dialogue - you get to meet coaches and they get to meet you.
7) Have the courage to engage in tough conversations: "Coach, where do you honestly see me fitting into your program?"
8) And, coaches like to see student-athletes advocating for themselves. By all means have your parents involved in your visits and decisions but you be the front line of contact with universities and colleges, and coaches.
Once you have decided on a program make sure you are the most ready you have ever been for tryouts and training camp. Make sure you have a training program in place and you stick to it before you show up at school in the fall. You must be more physically and mentally prepared than you have ever been. It could mean the difference between making the team or not, starting or not, sitting in the stands or not.
Finally, enjoy the process of finding your next school. Although it's a little nerve-racking, if you embrace the journey it can be a terrific one.