Guest Blog: Athletic Recruitment at Elite Colleges

By: Judi Robinovitz | Last Updated: April 21, 2015

Golfball - Score At The Top

This has been a thrilling year for one of our international college-counseling students – a ranked golfer who has just completed his sophomore year. He and his mom have quite an interesting story to tell about their early college planning and recruitment, which she has graciously offered to share with others…

When my son broke his elbow last spring, we realized very quickly how important it is to do well in school and have a back-up. Trying to manage golf competitions, fitness sessions, practice time at the golf course, along with rigorous academics, is next to impossible in Europe. So there we were, with A LOT of time on our hands because golf had been moved to the back burner…an opportune moment to get a head start on the chase for a golf scholarship at an American university. Little did we know that the summer after 9th grade was anything but a head start! By the way, when I write “we,” I am referring to our son and his parents. We have done most everything in tandem and have emphasized to our son that his participation and effort in the process is of the utmost importance.

Our first steps were to put together a résumé of our son’s golf accomplishments and then create a swing video to send to coaches. Our next step was to compile a list of the top 100 universities in the NCAA golf ranking, and compare it to the top 100 universities in academic ranking. As it turns out, only six schools were cross-referenced (two of which are considered top-tier universities). We then emailed the résumé and swing video to the coaches, along with a cover letter that included academic information, and indicated our son’s desire to visit the university that summer and meet with the coaches.

After about a week, we (the parents) called the coaches directly to see if they were interested in setting up a meeting with us on campus. This proved to be the hardest part of the process, since NCAA rules forbid coaches to call back! However, we had an “intermediary” person who offered to pass on emails from coaches, which has proven to be extremely helpful. So this is how coaches get around the rules!

Given our son’s strong academic profile and his high performance in golf on the national and international junior scene, coaches were very happy to set up appointments for August. It was at that point that we met with Judi Robinovitz, who gave us precious advice on how to act, dress, and present ourselves to the coaches, and who provided an overview of the schools to help fine-tune our son’s selection. Her tips on campus tours, thank-you notes, and other aspects of the campus visits were invaluable. We also contacted a person who works as an agent for college placement of junior golfers, and who continues to provide us with inside information regarding the recruiting process. This gentleman had seen our son play golf several times in international junior golf competitions, so he wrote emails to recommend our son before we arrived for the campus interviews – this, of course, was a very helpful entré!

Fast forward to the visits, where it became quite obvious which coaches were pretentious, which ones were modest, which ones had integrity, etc. It becomes plain as day to the student-athlete on which campus he feels comfortable, and with which coach he has the most affinity. One of the things that I learned from one of the top-tier college athletic advisors is that being a student-athlete is like having a double major! Organizational skills are essential – do-or-die – especially when tournaments are underway in the fall and spring.

Following our summer interviews and campus visits, we continued to email six of the coaches, even though our son had narrowed down his selection to one top-tier academic university on the East Coast with a good golf program, and to another school not quite as elite, but one of the best in golf. These emails included our son’s end-of-semester grades, his golf results from fall tournaments, and his golf schedule in the United States over the Christmas holidays. A few weeks before the Christmas break, we called the coaches and were informed that four of them were going to come watch our son compete. This event was chosen specifically to “showcase” our son’s talents, since it is a tournament almost exclusively with college-age players. In Europe, if a junior golfer wants to go to a good school, he is obligated to reduce his tournament schedule: at that point, our son wanted to play in tournaments that would get him noticed by US golf coaches, and also in tournaments that counted toward World Amateur Golf Ranking. That proved to be a good move, since the coaches saw our son play and carry himself well in a college-level tournament - even though he was only 15 years old! Coaches are not permitted to speak to the junior golfer until the beginning of 11th grade, so the coaches whispered things to us discreetly that led us to believe that we should re-contact them for a scholarship offer. As things moved forward quickly, we tried our best to remain level-headed throughout the process.

We consulted again with Judi Robinovitz, providing her with an update on where things stood on the golf and academic side. Judi advised us on how to remain in contact with the coaches, along with the steps to take (below) regarding ACT preparation with JRA Educational Consulting through Skype sessions this summer.

After returning to Europe in January, our son buckled down with his studies once again, and started to prepare for the TOEFL. While some of the universities don’t require the SAT/ACT tests, all of them asked for a TOEFL score. At that point, we also had our son’s academic transcripts translated from French to English, and sent these to all six universities. In the cover letter with the transcripts, we told the coaches that we would re-contact them in hopes of discussing scholarship possibilities. This is when things started to get really interesting! Our son received great offers from his top 3 choices (top-notch academic institutions), as well as from two big state schools. After several conversations with coaches, and a lot of time spent talking as a family, and with others, about the pros and cons, our son accepted the offer from a fine university on the East Coast ― the very school that he felt was the best fit right from the outset. He then contacted the other coaches to let them know of his decision, a gesture they really appreciated.

It is important to note that at this stage of the game, a “verbal commitment” means just that – it is verbal and only verbal. Either side can change its mind in the next year or so. It is also important that the junior golfer remains competitive in his golf game, and continues to get high grades and SAT/ACT scores. The admissions departments at these top-tier schools recognize that coaches need to be competitive in the recruiting process, but if the student athlete doesn’t fit the admissions committee’s criteria, then he is likely to be denied admission. And then the junior golfer finds himself in big trouble, because he has refused many other offers, only to find himself scrambling for a spot on a team and with little chance to secure scholarship money!

If I had to give advice to other families who are following the same path, I would emphasize the following:

  • If possible, contact coaches and visit campuses as early as the summer after 9th grade
  • Don’t rush a final decision ― but don’t wait too long. Scholarships are awarded earlier and earlier for college golf teams.
  • Have your child speak directly to coaches by phone as much as possible, and tell him to trust his instinct when giving his impressions concerning the coach’s personality.
  • Always choose a school that your child would want to attend even if golf wasn’t in his life.

This entire process is far from over now (it’s only the spring of sophomore year in high school!), and it has been more trying than we had expected. Be prepared for a long, emotional ride! The learning process is fun and exciting, and can bring you closer to your child along the way

Topics: Private-School Educational Consulting


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