A common statement student-athletes make is, "I receive letters and questionnaires from schools already so those schools are recruiting me." Handwritten or personally addressed letters can mean you are being recruited, however, most of the time the letters are generalized and in turn are often a form of advertisement from the school for camps, enrollment as a student, etc.
Real recruiting is much different than getting some information regarding the school or program. If you are truly being recruited in this age of social media and always being connected, you will be receiving emails directed to you and your situation personally, as well as phone calls from the coaching staff. Keep in mind when a coach calls your coach and checks in on you but has not called you, unless you are younger and rules limit direct contact, the college coach may be just feeling your situation out and may ultimately have interest but have not decided to start recruiting you just yet.
When a coach makes that decision to start recruiting you, you will generally hear from them often. Coaches will contact you, your family, your high school and/or AAU/club coaches regularly to build a relationship with you and those around you. Anybody they feel will not only give them insight into your situation and who you are as a player but also who may have influence over your situation should they decide to offer. We encourage every player that is going through the recruiting process to ask the following questions of the coaches that contact you during your high school career:
How interested are you in me?
This can help you understand if they’ve already made an offer to someone else and are waiting to see what they do and consider you as back up option.
What type of scholarships do you have for my recruiting class?
This let's you find out if they have a full scholarship available they are considering you for, and if not, can they get to a full scholarship with your grades and your test scores, etc.
Don’t limit your communication to just these basic questions though, plan ahead of time what to ask college coaches. There is nothing wrong with being upfront when it comes to communicating with college coaches, in fact most would actually prefer it. That doesn't mean you should come off as arrogant or feel entitled, but make sure you ask the important questions. Also remember that playing college sports is a privilege and not a right. Any coach that has taken time out of his/her busy schedule to talk to you or email you deserves the utmost respect and attention, and at the very least for you to respond back and communicate with them in a mature manner.
We tell young adults all the time going through the recruiting process that it is a lot like a job interview. Playing college athletics is a job and you are being interviewed along with hundreds of other candidates. Never discount a situation right away because that school participates at a certain level or because you have never heard of them. You owe it to yourself to learn about each program that is looking to give you an opportunity and research each situation by asking the coaching staff questions you and your family have come up with. We work with prospects every year that initially would have eliminated a school based on their initial "criteria" but ultimately went to that school because they did their research and found out it was a great fit for them and offered everything they were looking for.
Once you've gotten to the point with a school that they want to talk about scholarships, there are a couple things to keep in mind. When a school offers you a scholarship at the NCAA Division I level it has to be a full athletic scholarship and cover your tuition, housing, food, and books. However, schools that are not NCAA Division I are not obligated to strictly use athletic money or cover all of your costs and they will need to know a few things before they officially make you an offer:
What are your grades?
Schools need to know your academic performance to know if you are eligible to play by the NCAA or NAIA, if your grades are good enough to get you into their specific institution, and how much academic scholarship money can they get you to piece with athletic money.
What are your SAT/ACT scores?
The reasoning behind this question is similar to your grades, the higher SAT/ACT score the more academic scholarship money they can piece together with athletic money.
Are you a Pell Grant Recipient or do you qualify for other financial aid?
This money can sometimes be factored into the scholarship package they offer you, and in cases where you are receiving a full athletic offer the Pell Grant money can be given back to you directly each semester. To receive a Pell Grant award you must be a resident of the United States, complete the FAFSA process, and qualify based on financial need.
Once those questions are answered they will let you know exactly how much scholarship money they can offer, the expenses it will cover and what you will be expected to come up with out of pocket (technology fees, housing deposits, insurance, etc.). Make sure to get all offers from a coach in writing and/or something official. From there, you and your family can sit down and evaluate how it fits with your situation financially and use that information along with what you learned about the school through research and talks with the coaching staff to make the most educated decision on your college future.
When all of these things are in place then you know you have truly been through the recruiting process. Again, it is very important when going through the process to not get caught up in the level of play, name of the school, what conference they are part of or even their location. Location will, of course, play a key role for most recruits, but ruling out schools at first glance just because they're "outside of the state" or "more than 4 hours away from home" can potentially cost you an opportunity to play somewhere you would have truly enjoyed. Make sure to take into account important factors non-athletically as well such as class size, majors the school offers, what their success rate is for job placement once you receive your diploma, etc. Make sure to figure out what's most important to you personally and compare any schools recruiting you based on that criteria. Make a list if needed and rank the different schools in each area to see how they stack up. Ultimately, the key is to find the best fit academically, socially and then athletically so that you can maximize some of the greatest years of your life and get all you can out of YOUR college experience.