Initially, I had no intentions to swim in college and only swam because it was fun and I enjoyed the competition. However, once I got to high school I realized I might be able to get more out of swimming then fun and competition, so I started to swim year round for a team outside of Richmond. As time went on I outgrew my team and switched to a more competitive team and participated in many more meets. I had goals of swimming in college and needed to get the most out of each team I swam for and each meet I was involved in.
By my junior year of high school I was talking to different friends I had made in the swim community. Theses friends all swam in college and I immediately was interested in their programs. Since I was not a national star I took it upon myself to make contact with as many schools as possible. I emailed schools from the Atlantic Coast Conference, Big Ten Conference, Big East Conference, and even the Southeastern Conference. Surprisingly most returned my emails. I had originally set up visits with Virginia Tech, University of Pittsburgh, North Carolina State University, University of South Carolina and University of Alabama. I ended up only taking official visits to University of Pittsburgh and North Carolina State University though. These were my top two schools so I decided signing early was important to me and I did not want to chance giving away a spot on these two schools teams if I did not sign early.
I enjoyed both schools and the academic and athletic opportunities they offered, but my decision was easy. I chose North Carolina State University because of the family environment. I really liked the coaching staff and knew I would fit in with the close knit team. It is very important to think about getting along with team when choosing a school since when you pick a school you really do pick a family. I eat, live, and train with my teammates on a daily basis. We dont spend more than a couple hours apart ever in day so its important that you feel comfortable with the team.
I am so glad I chose North Carolina State University. The coaching staff and team have helped me to better myself as an athlete and a student. Ive made my best friends over my time here and I would not trade it for anything. My teammates will always be there for me and I would do the same. Ill always be a part of this team and we will share more together than just competition.
Start the process as early as possible
Do your research about the school from an academic and athletic standpoint
School first, sports second. Those have always been my priorities; however, I fully recognized that my sport, tennis, could provide me with a full scholarship to a good college. So I looked at schools that had excellent academics and relatively strong tennis programs. I wanted to compete at a high level so Division 1 was really my only option. Then I had to decide whether I wanted to start at the top from the get-go or work my way up over the four years. Again, I wanted the highest level of competition and so I choose a smaller tennis program that competed with the Big Guns.
The University of Richmond presented a complete package to me. The tennis coach was one of the friendliest coaches I had met prior to my senior year of high school. When it came down to final decisions, it was actually between Penn State University and the University of Richmond; two schools on complete opposite sides of the spectrum. Penn State University huge, north bound, and with a national reputation had one thing in common with the smaller, academically demanding school in Richmond, VA: an awesome coach. It was difficult to decline the Nittany Lions offer but I simply wanted smaller classes and a more personable relationship with my professors. So I became a Richmond Spider and fully enjoyed my four years there.
Of course on my recruiting trips I looked at the library, where I did indeed spend most of my days for my pre-med classes, and the weight room, to see where I would get the biggest my 55 frame would allow. I met counselors and academic advisors, spoke to many students to gauge the overall campus feel, but the most influential people were my future teammates. Be fully aware that you will spend the majority of your days with your fellow teammates. Richmonds team liked each other, unlike other squads, and they really seemed to unite like a family. I wanted to be part of this team.
Create a list of what you want in a school. Try to decide on one major or area of study that youre interested in and talk to the department. You really want to obtain as much information as possible so first determine what you want and then see how well the school matches your interests.
Do you have other interests or desires to participate in other extracurricular activities? If so, see how well the team time is managed and how feasible your future schedule will be. A recruiting trip/overnight stay is the best way to experience life on campus so I strongly encourage doing this.
Study your coachs interactions. What is your initial vibe? Obviously they are trying to sell the school to you but talk to the team and assess their happiness with how the coach runs things. Do they push their players too hard? Too easy? Do they understand when life issues get in the way of your athletic performance? Do they simply view you as an athlete under their ownership or do they respect you and see you as a real person?
If youre stuck between two schools, make your final decision as if you werent an athlete. What if you get injured and you cannot compete? You want to be somewhere you can enjoy yourself if this huge part of your life went missing.
When I decided that I wanted to play lacrosse in college the entire college search process changed. Not only did I need to find a school that fit what I was looking for academically, I also needed to find one that had a lacrosse program I was interested in and that was interested in me. I had not idea what schools would want me to play for them or if any even would, which was completely overwhelming. I found out on July 1st, the day coaches are aloud to call you according to NCAA rules, that I had options.
In starting the college search I looked at everything and eventually decided that I did not want a small school so anything under about 4,000 students was not for me. I knew I wanted a campus that was active and friendly and had the academics that I was interested in.
Luckily I had initial lacrosse interest from a variety of schools and realized I had an opportunity to play at some pretty decent D-1 lacrosse programs. I then started speaking with a lot of schools and taking trips, some official and others unofficial, to get a better idea of what I wanted in a program and school.
Personally, I was not a big fan of speaking to coaches on the phone and the recruiting process stressed me out. It is tough to make a decision when you are not really sure what exactly you want, but you will figure it out. I looked at schools as different as Ohio State University and Brown University, but eventually after my visit to James Madison University I decided I had found the place that fit me. I really enjoyed my four years there and was lucky to have the opportunity to play a sport in college.
I would recommend using all your official visits if you are offered them and taking unofficial ones if you are not. Being able to meet the team and see the school when it is full of students is invaluable in helping you decide.