OK, based on some feedback it appears many think it would be helpful to have a sort of generic basics of recruiting thread, and then maybe highlight where the Ivy/NESCAC process differs. Kind of a "This is what you need to know when your kid starts the process" type of thread.
I will start by laying out some basic points I think are helpful. Please add your suggestions below. I will keep this thread tacked up for a bit and then when replies tail off try and harmonize everything into a single post which we can keep in the featured category.
The most important thing to me is to know the odds. Very few high school athletes end up participating in college, at any level. The NCAA publishes these statistics regularly, and everyone who is thinking about playing in college or with progeny who is should read them. They are at http://www.ncaa.org/about/resources/research/estimated-probability-competing-college-athletics
. To my mind, it is crucial to be honest with yourself about the actual skill level and recruitability of yourself or your son/daughter. People who successfully navigate the recruiting process do so by being open to schools at the appropriate athletic level. I and many others can tell several stories about kids who passed on great opportunities because they were quite sure Nick Saban was just about to call and extend an offer. There is an old saw I first heard when I was recruited back at the dawn of time "you should play one level below where you think you can, and two levels below where your dad thinks you can". Unfortunately, I believe this is still true today. Do your best to be realistic, and if possible seek out neutral opinions from knowledgeable people on the recruit's actual skill level.
The second thing to understand is that many sports simply do not have significant scholarship assets to use on recruits. To understand this you need to understand a couple of things. First, NCAA Division 1 schools are able to provide the most scholarship assistance, Division 2 schools are able to provide somewhat less and Division 3 schools are prohibited from providing any athletic factor financial aid at all. In addition, even though the Ivy schools and the Service Academies participate in Division 1, they provide no athletic factor assistance. Period. Full stop. Second, within Division 1 there are certain sports; namely football (FBS only), basketball, women's gymnastics, women's tennis and women's volleyball which are head count sports. That basically means that every scholarship awarded in those sports is a full scholarship. In the other sports within Division 1 (including FCS football) and all sports within Division 2, scholarships are frequently doled out as partial awards to several athletes. Third, with the exception of FBS football, no school is required to fully fund the NCAA allowable scholarships. In fact, several schools and conferences in both Division 1 and Division 2 do not fully fund certain sports. That means that while the NCAA may allow 9.9 total scholarships on the men's swimming team, school A may only fund 5.
The third thing to understand is the applicable timeline. If you spend any time at all on this board, it quickly becomes apparent that there is some variation in the timing of recruiting based on both the particular sport and the specific division. To that end, it is often most helpful to get your information from other parents involved in the particular sport who have recently finished the process. In general though, everyone has to follow the contact rules as laid out by the NCAA. They can be found here http://www.ncaa.org/student-athletes/resources/recruiting-calendars
Within the context of the applicable contact rules, be aware that no one will act as an advocate for the recruit except the recruit him or herself and the recruit's parents. In my personal opinion, there is nothing wrong with beginning to reach out to schools once a potential recruit has significant varsity or applicable club level competitive time. In my opinion, this contact should come from the recruit, not the parent. Once initial contact has been made, it becomes crucial to ask specific and direct questions of the coach. Help your son or daughter formulate good questions. Will you offer me a scholarship? is unlikely to provide you with usable information. Can you describe the recruiting process at your school? or how many athletes are you considering for how many available slots in this cycle? may get you better information. Listen closely for clear answers. Coaches go through recruiting multiple times a year over several years. Most are not interested in wasting time, and will give a recruit information to let them know where they stand.