Men’s D2 and D3 Soccer at Top Academic Colleges

I am beginning the process of trying to understand the recruitment process at the top Academic Colleges offering Men’s D2/D3 soccer. My son is a solid Div 1 player who has strong test scores and academics. Having watched 2 of his cousins go thru the recruitment process in other sports, he is hoping that his soccer could give him a leg up into a top college: Cal Polytech, Washington Univ in St Louis, MIT, Vassar… He loves the sport and in his teenage mind, loves the idea of working hard to get an offer in 11th so he can call it done.

My question is, besides a leg up, what kind of do merit or non-athletic (or athletic in the case of D2) scholarships do the top academic D2/D3 schools typically offer to recruited men’s soccer players? Is there any place to research this information?

D3 can’t offer merit for sports. And it varies from school to school. If you list the schools and the stats you are workingwith, people can probably tell you what academic merit they got.

This is the right forum for D2 responses though!

D3 schools can offer merit, but they cannot offer it for athletics. Merit must be awarded to recruited athletes using the same parameters as other students, and athletics cannot be part of the merit determination.

Many of the top D3 schools do not offer merit of any kind – the NESCAC schools, such as Amherst, Williams (though Trinity and Conn Coll have both started offering merit awards). Swarthmore, Haverford and Vassar do not offer merit. I think Skidmore only offers merit for music.

In contrast, Grinnell, Oberlin, Kenyon and many others do offer merit. There is a lot of insight about D3 Men’s Soccer over on the d3soccer boards – google it – there is an active message board populated by former players and parents, with threads on specific D3 conferences. You can learn a lot about coaches, conferences, team style of play, recruiting etc. over there.

I’ve generally heard but have no personal knowledge, that athletic recruiting is barely a feather on a scale at MIT and Cal Poly. In contrast, at some other schools, it can get an otherwise borderline applicant admitted. The coach is the best source of information on that – how many applicants with comparable stats with the same level of coach support you are offering me – have been admitted, denied, waitlisted over the past 5 years. Welcome, and enjoy the ride!

What age is your son? Is he a HS junior or younger? Has he started the athletic recruiting process (e.g., chosen schools, contact coaches with both an athletic and academic resume, sent film, attended ID camps)? Remember even for D2 and D3 programs, they are recruiting athletes first, then they determine if the desired athlete has the academic qualifications to be recruitable for the school.

D3’s can only offer need based financial aid or merit (if merit is even available), without regard to athletics. You will always hear rumors of secret athletic money. Don’t believe it. Some D3 coaches may be very savvy on how financial aid and merit awards work at the school, so they may help guide recruits through the process, but there is no pool of money that they have access to.

Completely agree. The parents who tell me stuff like this are the same parents who clearly don’t understand the process from 8th grade on.

“secret athletic money” for D3 soccer players ???

There is a lot of improper incentives offered & given to D1 athletes in the revenue sports (D1football & D1 basketball), but D3 soccer players can only receive academic merit money or financial aid just as any other student at that D3 school.

I believe coach support would make a big difference at Vassar. They would be thrilled to get a D1 player with great academics. I don’t think they offer merit money though. Would a D1 level player be happy playing at a much lower level? Maybe – they would probably be a star; maybe not, it could be frustrating. Does Wash U have men’s soccer? For some reason that school has never crossed my radar screen, and I’ve immersed myself in trying to learn a lot about men’s soccer recruiting.

What about other schools like Emory, or The University of Rochester, or Brandeis, or Tufts?

Wash U. is in the UAA with Emory, Brandeis, and Chicago - who has been a perennial power for the last few year. And if a player is D2/D1 borderline, then a program like Chicago would certainly not be “much lower level”. In fact, I would argue it would be a much higher level than your D2 and low-tier D1 teams.

D1 and D2 schools do allow athletic aid to be paired with merit aid, but not school issued need based aid (state or federal aid like a Pell grant are okay).

D2 schools are usually smaller and a lot of them are LACs or tech schools. Colorado School of Mines has a great men’s soccer team and it’s a D2. Last time I looked, every single player on the roster was majoring in engineering except one, and he was ‘undecided.’ Bet he became an engineer too.

The big benefit to being recruited at a D3 is help with admissions. Many D3 schools offer great need based aid, but if you don’t have financial need, you’ll be full pay. A D2 or D1 school may be cheaper if there is an athletic award.

Cal Poly - SLO is a Division I school.

He can get an athletic offer in 11th grade, but he can’t get an academic acceptance to most schools until Senior year, and he can’t get an academic pre-read to a NESCAC school, or most D3 schools, until July 1 of senior year. If he wants it over and done as a junior, he’s probably looking at D1 or D2.

As others have pointed out the real benefit of being a borderline college athlete is it will help you get into a better school , in non revenue sports like soccer. Johnny the student may not get into Vassar but Johnny the soccer player/ student may get in. Also keep in mind very few athletes make it all 4 years, it is under 25 percent IIRC I laugh to myself, when folks tell me their daughter got a full ride in field hockey to a d3 school knowing they can not give a athlete’s scholarships. Also being a D1 athlete is a full time job, like 35-40 hours a week basically year round. Yes D2 and D3 is less but not to much less at top programs.

I was thinking more of Vassar when I wrote the soccer was a lower level than d1. I agree, top d3 schools have d1 players, and play good soccer, but OP described his son as a “solid d1 player” so to me that means recruitable at BC, Dartmouth, UVM etc. The players I know that go to those schools are stronger, generally, than those going d3. And a d3 coach would be thrilled to have that level of player:-)

@hillcountryview, in D3 recruiting, I am not sure that you can “get an offer in 11th” to “call it done.” As they say, a verbal isn’t worth the paper it is written on. The athlete isn’t bound, nor is the school. At best, it is the coach’s agreement to recommend a student to admissions in exchange for the student’s agreement to apply early decision. True, many if not most of the D3 verbals work out just as planned, but I wouldn’t expect it to be easy street. D3s try their best not to give athletes much advantage compared to non-athletes, and our experiences was plenty of nerves in the belly until the fat email came.

A simple way of finding out which D3 schools offer merit aid (and the merit can’t be merit because the recruit is a good soccer player) is to send some tapes of your kid’s play to some colleges along with test scores and GPA, and see which ones open up a conversation. Then ask about merit aid.

If you are looking for the strong leagues, I have a bias for the NESCACs. It is a pretty high level of play for all of the teams, which can be confirmed by how many NESCAC teams make the NCAA soccer tournament each year compared with other leagues. Just check out the results from last year and the regional rankings also are informative. However, as noted, there are plenty of great soccer programs.

I should add that some of the Patriot League schools offer great merit aid and may also offer athletic scholarships. At one point, the Patriot League offered no athletic aid, but I understand that this has been transitioning for a while now, depending on school and sport.

Sorry for the long post ahead of time.
Let me back:) My oldest child, (female/non-athlete, artsy child), is currently in 11th. At the end of 9th she set a goal for herself: to have a SAT score she was pleased with; to have visited the colleges on her list; and by the end of 11th, to have selected the 3 colleges she would apply to. We seemed right on track up until last month when after hearing a guest speaker at a college in SC, opened her eyes to something new and wiped every college from our perfected list. Meanwhile, my son, the soccer player in 8th grade, has been attending the college visits with us since many of these schools were in NC, SC, and VA. It has been a great experience for him to walk the campus and be able to think about each college, without the pressure of looking for himself.
So on our last college visit, he said: Mom, we should figure out the hardest school that I might want to play soccer for and work backwards… Made since to me because what I know now is that it takes a lot longer than I thought and Junior year is crazy enough already!

Now back to your question @BKSquared : my son is in 8th . We have not started the recruitment process. My mission is to find trustworthy information/guide/roadmap to understanding Men’s College Soccer Recruitment at D1, D2, D3. In the perfect world, it would be geared toward top academic colleges and Ivy Leagues.

Specific to the top academic Private colleges with men’s soccer programs:

-What is the Academic/Soccer balance like for these D1 and D2 players? Do they handle the balance differently than a top soccer ranked D1 state school like UC Santa Barbara? (and I am not implying that UCSB is not an amazing school!)
-Is there anything similar to the public info “Fees and Financial Info” that you find on the standard College Search websites that tracks what % of the schools athletes receive Financial Aid and what the specific percentages are for: Need Based Aid, Non-Need Based Aid (Merit Aid), and Athletic Scholarship. When looking at colleges for a standard student, they also give you the average $ amount given in each category. This helps a parent understand if the school would be affordable and how many kids are getting what kind of $.

Up until this point, I thought that D3 schools were a flat- no money for soccer players. The only $ given was based on the student, with no athletic consideration. Then I read on “The Recruiting Code:”

“Division III schools are offering just as much financial aid as their counterparts. The difference is that none of the aid is labeled “athletic”. The money is given out in academics, leadership, need, and various other ways.
If you are a good student, Division III schools can be very attractive. Without the pressure of athletic scholarships, colleges are free to reward good students.”

Mercy… Enlighten me on where to go, who to trust, and what to look at. All I see is the forest.

I know, at the beginning it is all a big, dark forest!

The best thing I did was join CC and then go and read pretty much every thread having to do with soccer recruiting in the Athletic Recruits forum.

Someone on one of those threads recommended a book The Athletic Scholarship Playbook, which I found very useful for setting out the basic structure of recruiting (whether you are going for a scholarship or not).

It is smart to get a lay of the land over the next year or two; nothing needs to be done now in terms of recruiting.

Re: scholarships. Only D1 and D2 can offer athletic scholarships; in men’s soccer they are very rare. What scholarships there are often go to international players. I know of an All American player, committed to Michigan, who got zero in athletic scholarships.

All levels of school can offer need based financial aid – and that’s the term used in your quote. (that quote is highly misleading in my opinion, contributing to the confusion!) Of course D3 schools can offer NEED BASED financial aid. This financial aid has nothing to do with playing soccer, but everything to do with your family’s financial situation.

Then, there is MERIT aid. D3 schools can offer this, but it is again not based on soccer. Merit aid is based on academics, so if your soccer player is also an academic superstar, the school may offer merit aid due to the academics.

Hmmmm…am I the only one that thought they misspelled loophole when they typed “leadership?”

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@cinnamon1212 Thanks for the book recommendation! I think what is throwing me off a bit is my experience with my oldest/non-athlete. We have are seeing that private colleges can have a great amount of flexibility when awarding “Merit Aid.” While there are students who receive merit awards based solely on academics, the merit awards can also be quite significant based on less tangible things- que the smoke machine. This was our experience with our D recently when she was invited by a private college to attend a program in her field of interest. After spending 2 days in the dept, we expressed our concern re: the affordability and need for Merit Aid. We will not qualify for need based. The dept ch indicated that while some scholarships have specific criteria that a student must meet to be considered, there was additional merit aid that was awarded based on (poof!) other factors. I heard this as, yes there is a standard route to receiving merit aid, but if we want your student, we also have the flexibility to award merit aid as we see fit. Granted, I’m not talking about giving us a 0 balance. Just knocking it from 70k to the 30’s.

I guess my point is, at this private school and 1 other we visited, merit aid was not solely based on academics. Matter a fact, this was a testing optional school and they definitely made it clear that a student did not have to submit SAT scores for merit aid. In turn, this made me wonder if D2 and D3 private schools exercised some of this same flexibility with their athletes?

I hate to be that person, but 8th grade is a bit early to predict Division 1 talent.

I’m not saying he isn’t on a D1 trajectory, but I personally know 15+ players that were projected D1 early on and never got any interest from D1 schools come junior/senior year.

Either way, you’re in the right place and your plan seems strong. I look forward to following your journey.

Good for you and your son that he is looking ahead.

There are other posters on here who know the soccer process first hand. My kids were recruited for softball and baseball. They missed the last cut for Ivies (going through prereads but not getting an “offer”), but had “offers” for academic D3’s, including NESCACs, MIT and Caltech. So what follows below is pretty general.

Let’s look at three different parts: athletic, academic and money.

On the athletic side, there are various contact rules governing when and how a coach can communicate with recruits. By and large, there no limits to how and when you can contact the coach. The key is to start developing a list of schools that fit your kid athletically and academically. You then start to try to get your kid on radar screens. This can be done through a combination of filling in recruiting questionnaires on the teams’ website, providing a resume on athletic achievement/honors, providing tape (game and skills) and at some point attending camps (could be large camps involving a bunch of schools or school specific where there may be some other coaches) where you know certain coaches will be in attendance. Besides exposure, camps are very useful in assessing your kid’s athletic level. Unless your kid is some phenom, it is up to the student to get on radar screens. We did notice that for D, the process seemed to start earlier as girls physically mature at a younger age. For S, he started to get some looks summer of sophomore, but the funnel really narrowed summer of junior.

For most selective schools, there are academic minimums that the coaches know they have to meet to pass muster with the AO. At some point, if a coach is interested, they will ask for grades and test scores to determine if the recruit is going to hit academic minimums for his/her school. The Ivies uses a calculated academic index (inputs are grades and standardized test scores). There is an absolute minimum for any individual, a minimum average for all recruited athletes and usually team minimums that the AD sets to ensure that the overall minimum is met, allowing lower standards for certain sports to be made up by other sports. Other schools use “bands” which groups recruits academically (again based on grades and test scores), with a lower number of spots allocated for low bands. The important point though is the coach has got to want you as an athlete first before he or she will use one of their chips for you. Some coaches at some schools (including Ivies) have a limited number of slots they can use. If you get a slot and the AO signs off on you in a preread that they will do sometime during/after summer of junior year, you are pretty much in. Some schools only allow the coach a “tip”, which does not guarantee admissions, but super charges the sport as an EC. MIT and Caltech are good examples. Some schools (many LAC’s that uses bands) allow the coach a limited number of slots but will also allow for “tips”. It is important as you narrow the field, that you understand the level of support each coach is willing to give your kid – is it a true slot, a real tip, or will they just put in an informal good word.

On the money, it is true that some of the wealthier private schools D3 schools offer very generous financial aid. Some may have merit. But for both cases what they can offer is no different than what would have been offered if your kid was not a recruit. Soccer is an equivalency sport for D1 (9.9 scholarships) and D2 (9). The coach can allocate the money as he/she sees fit, but it usually means that athletes get partials each year.

Friends who have gone through the process recently are good sources. Some coaches of club teams are good sources (others not so much, especially for D3). A lot of these camps also do a recruiting primer for parents. As you get closer, don’t be afraid to have open discussions with coaches. While they probably don’t want to talk to you about where your daughter is athletically, I have found them to be pretty transparent about the process and money and talking to parents about that.

Hold on. So you have a “solid D1 soccer player”, in 8th grade? A lot changes in 4 years.

In any event, there are a few things you can look at to educate yourself:

There are 205 D1 schools offering men’s soccer scholarships. But keep in mind that men’s soccer only offers 9.9 scholarships, so that money is spread out over their entire roster of ~30 players.

D2 has 210 schools, and can offer 9 scholarships (again - spread out among the entire roster). But the money available for D2 scholarships is ~1/2 that of D1, so it’s an even smaller piece of $$.

D3 has 400+ schools, but cannot offer any athletic money. However, as many have said, you can get money for lots of other things, including academics (just like many D1/D2 schools). For instance, I know of one kid offered admission at a LAC with a top 20 soccer team whose cost of attendance was half price. That money was awarded for excellent academics and service, not for their soccer ability.

So yes, a smart kid can get the cost of tuition down significantly to attend a D1-D2-D3 school.

As for your question regarding school/sport balance, plenty of D3 players are “training” just as much as their D1 counterparts. But in the spring, it’s just done done without the coach since he/she is only allowed to work with the team for 16 days. However, those players are in the gym 3x per week with a strength/conditioning trainer (not “coach”), playing futsal 3x per week in the gym, etc. Don’t kid yourself to think the player at BC is training more than the kid at Tufts. And as with anything, all this will vary school by school.

@GKUnion - No predictions on his talent at all or that he will still be pursuing college soccer in 11th grade. Our focus is on identifying possible private colleges that could be a fit for him (academically), in a place he would enjoy, with a competitive men’s team.

Apologies, “Solid” was not meant to indicate that he is a top tier Div 1 College player, but instead a solid D1 CLUB player… didn’t consider that that could be misread. I’m just trying to get a better understanding of what opportunities exist at the different divisions and where to find reliable information.

I’m a realist. What is he really capable of, would he really like it, what would it really be like, and would we really be able to afford it.