I’ve been procrastinating contributing to this thread, but it’s a quiet morning, so here are my suggestions, based on my kid’s path through D3 Men’s Soccer recruiting. Many, if not all, of the tips can be generalized across sports, though not necessarily across NCAA divisions (D1/D2/D3).
Start with the money. Fill out online Net Price Calculators either on the College Board website or some specific schools to see what your Expected Family Contribution may be. Understanding the money helps you identify the type of school and program that fits your needs. D1 gives athletic scholarships – other than the Ivy League. D3 does not give athletic scholarships, but may give merit based awards – other than NESCAC schools which do not give merit awards (though Trinity and Conn Coll are reputed to have started giving merit awards in the last few years).
If there are particular academic non-negotiable items, identify them early on. Engineering? Pre-med? Journalism? Not all schools offer everything, and not all athletic programs are compatible with the demands of engineering or pre-med, for instance. Get a handle on geography and size of school preferred.
Identifying schools of interest: we spent time on the team pages of probably 20+ schools, to get a sense of the team’s achievements, possible needs, and type of player rostered. This doesn’t translate to all sports but, for example, Amherst Men’s Soccer is known for having big, physical guys who play aggressive soccer – if I had a 5’6 slip of a kid who played highly technical game, there is very little chance Amherst and he would be a good fit.
Initial contact: some schools care about the recruiting questionnaires, others don’t. It probably doesn’t hurt to go ahead and submit the recruiting questionnaire, but don’t rely on that as your sole communication with the program. Prepare an athletic resume which includes your contact information, athletic info – high school/club programs, coaching, awards, etc., along with academic info – gpa, test scores if available, rigor of curriculum etc, awards etc. Include contact info for your high school/club coach. Identify any upcoming tournaments or competitions which coaches may attend. Attach the athletic resume to your email to the coaching staff. Address the email to the head coach, by name, not just “Coach” and copy the assistant coaches on the email. The administrative end of recruiting is often handled by assistants, so make sure your email doesn’t get lost by making sure they get it in the first place. In your email, identify your basic athletic and academic info, and identify in a sentence or two why you are interested in that school. If you don’t hear back within about 2 weeks, follow up with another email. College programs may be in post-season play after your high school season is done, so the program may just be busy and not able to focus on recruiting yet. Film: most of the coaches we met said simple film was best, they just want to see game flow, specific skills, and be able to identify the kid – spare them the music and busy graphics.
Building a list: my kid visited a few schools in the spring of 10th grade to develop a feel for what he may be looking for. He emailed the coaches letting them know when he would be on campus and asking if he could meet with them to learn about their program and needs. Some of those early conversations were hilariously awful, but he learned a lot, and by the time it mattered, could handle phone calls and meetings on his own. Junior year was the core of his visits, with more serious recruiting meetings, and camps. By spring of junior year, he had athletic and academic likelies/matches/reaches, making sure there were a few schools which were both athletic and academic likelies. That list was fluid, as some schools came off (NESCACs, once we realized we needed merit aid and that didn’t happen there) and others came on.
Communication: Follow up with coaches, ask questions, be specific. High school kids may feel awkward pushing for this info, so a parent can ask the coach to explain it in more detail. Know whether you are expected to apply ED in order to have a spot on the team, whether the school does admissions, financial aid pre-reads. Ask specifically – how many kids with my stats whom you provided this level of support were admitted? denied? deferred? Find out what a roster spot as a recruit means – is it a guarantee for 1 year or can recruits be cut after pre-season? We kept a detailed chart noting communications with every school.
We were advised, again and again, that the school you choose should be one where, if you had a career-ending injury on the first day of pre-season, you would still be happy to be at that school, despite the end of athletics.
Have fun, and enjoy the ride. I loved seeing my kid mature, from the hilariously awful first meetings to him calmly calling coaches the fall of senior year to tell them he had committed to another school.