How to Get Recruited
How to Get Recruited
How to Build Your Target List of Schools

How to Build Your Target List of Schools

Here's how to narrow down hundreds of schools across the country to your best college fits.

Why Do I Need a Target List of Schools?

Some student-athletes will sit back and wait for colleges to contact them. The more proactive you are about your recruiting process, the easier it will be to find a school that fits your needs. Each program on your list will have specific admission and athletic requirements that you need to be aware of.

We suggest focusing on 20-30 schools to start your college recruiting process. In the sections below, we will guide you through how to create a list based on your preferences, weighing different important factors like proximity to home and whether the school offers your intended major. As you start adding colleges to your target list of schools, you will want to make sure you have an equal number of safety, fit, and reach schools. You can use SportsRecruits' School Research tools to learn about each school’s admission statistics and tag each school as safety, fit, or reach.

Keep in mind that your list is not set in stone and will change as you learn more about what you want and don't want in a school.

Five Key Factors to Consider as You Build Your Target List

  • Athletic Fit: What Division and/or conference are you capable of playing for? Which division do your current coaches and athletic advocates think best suits you? How important is it to you that you play your Freshman Year?
  • Academic Fit: Which schools will you qualify for with your GPA and standardized test scores? What would you like study? 
  • Social Fit: How important is school size and campus life to you? Are you looking to get involved in any clubs or organizations? Do you want to study abroad?
  • Geographical Fit: Do you want to be close to home? Are you looking for a city campus, a more rural location, or something in between? 
  • Financial Fit: What is the tuition? Will I qualify for athletic, academic, or merit-based scholarships? 

Finding An Athletic Fit

While many high school student-athletes dream of one day competing at a top NCAA Division I school, the reality is that very few will get that opportunity. Research indicates only 2% of high school athletes will compete at DI schools. You will likely know early on if you are one of these top-tier recruits. Top-tier recruits are often:

  • All-state or national award recipients
  • Spotted early at tournaments and recruiting events
  • Solicited with recruiting calls and personalized letters from numerous coaches (most athletes receive blanket letters and emails)
  • Attracting many college coaches to their games
  • Receive interest through their current coaches from college coaches asking about them 

When considering different programs, you should ask yourself:

  • What type of impact do you want to make on the program?
  • Do you want to play for a program that has a great chance of making it an NCAA Championship, but where you may not play until your Junior Year?
  • Do you want to play at a school where you'll get playing time as a freshman? 

Work with your club and high school staff to select schools that could be a good athletic fit. They have coached you for years and have the best point-of-view on you as a potential collegiate student-athlete.

Finding An Academic Fit 

Before a college coach decides if they will recruit you, they will look at your GPA, transcript, and SAT/ACT scores to make sure you meet the college’s admission standards. Each program has a specific academic threshold that their admissions department requires of each student-athlete. Your chances of admission are low if you don't meet the academic threshold.

Most college coaches will only spend their time recruiting if you have the grades because they may not be able to get you past their admissions department. This is regardless of how much you could help the team or how much of a fan the college coaching staff is of you. There could be other recruits as good as you, but have the grades to be accepted. 

Remember that the NCAA has a minimum GPA that depends on the division you want to compete in. See the NCAA Division I  and NCAA Division II requirements to ensure you are on the right track. You can typically find college-specific requirements by visiting the school’s admissions website.

Your teachers and guidance counselors can be great advocates in determining a strong academic fit for you. Ask your teachers for extra help in courses you are struggling with. Guidance counselors can be very helpful in recommending SAT or ACT preparation options and guiding you through the admissions process for the schools you are interested in.

Remember, you don’t have to apply to the 20-30 schools on your target list! That number is solely to get you started and for you to identify which programs you may want to reach out to.

Finding A Social Fit 

There are several other important factors that go into one’s college experience beyond athletics and academics. With each school, it is important to ask yourself, “Can I see myself going to this school even if I wasn’t competing in my sport?”. Your answer will need to consider the school’s social life and other factors outside of athletics.

The best way to determine your social fit is by visiting college campuses (open houses or campus tour dates are great!) and identifying what you like and don’t like. Down the road, taking unofficial visits or official visits with the teams that are interested in you will give you a more in-depth look at that particular school, team culture, and a student-athlete’s day-to-day routine.

School size is usually one of the first aspects of a social fit that students try to identify. 

A small school generally offers more intimate classes, giving you more opportunities to participate, build a close relationship with your professors, and receive extra attention on academic weak points. Smaller schools can often be an easier transition if you are accustomed to being part of a tight-knit community. 

Other factors you should consider will depend on what you determine as important to your personal college experience. A diverse student body, the ability to join a sorority or fraternity,  the option to study abroad, or even the living accommodations (if you choose to move further away) are all factors that you will need to identify for yourself. 

Finding A Geographical Fit 

Most students who go to college typically end up at colleges within 100 miles of their hometown. Some student-athletes are drawn to certain regions of the country, while others may want to be close enough for their family or friends to be able to drive to every game. It’s important to remember that you will be choosing an academic environment for the next four years - not a vacation destination. You will also want to consider whether you would like to attend school in a major city, a college town, or a rural location.

Do not underestimate the benefit of being able to get back home easily. If the only reasonable way to travel to see family is by flight, understand the financial impact this may have on you and your family throughout your four years. If you are traveling across the country for college, make sure you feel comfortable about potentially missing out on family get-togethers and holidays. 

Weather is another factor to consider when looking at a school's location. Do you want to be somewhere where there are four seasons? Would you rather be somewhere cold or warm during your semesters at school? 

Finding A Financial Fit

The financial fit will vary for every family. Some families may be looking for financial aid or scholarships, while other families may not need financial assistance. 

As you build your target list of schools, it’s important to be aware of a school’s overall tuition, or “sticker price”, but keep in mind there are many ways to finance your education. Colleges and universities typically report the percentage of their student body receiving financial aid and the average package on their school’s website. Conversations about potential athletic and academic scholarships will happen later in the recruiting process and will come up organically with coaches.

Learn more about how to pay for college here.  

Finding the Right Fit Overall

If you can find a school that matches 4 out of 5 of these factors, that is an excellent indication that this school would be a good fit for you! Having strong handle on the factors are most important to your decision will be beneficial when identifying schools that are a great fit for you.

Give yourself time to re-evaluate your target list of schools consistently, and don’t be afraid to ask those around you for their advice. Remember to cast a wide net and always have a good amount of safety schools, fit schools, and reach schools, both academically and athletically. Do the work early to ensure you get everything you want out of the college experience as a student-athlete! 

Using the SportsRecruits Search Tool 

With the SportsRecruits School Search Tool, you can search through schools based on criteria that are important to you. You can search for programs within your sport based on location, academics, athletics, and, depending on your sport, Roster Needs. By adding these filters you may find schools you have yet to hear of that can be a great fit for you!

Once you add your filters, a list of programs that match the criteria you have chosen will appear. From there, you can take a look at each school and program individually by looking at the Program Profile Page. Each page consists of academic, athletic, and admission information. 

Once you have done your research, take the time to start favoriting schools using the “Heart” icon. After doing this, you will have a Target List of Schools on the “Schools” where you can stay organized and up-to-date on your interactions with those programs. 


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