Whether you're an aspiring college athlete or not, one of the most effective parts of the college application process is visiting a campus. It's the best way to find out if you like or don't like a campus and why.
Every college admissions office puts together a laundry list of visit opportunities for prospective students on a yearly basis, but there is an extra wrinkle for prospective student-athletes. That comes in the form of official and unofficial visits. While everyone understands that one is official and the other isn't, what are the differences and how do they apply to those impacted?
Official Visit vs. Unofficial Visit
Official visits are any trips to college campuses by a prospective student-athlete that's paid for by the college they're visiting.
Unofficial visits are completely paid for by the prospective student-athlete or their family.
The benefit of official visits is that they allow a college to really "wine and dine" a recruit. When hosting someone for an official visit, college programs can pay for the transportation needed by the recruit to get to and from campus, their housing and three meals per day for both the athlete and a parent. Colleges can also include tickets to a home sports event.
There is no flexibility for college athletic programs to pay for anything when it comes to an unofficial visit, but they're still able to reserve tickets for the recruit and their family to a home sports event.
As one can imagine, the NCAA enforces some regulations on official visits. At the Division I and II level, student-athletes are allowed just one official visit per school, and five total. So if you find yourself being asked to go on several official visits, you need to be thoughtful of how you spend them.
There is no limit at Division III or NAIA schools with regard to total official visits made by a recruit, but they can only make one visit per school. If you're taking unofficial visits, though, recruits and/or their families can visit as many colleges as many times as they want.
What Doesn't Change
The big, overarching concept that's the same between both official and unofficial visits is how one evaluates the school itself. Don't forget, it's important to like more things about a school than solely the athletics program. Asking yourself the same questions regardless of what type of visit you're on is crucial to making an informed decision when the time comes.
- How are the dorms?
- Is the food any good? Hey, this is important! You have to eat least three times a day for four years, ya know.
- What are the academic buildings like? Are you a fan of the campus layout? What about the surrounding area? Would you be excited to attend this school even if sports weren't a factor?
- Don't forget about academics. What majors, advising programs, and internship opportunities are available? What resources are available to help you succeed?
This is just the start. Head over to the bookstore, ask current students (both athletes and non-athletes) as many questions as you can, and try to research any unanswered questions after you get home.
A Secret Tip: Act Natural
Here's the thing—you'll probably feel like a high school student during these visits. That's OK because, well, you are a high school student. But I have a secret to tell you: as long as you're not walking around with your parents or a bunch of other recruits and aren't on an official tour of the campus, you'll look just like just all the other college students there. It's true. Nobody will know the difference.
This is an awesome opportunity to wander around campus by yourself and get a sense of what your experience as a student could be like.
You might be thinking, "But that's weird! I don't want to do that!" I get it—I would've thought the same thing as a high school junior or senior. However, you're going to have to do this for real (like meet other students and speak to campus administration) sooner than you think, so there's no better time than now to give it a try.
When you go on official visits or do admissions-sponsored tours/programs, you're going to see the best and most wonderful things about that school. That's literally their job. There are plenty of awesome colleges out there, but no place is all sunshine and rainbows. Exploring the campus by yourself is an opportunity to get a sense of what potential downfalls there are, and it'll give you a chance to decide whether any of them are deal-breakers or not.
See if people hold doors open for you. Are students walking around campus with a smile on their face? If you get something to eat in the cafeteria, can you sit down with a random person to eat without feeling like an outcast? Is it easy to set up a meeting with the dean of students? Whether your experiences are positive or negative, it's a decent indicator of what your experience at that college/university could be like.
Visits are an integral part of the college admissions process, regardless of whether you're a recruited athlete or not. When you get the opportunity to visit a campus you're potentially interested in, take full advantage of the time you have there.
Photo Credit: Andrei Stanescu/iStock
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