January 29, 2019
As a student-athlete in the 2021 recruiting class, this upcoming summer is the perfect time to make immediate strides in your recruiting process. As coaches at both the Division I and Division III levels fill out their upcoming recruiting class throughout the summer, they’ll also shift their attention to the class of 2021 – focusing on high-academic student-athletes just like you to build out their recruiting boards with prospective players prior to the September 1st contact deadline.
Below, we highlight some key features in the Division I and Division III recruiting process for the class of 2021. While the recruiting timeline is different for DI and DIII schools, schools from both divisions will be looking to make connections with rising juniors, evaluate them as players and follow their progress leading up to the September 1st contact period deadline. The tips below are not meant to be an exhaustive list, but we hope they provide some guidance as you continue to pursue softball at a high-academic school.
Before diving into the differences in recruiting at the DI and DIII levels, there are a few key takeaways for all rising juniors to keep in mind:
The recruiting process is all about cultivating relationships with various coaches, and often requires multiple touchpoints. These coaches know that rising juniors won’t have a complete academic transcript and may only have a baseline for test scores – or no test scores at all. This summer gives you an opportunity to make a strong initial impression while awaiting those scores. Athletic ability can aid in the admissions process at high-academic schools and impressing a coach with your on-field play and character before you have these scores allows a coach to put you on their list and follow you. Once you have an idea of what schools and coaches you’re interested in, you can update them on your progress throughout junior year and aim for scores that meet their admissions requirements.
Each recruiting process is different in its motivations and goals – and in fact, as someone pursuing a high-academic recruiting process, you’re in a small minority among your teammates and classmates already. And, not everyone has the same motivation for pursing softball at a high-academic school. As you narrow down your list of schools, keep in mind WHY this is important to you and WHY you think a school is the right or wrong fit. This will not only help keep you motivated throughout this journey, but also help you identify what you’re looking for in a school and what’s most important to you in this process.
As you use your “why” to figure out the ideal school, you might be surprised by some of the programs that match your criteria. We encourage you to continue chasing the schools on your list, but don’t be afraid to add some new options. The perfect fit might be a school you haven’t considered yet, and having an open mind and remembering your priorities will help you find the right holistic fit.
With the recruiting calendar changes that were enacted in the spring of 2018, there’s a common misconception among younger student-athletes that they now must wait until September 1st of their junior year to have any conversations at all with college coaches, or even to begin their recruiting process. This deadline refers specifically and exclusively to “recruiting-specific conversations” – e.g. an offer of a scholarship or roster spot. It is crucial that you’ve gained quality exposure to your list of schools before this deadline, so that you are on coaches’ radars prior to when they begin their recruiting outreach. Putting your name on their recruiting board and having the opportunity for direct engagement with coaches prior to this deadline means that you can make your way onto their September 1st call list immediately.
With 18 DI schools already confirmed to attend Headfirst in 2019, one of the most frequently asked questions we get from rising juniors is along the lines of: Is it too early in the process for DI schools to be interested in rising juniors?
NO, this is the right time for rising juniors to make an impression on DI programs!
Coach Perspective – DI programs operate at a more accelerated pace than at the DIII level, even among high-academic schools. As most DI programs fill out the final spots of their 2020 recruiting classes, they’ll shift their attention to the class of 2021. This means that this spring and summer, DI coaches at high-academic schools are busy finalizing their 2020 class, and building their list of 2021 prospective student-athletes.
We previously wrote about recent changes to NCAA DI recruiting rules that prohibit coaches from having “recruiting-specific” conversations with student-athletes prior to September 1st of their junior year. With this new rule in effect last summer, we saw very few changes to our camp format and the experience of underclassmen. While DI coaches will not be able to offer scholarships or solicit campus visits, they are still able to coach, evaluate, instruct and engage with all student-athletes.
In short – while DI coaches must wait until September 1 of a player’s junior year to have a recruiting-specific conversation, this is a crucial summer for them to build out a target list for their 2021 recruiting class.
Coaches are using their time this summer to build the list of prospects that they’ll be reaching out to on September 1st by evaluating their on-field play and getting an early assessment of their academic and character fit for the program and school.
Student-Athlete Perspective – This summer is the right time for rising juniors to put themselves on the radar of high-academic DI schools. If you have not done so already, send a personal message by email or handwritten letter to each school on your list. Remember to make each message unique – coaches will know if you send the same email to all of them. If you have a recruiting video, include that so that they can put a name to a face.
To help position yourself for success, we recommend including some of these details when reaching out to coaches:
This summer is also the right time to prioritize your exposure and access to the schools on your list. Continue to get your reps and game action with a summer ball schedule, but make sure to balance this with showcases where you know the right coaches will be in attendance and where you’ll have the opportunity to show your entire skill set and engage with coaches directly. Remember – because you’re targeting high-academic schools, your recruiting process and school list are going to look vastly different from your teammates. It’s important that you have the ability to not only continue your on-field development but also show this development to the right schools for you, which will prove to be a smaller and more unique list than your peers.
Schools will have fewer spots available in their 2021 recruiting class next summer and waiting until then will put you behind many of the student-athletes that had an earlier start. While opportunities will still remain at the DI level next summer, they will be more scarce, and you are better served now by positioning yourself for success by making a strong impression on coaches this summer and carrying that momentum into your junior year.
When talking to coaches at these showcases, make sure to ask detailed, thoughtful questions to show your interest in the program and to see if you’re a potential fit. While DI coaches can’t have recruiting specific conversations, they can tell you about the school and the makeup of their roster. Here are a few questions to consider that can help you decide if the school is the right fit for you:
Headfirst Pro Tips for Rising Juniors Pursuing DI Schools
While recruiting at the DIII level moves at a less accelerated pace than at the DI level, this summer is still a key time for rising juniors to get on coaches’ radars and immediately advance their recruiting process at high-academic DIII programs.
Coach Perspective – While DIII coaches will still be recruiting heavily for their 2020 class, they’ll also have a strong focus on building their recruiting lists for their future classes. Although DIII programs do not face the same restrictions on the September 1st deadline for recruiting-specific conversations that DI coaches face, these high-academic programs generally need a bit more academic information before they can move forward with recruits. This will slow down the timeline to finalize recruiting at these schools, but coaches will still look to get ahead this summer by building out their targets for the class of 2021.
Understanding that you’ll experience more athletic and academic growth during your junior year, coaches will use this summer to see if you’re an all-around fit for the school, as well as assess your on-field potential for their program. Are you a character fit for the team and school? Does the school offer courses that fit your academic interests? What are the characteristics of your ideal school? Just as these are important to you, coaches need to know that you’re a holistic fit for their program before investing their time and resources into your recruiting process.
At high-academic DIII schools, coaches are also going to look for players that can immediately impact their program in several ways. Student-athletes with a strong academic resume will stand out since they’ll be able to carry themselves through the admissions process. While you might not have standardized test scores yet, schools can use your current GPA to see how you project as an applicant down the road.
Coaches will also look for on-field potential, and the way that your tools translate to their program in the short and medium-term. Coaches in high-academic programs often don’t have the luxury of recruiting “polished” on-field players in all cases. Instead, they’re assessing not just the player you are now, but the player you’ll be in their program in 2, 3, and even 4 years.
Student-Athlete Perspective – It is important to be proactive as a rising junior when pursuing both DI and DIII high-academic schools. Use this summer to introduce yourself and learn more about your target programs while putting yourself on their recruiting radar. Send out personal messages to the schools on your list and let them know where you’ll be playing this summer. Plan out your schedule to get as much quality exposure as possible in front of the right group of coaches. Now is the time to pursue guaranteed playing opportunities in front of the schools you’re targeting – with the understanding that the college list you’re building will likely look very different from that of your teammates.
When doing your research and when directly engaging with coaches, find out if the school matches your interests outside of athletics and what you can do to improve your chances of earning a roster spot. Since DIII coaches can have recruiting specific conversations with rising juniors, use this opportunity to ask how you compare to their other recruits and where they want to see improvement. Gaining this insight will give you some key metrics to work on in the offseason and allows you to update the coaches on your progress. Improving on specific areas that they mentioned during your junior year shows that you are coachable and willing to put in the work to improve.
Headfirst Pro Tips for Rising Juniors Pursuing DIII Schools
Whether you’re looking to continue your career at the DI or DIII level, this summer is the best chance for the class of 2021 to make their mark in the recruiting process. With 75+ schools expected to join us this summer, Headfirst Honor Roll Camps represents your best opportunity to find the right fit at the next level.
Enroll today to join us at any of our 2019 sessions, and make immediate strides in your recruiting process!