Unofficial visits are an important part of the recruiting process as they help a swimmer evaluate whether or not a college is a good fit. A college visit is considered unofficial if it is paid for by the recruit and his family.
This is not the same as just taking a college tour as the college coach needs to know you’re coming for it to be considered an actual unofficial visit. However, a college tour and information session can definitely be an integral part of your unofficial visit.
There are several types of unofficial visits – some are scheduled by the family to include the tour, meet the coaches, etc. Others are initiated by the coach and can take the place of an official visit if the coach wants to meet the recruit before official visits are allowed or if the school doesn’t have the recruiting budget to offer official visits.
Unofficial Visits Can Occur Earlier Than Official Visits
Depending on the division, swimmers often can’t take official visits until after September 1stof the junior year of high school. Unofficial visits can occur at any time although Division I coaches cannot participate in an unofficial visit or talk to an athlete visiting campus until September 1stof junior year either. Taking an unofficial visit allows an athlete to learn about a school earlier and to decide whether or not he wants to keep it on his listas he enters the more focused recruiting period and communicates with more coaches.
Since swimmers can only take 5 official visits, it’s beneficial to evaluate schools before receiving invitations for official visits so that visits to the highest priority schools are accepted and scheduled first.
College swim coaches want to know that a swimmer is interested in their program. There are many ways to demonstrate interest and visiting campus is a big one. Coaches will devote more time and energy to swimmers who are more likely to accept an offer to swim at their school than to spend their time and recruiting budget on recruits who are a long shot.
A swimmer who takes the time to contact the coach and set up an unofficial visit is clearly at least somewhat interested in the school which gives a positive impression.
Coordinate with a College Tour and Information Session
An unofficial visit can often be coordinated with a college tour and an information session. This gives the swimmer and his family a chance to learn about the entire school including the academics and student life.
Some official visits include a campus tour, often given by other swimmers. However, it’s helpful to take the tour scheduled through the admissions department to get their perspective on the school and the admissions process.
Meeting with a representative from the academic department or even attending a class in the swimmer’s desired major can be very helpful in trying to evaluate a school. The coach may be able to arrange this or the academic department can be contacted directly.
A Chance to Ask Questions
The unofficial visit is a great chance to ask questions of coaches. Email and phone conversations are great in establishing a relationship with the coach, but nothing beats the chance to have a conversation in person. Your swimmer should take a list of questions which shows he’s taken the time to research the school and that he’s prepared.
It’s also a chance to ask questions of any teammates your swimmer happens to meet. This is the best way to really find out about a team – ask how class conflicts are handled, what the coaching style is like, and if the team has a positive culture.
During the admissions department information session or meetings with academic departments, ask questions pertaining to the admissions process or the major. This is the time to investigate the school thoroughly so take advantage of the opportunity.
Get to Know Teammates
Depending on the time of year and the agenda of the unofficial visit, it may be a chance to get to know some of the teammates. Eating lunch or dinner with some of the team members is a chance to see if your swimmer clicks with them and to ask some questions.
On some unofficial visits, a swimmer can spend the night in the dorm with a host or attend a home sporting event. This is also a fun chance to get to know the team.
Parents Can Attend
Most official visits don’t include parents so an unofficial visit can give parents a chance to check out the school as well.
During official visits, swimmers typically fly to the college by themselves. If the school is within driving distance, parents may drop them off or some parents will stay in the college town during the official visit and view the school on their own while their swimmer is staying with the team and participating in scheduled activities.
One thing to remember is that unofficial visits can’t occur during Dead Periods in Division I and II when coaches aren’t allowed to have any in-person contact with recruits. This is usually a few days before the signing period in fall and spring and. Be familiar with the recruiting calendar so you don’t schedule visits during Dead Periods.
Swimmers can initiate an unofficial visit on their own, they don’t have to wait for an invitation. Contact the coach and express interest in scheduling one or let the coach know which day you’ll be on campus if your trip is already planned. Do research on the school and the swim program beforehand and have good questions to ask when you meet the coach to ensure a great first impression.
Michelle Lombana is committed to helping parents like her whose children want to swim in college. When she’s not taking unofficial visits to colleges, she can be found at www.collegeswimmingguide.com.