Just the thought of how to help your child become a collegiate swimmer and the responsibility to make that happen can be totally overwhelming. Questions fly through your mind —
- Where would I even begin?
- Is she fast enough to swim in college?
- How do we find the right mix of academics and swimming?
- What if no school wants him?
- How much time will it take?
- Am I equipped to help her?
Okay, calm down. This is an important time in your child’s life but the answer is YES, you can do this. I say that because I did. For some of you with children swimming an Olympic Trial qualifying 100 breast time, you won’t have to do anything! They’ll come to you.
For the rest of us, there is a college for most swimmers and there is a process to follow to find the best fit. It involves time and effort on your part and your swimmer’s part so developing a reasonable timeline of when to get certain tasks accomplished is a great first step.
Next is a series of steps involving your child’s up-front decisions and then the research to align them. Here they are in a nutshell with links to a more detailed version in some cases:
Step 1 – Does Your Child Want To Swim In College?
The first step is understanding whether or not your child really wants to swim in college. It is a built-in community of friends, but it is also a big time commitment. There is no right or wrong answer but ultimately your child has to make the decision. This requires some real soul-searching on the part of your son or daughter, and probably multiple conversations with you.
Step 2 – What Are My Swimmer’s Realistic Times?
Your child probably has some idea of realistic times that he can expect to achieve by his junior year of high school. A discussion with his club coach might be in order to validate his goals. This validation is an important piece. Unrealistic times can result in wasted time and effort, a bad fit or possibly even missing out. These projected times will direct your search for swim programs – be prepared to switch paths a couple of times if he doesn’t meet or if he exceeds his goals.
Step 3 – School Considerations Before Swimming
Understanding the kind of school your child wants before looking at swim teams will help keep you both focused.
The vast majority of freshman change their major so it could be beneficial to choose a school with many options for majors. But if your child is interested in science and math, a school with more selection in those types of majors makes sense as does a liberal arts college for students who lean toward the arts and humanities. So write down what kind of programs are of interest so you can rule out schools without these up front.
Similarly, your child might already know the size school and location in which he would thrive.
Some students are drawn toward a large city while others prefer more rural areas just as some have preferences regarding climate.
A large school environment may be inspirational for some while others do better with smaller class sizes and getting to know their professors. Help your child think through these considerations and write them down before becoming too enamored by a swim program.
Step 4 – Determine Target Schools
Once you have narrowed down some of the school factors listed above, it is time to find some Target Schools. This is where the real work and time comes in –
- Determine whether your child wants to swim in Division I, II, or III, NAIA, or NJCAA.
- Since coaches are much more likely to recruit swimmers who will score, look at the times required to score in Conference Championship Meets and select some conferences that look to be a good fit. Hint: One way to save time on this is through a College Swimming Guide membership since I have the spreadsheets of times for all Conference Championship Meets.
- Figure out which schools are in the conferences you select and research them to see if they are a match with your child’s interests in terms of academic majors, location, size and other factors important to him. Also look at the academic requirements as coaches prefer swimmers who are able to get in on their own merit.
- Look up the Top Event Times for each college on your list. These are usually available on the athletics web site. Hint: Again, College Swimming Guide has these times for all swim programs in the country available to members to make it quicker and easier.
Step 5 – Complete Recruit Questionnaires for Target Schools
Coaches expect potential swimmers to complete a Recruit Questionnaire before initiating a conversation. These are found on the athletics web sites and sometimes require some effort to find. They ask for information such as demographics and top event times. They typically take 5-10 minutes per school to complete.
Step 6 – Familiarize Yourself with NCAA and NAIA Rules Covering Recruiting
The NCAA and NAIA rules govern when coaches can contact swimmers or reply to their emails. A summary of rules and the calendar are helpful tools when navigating this journey and understanding why, for instance, you may not receive a reply from a coach.
Step 7 – Email College Coaches & Plan Visits
Your swimmer should then draft emails to college coaches to introduce himself. Depending on the Division and your swimmer’s age, the coach may or may not be able to reply but most will begin a file on each swimmer who contacts them and save the email.
Hint: To help guide parents and swimmers through this, College Swimming Guide provides timely action items so swimmers and their parents will know when, how, why and what they are to do next. I even offer templates for the emails and tips on questions to ask coaches.
So you CAN do this and you won’t blow it if you set the rudder right early with your target schools and you communicate with coaches at the appropriate times. The rest of the work is done in the pool!
College Swimming Guide offers shortcuts to the process and Action Items to help you know what to do when, how and why.
I have prepared spreadsheets with the Conference Championship Meet Times and the Top Event Times for every swim program in the country in all Divisions to save you hours upon hours of research. It would have saved me a lot of time!
Sample email templates to coaches cover introductory emails as well as those for when more of a rapport has been established. I also provide lists of questions to ask coaches in emails, on phone calls and on visits to colleges based on swimmers’ experiences and coaches’ suggestions. College Swimming Guide materials simplify the recruiting process and save you time.
While it’s difficult to quantify the amount of time required to research colleges and determine which ones are a good fit for your specific swimmer, a College Swimming Guide Membership will reduce the amount of time you spend by up to 65% by doing the research for you. If you feel that you need more than is offered in a membership, you can choose Individual Consulting to walk you through the process and prepare customized reports of Target Schools for your swimmer.
From the free information on CollegeSwimmingGuide.com to a Membership to Individual Consulting, you CAN help your child become a collegiate swimmer for much less financial and mental pain than you might think.
Michelle Lombana is committed to helping parents like her whose children want to swim in college. When she’s not researching scholarships for swimmers, she can be found at www.collegeswimmingguide.com.
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