As your swimmer approaches their junior year, you will hear a lot about official visits and unofficial visits. They typically take place during fall of senior year although some schools offer them in the spring as well for seniors who have not yet committed. Some coaches invite juniors for official visits, especially at the faster programs. NCAA rules determine when coaches can extend invitations for official visits.
- Division I: coaches can schedule official visits after August 1 of junior year
- Division II: coaches can call, send emails, schedule official visits after June 15 before junior year
- Division III: coaches can call, send emails, schedule official visits any time
- NAIA: coaches can call, send emails, schedule official visits any time
- NJCAA: coaches can call, send emails, schedule official visits any time
A visit is considered unofficial if the prospective athlete pays the expenses of the visit – the only expense the school can incur is that of tickets to an athletic event. Swimmers can go on an unlimited number of unofficial visits.
Swimmers can take tours of the campus, meet with coaches, meet with admissions and spend time with the swimmers on an unofficial visit. Some schools offer unofficial visits to recruits who live nearby and won’t incur much in the way of transportation costs.
On an official visit, the school pays all or part of the athlete’s transportation (bus, train, airfare or gas mileage), housing, food and entertainment costs. In some cases, a school will pay some of the costs of the official visit but ask the recruit to cover the plane fare or some other portion of the expenses. This may be due to limited funds in the athletic budget or to gauge interest on the part of the swimmer. I know of one school in California that is located in a place that everyone wants to visit – they ask the recruits to cover plane fare partially to make sure they are truly interested in the school as opposed to looking for a free weekend at the beach.
Division I limits athletes to 5 official visits which can take place after August 1st of junior year of high school. There is no limit on official visits in other divisions, nor on the number of unofficial visits in any of the divisions. Division I coaches are not permitted to speak with prospective recruits visiting campus on unofficial visits until June 15th after sophomore year.
Swimmers can’t accept more than one official visit to a particular school. Time is limited so your swimmer needs to limit the number of visits he schedules. Narrowing down the list of target schools the summer before junior year will help him select realistic schools to visit.
There isn’t time for your swimmer to go on too many visits as he is juggling school, his own swim training, swim meets, sleep, studying, and possibly ACT or SAT tests. Division I visits can begin after coaches can schedule official visits after August 1st of junior year and are typically scheduled on weekends from early September to early November and each school may offer 2-3 weekends for visits. They are not usually held once a college team is in season and having regular meets, nor after NCAA Signing Day which typically begins on the second Wednesday of November and lasts for a week.
Official visits can last for no more than 48 hours. A swimmer will usually arrive on campus on Friday morning, meet his host and attend a class. He may watch practice or engage in other activities, such as a tour of campus or a meeting with admissions during the team’s swim practice.
A recruit may not practice with the team at a Division I school. The recruits are usually given pool time on Saturday morning to practice on their own. The scheduled activities on Saturday afternoon often include a football game or other college sports event. Activities on Friday and Saturday evenings vary and may include the entire team or a small group of swimmers.
Even though it’s against NCAA rules, it is not uncommon for recruits to be taken to parties where alcohol is served. This can be an uncomfortable situation for some swimmers. Obviously, they shouldn’t drink and usually aren’t pressured to do so. It does give an impression of how much the team parties which may impact whether or not a recruit is interested in a particular school. The recruit will usually leave campus on Sunday morning to return home.
On one of my son’s official visits, the team had a huge party both Friday and Saturday nights with an indescribable amount of alcohol and marijuana. The swimmers all moved off campus sophomore year and lived in a row of houses next door to each other and the weekend parties rotated between the houses. This factored into his decision when considering programs.
The recruit should view the visit as a 48-hour job interview and be on his best behavior. The coach will often ask the current swimmers what they think of each recruit and if he would be a good fit on the team. Every year, I hear of swimmers who don’t receive offers to join programs due to unfavorable feedback on an official visit. Some just don’t click with the team while others drink too much at team parties and make fools of themselves.
Per NCAA rules, colleges must have transcripts (unofficial is fine) and standardized test scores from potential recruits before they can go on official visits. Swimmers should gather these documents during the summer so they are prepared to send them when coaches request them. Most often, swimmers will scan them and email them to coaches. Don’t wait until the last minute and come up against vacations or other reasons that prevent your swimmer from having the necessary forms.
If your swimmer is invited on an official visit, the school is interested and wants to meet them and get a feel for how they fit. Likewise, it’s the opportunity for your swimmer to be interviewing the program and envisioning themselves as part of that team in order to see if it’s a good fit for them as well.
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.