I recently asked coaches at all college swim programs around the country 15 questions.  Yes, that’s right, at ALL swim programs, and there are approximately 600!   Their answers are included in the Directory of College Swim Programs for College Swimming Guide members and I want to share some of the most important, high-level take-aways.

The kinds of questions I asked included:

  • What are you looking for in a swimmer when you are recruiting?
  • What is your practice schedule (breakdown of weights, dry land, water)?
  • When do you recommend swimmers begin contacting you – Sophomore year? Junior year?

Here’s what I learned —

Take-Away #1:  Do Your Homework

The response rate has been better than I expected and they are still coming in.  This tells me that coaches are actively wanting to reach talented swimmers who are knowledgeable about their programs.

Answers varied by school and they often offered some insight into the dynamics of their team so my take-away there was to do your homework on the program before visiting or beginning to talk to coaches via email or on the phone. When your swimmer does interact with coaches, having an organized list of questions to ask can be helpful. Which questions to ask can vary by school and age of your swimmer.

It also helps to know what coaches are looking for in a recruit. College Swimming Guide’s 5-part series can help you with this.

What are Coaches Looking for in College Swimmers Part 1

What are Coaches Looking for in College Swimmers Part 2

What are Coaches Looking for in College Swimmers Part 3

What are Coaches Looking for in College Swimmers Part 4

What are Coaches Looking for in College Swimmers Part 5

Take-Away #2:  Target the Right Swim Programs

When asked whether they look at the Power Index or National Ranking when evaluating recruits, some do, although the majority of those who consider them said it’s just a small piece of the package.

Many coaches replied that times and ability to score at Conference Championships are the most important factor –

“we look at times to fit the needs of the program within our conference,”

“everything is based on the potential impact at the conference championships”

Others, however, place as much emphasis on the overall student as the times –

“We look mostly at grades and test scores, then at times.  We want athletes who are aware of who we are as a program and a University.”

“Yes, but we are more interested in the personality and leadership skills and how excited the student athlete is to become part of the program.”

One of the biggest mistakes recruits make is not targeting the right swim programs.  If their times don’t match up to what will be needed on the team and how they will fare within their conference, it could be wasted effort and more importantly, poor use of the recruit’s precious time.

Developing realistic goals and projections for your swimmer’s times will allow him to identify teams who are likely to want him.  The club coach is a great resource to help with this and to keep your swimmer grounded – many swimmers go into the process assuming they will be qualifying for NCAAs as a freshman and swimming for a big-name swim program but most adjust their expectations as they get further into the research. It’s a fluid process and may need to be assessed several times over the recruiting period as things change, including event times and other considerations in selecting a college, including academic majors, size, climate and so on.

Looking at times for each conference will allow you to hone in on conferences, and then focusing on times for specific . within these conferences will help you to develop a list of viable programs.

This is very time consuming, I know.  I did it when my son was starting his search.  And this is the whole reason I started College Swimming Guide – to have Conference times, Event times and school information all at my fingertips to make it faster…and less painful.

So while all this information can be accessed independently, having all the information in one place helps you to make better decisions and to review those decisions quickly and re-target if necessary.

Regardless of how you do it, be sure you’re targeting the right programs.

Take-Away #3:  Know the Program and Academic/Financial Support Available

Coaches’ responses varied in terms of whether their program is fully funded and whether they offer support for athletes through the admissions process. In some cases, athletes must be admitted to the school before they receive an offer to join the team whereas at other schools, the coaches have a limited number of academic support positions where they can help a student if they don’t quite meet the admissions criteria. Some coaches want recruits to ask about scholarships, if it’s important, early in the process while others prefer that it not be discussed until later.

“My philosophy is that I always discuss it from day one,” says one coach.  This is not true for all, however, so your swimmer needs to know that it’s okay to ask…especially if it makes a difference in whether they can entertain attending that school. Several coaches said they don’t discuss scholarships until the official visit.

Understanding how a program is funded is helpful.  Many schools can’t offer athletic scholarships but will offer merit, academic or other kinds of financial assistance.  This may impact your swimmer’s high school resume in terms of activities if they want to be considered for these types of scholarships.

Sometimes this info is spelled-out, other times not.  Sometimes it’s evident based on the kind of swim program.  For example, Division 3 schools can’t offer athletic scholarships but they do offer other types of scholarships. It’s helpful to understand the differences between Divisions to assist in your research. College Swimming Guide has a forum for members to ask questions like these where I and others who have been in the process or are currently in the process of being recruited will assist.  I monitor it personally to make sure you have what you need.


Most of the coaches who responded to the Directory questions gave detailed answers and advice so potential student athletes can understand how to position themselves to be recruited at a program where they will be a good fit.

The Directory also includes information for individual colleges – conference, division, city and state, SAT/ACT score ranges, acceptance rate, and undergraduate enrollment.

The college recruiting process is starting earlier for swimmers and we have seen more early recruits this year than ever before. So parents want to know “When should we begin the research to swim in college?” Sophomore year is the best time to get started, but junior year is not too late.

Not sure how to begin?  College Swimming Guide has free information to get you up-to-speed.
If your swimmer is a sophomore or junior in high school and you are not yet a College Swimming Guide member, now is a good time to join. The membership option provides all the tools you need including:

  • Monthly action items for sophomore year through senior year
  • Top Event Times for each college swimming program (spreadsheets)
  • Conference Championship Meet Times for all conferences (spreadsheets)
  • Directory of College Swim Programs
  • Lists of questions to ask coaches
  • Email templates for communicating with coaches
  • Forums for Q&A

The resources are designed to help you be able to target the right programs and to make the recruiting process more efficient.

Michelle Lombana is committed to helping parents like her whose children want to swim in college.  When she’s not emailing coaches and compiling top swim times, she can be found at www.collegeswimmingguide.com.


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