Niche Resources

So You Want To Be A College Athlete? Here’s How

This post is from a student, parent, or professional contributor. The opinions expressed by the author are their own and do not necessarily reflect the positions, viewpoints, or policies of Niche.

A girl in a red uniform plays field hockey on a field. She swings her stick behind her back and aims for a ball at her feet.

Student athletes in high school not only need to think about their potential career paths but also must consider whether they want to continue playing sports in college.

This can add more stress to an already stressful process, and the longer you wait, the more stress you will have. The ideal time to look into playing in college is the end of junior year of high school.

As a student athlete in college, I’ll help you learn more about the process of becoming a college athlete.

First of all, remember to relax. You have time to think about this and discuss your thoughts with your friends, family, and coaches.

A favorite piece of advice of mine by Scott Douglas is, “Relax, it’s just running…..nobody’s making you do it, and you’re not going to save the world doing it. So find what you enjoy about running, and then follow your bliss.”

Reach out to coaches

“Work hard, play hard” is a simple catchphrase. It can be heard from coaches in a variety of sports, and there’s a reason for that.

To be a college athlete, you must show your ability through your games/meets so you can stand out. The only way to get to the “play hard” is the “work hard” part of your sport: commitment and efficient training.

While your training and plays are a good step, you should be proactively reaching out to college coaches because it is your job to stand out among the many other high school athletes these coaches are reviewing.

The best way to reach them is to go to their college sport website and fill out their recruitment forms. Filling out this simple form will help the coach know you want to be a part of their team, and they’ll text/call you to get to know you.

Later, it can progress to watching you play/race.

What Rising Senior Student Athletes Should Do

Determine a division

A crucial thing to know is what division you want to be in. Each division in college is slightly different.

Division 1 and Division 2 in college (for example, OSU is D1 and Walsh is D2) offer sports scholarships. D1 schools can typically give you full-ride scholarships while D2 schools typically cover around half of tuition.

Both divisions expect athletes to be committed and perform to the best of their ability. What stands out with Division 3 schools (for example, my college Albion) is that they do not offer sports scholarships.

I chose a D3 college because the coaches of D3 colleges tend to care about academics more than D1 or D2 schools. The top two divisions give you money, so they want you to be at practice with no exceptions (well, unless you are sick, of course).

Let’s say you have a lab scheduled during practice. Could you do your practice later or earlier? Most of the time, they would not let you, so you’d need to make up the lab another time.

Athletes in D3 typically are able to make up their practices another time of the day because of academics are emphasized along with athletics. 

I encourage you to research more and talk with your coaches if you have any questions about the differences between divisions.

Do your research

The next step is to carefully compare the colleges you would like to attend as an athlete. There are many factors to consider during this time: location, cost, student life, academics, win streak/past accomplishments, and overall personal fit.

After completing your college application process with the help of your parents and coaches, it is time to make the final decision: this is where you tell college coaches you are their athlete or not.

Then it’s time to celebrate! Tell your relatives, celebrate with your teammates, and get to know your new teammates all while feeling the stress leave your shoulders. Be proud of your accomplishment.

The last step is one you may procrastinate, but don’t! Do your summer training and get all of your paperwork done. This includes a physical examination form all the way to a no substances form. Also, get to know your roommate and start preparing to move in.


Always do more research so that you can get the best results!

Ready to Find Your Niche? Create an Account

Find College Scholarships

Author: Owen Zhongmin Poling

Owen is a student athlete for Albion College who is majoring in Biology and minoring in Psychology while running XC and Track. Besides focusing on academics, he likes to learn more about genetics and biotechnology. Owen likes to read literature books and hang out with his friends during free time. His future plan after college is to continue on to graduate school to be a Genetic Counselor.