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Recruiting Through the Eyes of a D3 Athlete

In high school I remember feeling like I was on top of the world every time I was called out of class to meet with a college football coach.  Not only did my fellow students and teachers wish me luck on the way out, my heart raced all throughout that long walk to the athletic office, along with a myriad of questions formulating in my mind.  A college football coach wants me on his team?  What school is it this time?  Will this be the school that I attend next year?  The possibilities seem endless during the recruiting process.  Even for a Division 3 athlete like me. 

But that is just the honeymoon stage of the recruiting process.  So many determining factors jump into the picture in just the blink of an eye.  Based on questions I have received from people over the years, I realized that not everybody knows how different recruiting for Division 3 is from Division 1. 

I’d like to start with this:  Division 3 athletes do NOT get offered scholarships.  One of the most popular questions I have been asked was “Did you get a scholarship to play football there?”  Division 3 athletes cannot be offered money by the athletic department like Division 1 (and Division 2) athletes are.  This is a surprisingly common misconception about college sports.

Now let’s check out some other key factors that play into being recruited by a Division 3 school.  At this level, you need to accentuate your applications and essays.  For Division 1 scholarship athletes, this isn’t the biggest worry, but at the Division 3 level these need to be completed with diligence.  Division 3 schools really emphasize the importance of student-athletes on campus.  Every D3 student knows that their classmates aren’t getting paid a cent to play sports at this level; we participate solely for the love of the sport.  Most D3 schools are very selective about their students, and they do not loosen the chain for great athletes.  They won’t accept someone who was a great as an athlete while lackadaisical as a student, because Division 3 has a longstanding tradition of academic excellence.  Therefore, compiling an impressive transcript and commendable application essay are essential for a smooth Division 3 recruiting experience.

If you are open-minded, like incoming freshmen ought to be, then the next task is challenging:  selecting a major.  While this process does help narrow down the list of schools quicker, it can also be an enormous headache.  You have to decide what subject you want to focus on for the next four years, and then possibly take that to the next level after undergraduate school.  Remember:  in Division 3 academics always comes first.  Let’s be honest, most Division 1 athletes that have the ability to play professionally won’t fret about choosing a major because their focus is guided towards getting better at their sport.  Only a select few D3 athletes have made it to the professional level, so we’ll stick with the academics.  And the last thing you want by the end of your D3 college career is to regret your choice of major/minor. 

Now the research has been done and the top schools have been decided.  As decision time draws near, another important factor jumps into the frame:  money.  D3 athletes cannot be offered money by the athletic department, which means you have to decide if the financial benefits of one school outweigh the alluring qualities of another school, and trust me, this is NOT an easy process.  My parents and I spent more time figuring out the finances of my top two schools than discussing the pros and cons of each school (they were real troopers).  Nearly all D3 student-athletes simply don’t have the luxury of a free education, which means academic scholarships, grants, and loans must be taken advantage of.  And don’t think that you have to deal with this once and then it’s all over.  This happens every year you are in college.  Figuring out the finances of college may be unbelievably tedious and mind-numbing, but it’s also necessary and can play a major role in your decision.

Now let me make this perfectly clear:  I’m incredibly grateful that I even have the opportunity to compete collegiately, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.  Also, I am not here to say that the recruiting process is agonizing or something to dread as a high school athlete.  Rather, it is a process that can easily and understandably be misconstrued by the public.  Division 3 recruiting is far different from Division 1 recruiting from an athletic, academic, and financial standpoint.