So you want to be a College Runner?
For this month’s column, I’d like to get away from running talk to address the young high school runners who may be considering running at the collegiate level. I’ll try to be as general as possible since I am a college coach and don’t want to come across like I’m trying to use this space for recruiting kids to Clayton State.
Over the last 10 years, we have recruited many kids from Georgia, but have discovered that many wait too late to begin their college search or do not spend a whole lot of time researching the colleges and universities that best suit their individual academic and athletic needs.
Making the Grades
First, you need to start off by earning good grades in high school and going the college prep route, academically. If you do not prepare for college, your stay will be short. A tech prep route is not valid by the NCAA Clearinghouse (see below about Clearinghouse) if you’re thinking of running at the Division I or II level. A 3.0 grade point average (GPA) should be a realistic goal during high school. You need to work on that academic/athletic balance during high school to prepare yourself for college life since the demands will be greater. If you think you can slack off the first couple of years of high school and “cram” down the stretch, your college options will be limited.
Many prospective college runners wait until their senior year to begin the process. While some have an idea of the college or university they want to compete for, many do not understand what they need to do to get into the school they would like to attend.
Begin researching potential colleges during your sophomore or junior year of high school that offer your academic major. The earlier you prepare, the better your chances of going to the college that best fits you! Don’t go to a college that doesn’t have your major. By all means, don’t pick out a college just because they have a great running program, or they have cool uniforms. You’re first priority in college is to get an education that prepares you for a successful life. And that’s more than just going to class and earning good grades.
So you say you don’t know what you want to study in college. Many folks are undecided when they enter college and some who think they know what they want to do end up changing their major. That’s okay if you seek out help in career advice when you get settled in at college. I use to hear that the typical college student changed his or her major seven times!
While you are narrowing your college search, you need to prepare and take either the SAT or ACT test. Take either one during your junior year to see how you score and compare it to the score your prospective institutions require. Obviously, the higher the score, the better your chances in getting into the college you want to attend. You’ll need to re-take the SAT or ACT if your scores are borderline or below the minimum required by the colleges you’re considering. You also need to continue to make good grades in high school.
Keep in mind most colleges and universities have a “freshman index” which is a combination of high school GPA and SAT or ACT scores. Be sure you are aware of each institution’s freshman index and how you score. When you begin your senior year, you also need to register on-line with the NCAA Clearinghouse (http://www.ncaaclearinghouse.net/ncaa/NCAA/common/index.html) if you want to be eligible to run as a college freshman. The Clearinghouse determines your freshman eligibility if you plan to run for a NCAA Division I & II school. The Clearinghouse will need to receive official copies of your high school transcript and SAT or ACT scores.
Narrowing the Field
Once you’ve identified five or six colleges, learn all you can about them from admissions requirements to scholarship opportunities to how much it’s going to cost each year to attend. Next, visit a local college or university to get an idea what it feels like to be on a college campus. Then make contact with the coach and the admissions office of the schools you are seriously considering.
You also need to be aware that the NCAA has various recruiting rules that member institutions must follow. At the Division I & II level, coaches can only contact you by telephone once a week. Division III and NAIA have different rules. You are also limited to five official visits (one per school) during your senior year that Division I & II institutions may pay your expenses. You can make unlimited visits to a prospective campus at your own expense.
Once you have made your visits and possibly received scholarship offers, make a list of the pros and cons for each college you are considering. Also consider intangibles such as support by administration, how is their running website maintained, what kind of local press do they get, etc. Don’t get discouraged if the offers are not as great as you might imagine. One major misconception is that if you’re a good runner, you will earn a full scholarship.
Most college cross country and track & field programs are not fully funded in athletic scholarships like their football or basketball counterparts. For example, at the Division II level 12.6 is the number of scholarships that a track/cross country program can award. However, the actual number of scholarships awarded, per institution in Division II nationally, averages about 4.5.
If you are a pretty high-level high school runner, you’ll have plenty of colleges and universities contacting you. Be realistic. You might be the state champion distance runner in Class AA, but look at the big picture. If a college you want to run for recruits on a national basis, you may be way down on their recruiting depth chart, so to speak. They may recruit kids from another state where you might have been the 40th fastest runner if you had competed in that state.
College coaches are going to be more interested in runners who made frequent trips to their state meets. So if you’re not making it out of your region don’t expect to get much in the way of a scholarship your first year. Another misconception about college athletic scholarships is that they’re good for four years. Not true. The scholarship is good for the academic year you sign and is renewable based on your academic and athletic progress. Be sure to understand the details of a scholarship if you are made an offer. Read the fine print and ask plenty of questions.
Once you have decided on the college and signed all the necessary paperwork, be sure to increase your summer training, but by no more than 10 percent. Guys need to realize that in most cases they will be doubling their racing mileage (5K to 10K) while the ladies will run 6K for championship events. It doesn’t hurt to run a couple of 10K’s during the summer to help in the transition. As coaching legend John Wooden has said, “Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.” Be prepared and you’ll have a successful college career.