Official Visits

The fact is recruiting is not a linear process.  You may have been communicating with a coach since the beginning of your junior year and still haven’t received a concrete scholarship offer.  You may have received a scholarship offer from another coach in your first conversation early in your junior year, but you’re still weighing your options.  With one coach, over a year’s time you may have had the full gamut of visits:  unofficial, practice, meet, and home.  Alternatively, you may not have had your initial conversation with a coach until the end of your junior year. 

For all of your time invested in navigating the recruiting process, determining where to attend college and which team to compete for usually come down to the desirous official visits—the all-expense-paid trips to check out the college programs in which you are now most interested.   The NCAA allows recruits to take a maximum of five official college visits for up to 48 hours each.  “The NCAA permits the college to pay for transportation to and from the college for the prospect, lodging and three meals per day for both the prospect and the parent or guardian, as well as reasonable entertainment expenses including three tickets to a home sports event.”

College coaches have limited track and field budgets and are selective as to who they invite for official visits to be shown the best features of the campus and athletic facilities, to stay in a hotel and/or one of the more desired dorms, to eat at popular restaurants, and to be entertained.  Official visits are generally offered in the fall when colleges are in session.  By this time, you would have provided academic records to show your likeliness of meeting the college's admissions standards. In some cases, recruits may have already submitted their college admission's application and have received a conditional approval from the admissions staff.  So, it’s a sign of serious interest to receive an official visit invite.  Some recruits receive more than five invites and have to be selective as to where they take their official visits.  Some recruits may even choose to take less than five visits so that they don’t miss too many high school obligations. 

To be clear, official visits are not homogeneous; the experiences vary widely from college to college and for recruit to recruit.  While college coaches tend to schedule a few official visits on home-game weekends for groups of five to ten recruits who span a range of events, they readily accommodate requests by their top-priority recruits for individualized official visits.  Even in the group visits, recruits could have contrasting experiences, as some, by request, are scheduled to sit-in on classes or meet with academic faculty while the other recruits hang out.  At some group visits, a top priority recruit might be pulled aside and asked to make a commitment within a timeframe, as that would determine the availability of future offers for the remaining recruits.  Accordingly, some recruits are not presented with an offer on the official visits.

If an official visit is the first time a recruit is on a particular campus, then the list in the section on unofficial visits would serve as a starting point of physical things to look for on the trip.  Chances are recruits who are being offered an official visit by a coach may have already toured the campus and athletic facilities, and explored the surrounding community. Either way, the official visits provide the added opportunities to experience team dynamics and the college communities, as a way to determine which programs are a good fit.  Whether recruits are on individualized or group official visits, they will have chances to converse with others besides the coaches, who have been painting idealistic pictures of their respective college program.  Be prepared to seize all occasions to speak with a variety of current team members and even other team coaches; you’ll be surprised at how candid they could be about describing the team culture. 

To prime yourself for fruitful engagements on the official visits, start by reading the section on what you want in a team culture to assess the things that are most important to you.  On the trip, make yourself amicable and you’ll get ample opportunities for impromptu, casual conversations with team members, where you’ll be able to ask questions that could elicit more details about the team than you had even expected.  

 

Here is a list of aspects about the team that current members would be able to elaborate on:

  • Preferred living options available to team members

  • Meal options and food stops

  • Socializing options/preferences for team members

  • The mixing of event groups

  • How team spirit is demonstrated

  • Interactions among coaches

  • Religious and political climate

  • The distribution of team gear:  when, what, who gets

  • Training culture for event group

  • Injury patterns for the different event groups

  • Interactions with the athletic trainer

  • Variety and helpfulness of medical staff

  • Mental health support

  • Coverage of medical expenses for team-related injuries

  • Availability and use of recovery equipment and apparati

  • Availability of refueling options

  • Team academic culture and common majors

  • Preferential course enrollment

  • Flexibility of practice times due to class conflicts

  • Frequency of athletes missing classes on Thursdays and Fridays for meets

  • How does meet attendance affect the selection of a major

  • Availability of tutors for struggling as well as academically-strong students

  • Accessibility of career services for athletes

  • Determination of who goes on championship and regular travel meets

  • Opportunities for home meets

  • Retention rate of athletes

  • Your value and acceptance to the team

Just as you are evaluating the team on your official visit, the members are scoping you out as a prospective teammate and will share their feelings about you with the coach. It's advantageous to make a positive impression if you want to remain in good standing with the coach. The team members will be looking for someone who is friendly, agreeable, not self-absorbed, interested in spending time with teammates, complimentary of the teammates, knowledgeable about the team's current performance, and interested in being on the team. I can't overstate the last point because some recruits spend their time on all-expense-paid official visits talking about how much they love another college. Naturally, that gets back to the coach.

On most official visits, you will likely have the fun opportunity to do a photo shoot in the team's uniform. Some teams give you a copy of the pictures as a souvenir. It's fitting to thank the coaches and team members for granting you the privilege of experiencing the college and athletic programs so that you can make an informed decision.

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