Going to College Archive

When Should I Apply to Colleges?

Understand Your Options and Factor in the Recruiting Timeline.

One of the most complicated aspects of the college recruiting process is deciding exactly when to apply to colleges. However, for those student-athletes who have accepted an offer to play for a particular school, the process is relatively simple. They follow the coach’s instructions, apply to that school, and wait for an acceptance letter. But for those who are unsure where they will ultimately play college golf or attend school, there are several key questions along the way that have to be addressed. Should you apply early? Should you apply to “reach” schools? If no coach is recruiting you, should you still apply to a few safety schools as a backup plan?

Before answering these questions, it is important for a family to understand the different application options that are available. Approximately two out of three top colleges and universities now offer an early admissions program (deadlines are typically on or before November 1st)—either Early Decision, Early Action, or Single-Choice Early Action. Keep in mind that because the benefits and requirements of these programs may differ from school to school, you should carefully research each one to determine what is in your best interest. All schools offer a Regular Decision program (private school deadlines are usually in January), while some offer Rolling Admissions where students are accepted until the freshman class is full.

So should you apply early? Keep in mind that Early Decision programs are binding and require the applicant to agree to attend the school if his application is accepted. This works well in cases where students are certain of where they would like to attend school. This program also applies in cases where a coach requires a recruit to apply Early Decision so he can determine his roster as early as possible. Otherwise, an Early Action program may be more favorable, considering the applicant is not bound to attend the school even if his application is accepted. In most cases, acceptance rates are significantly higher for all Early Decision program applicants, offering a competitive advantage to those who get a head start on the process. Some schools offer a Single-Choice Early Action program, allowing students to only apply early to one school. (Some exceptions are made for state schools.) This does not prevent them from applying within the Regular Decision or Rolling Admission programs at other schools. Private schools often fill from one-third to one-half of their freshman classes each year via these early programs. It should be noted, too, that the applicant pool for early programs of this nature is significantly stronger than the regular decision pool.

And how does the application process sync up with the recruiting timeline? In cases where a prospective student-athlete is in communication with college coaches and having ongoing discussions about possibly attending their schools, the prospect should ask each coach when is the best time to apply to his school. In some cases, a coach can “sponsor” an applicant and assist with the admissions process (assuming some assistance is necessary). Otherwise, the applicant is on his own throughout this process and should apply whenever he determines the odds of a successful outcome are in his favor. Keep in mind that the recruiting timeline can vary between NCAA Division I, II, and III schools. Applying Early Decision would be recommended only in cases where the student knows the school is his first choice and the golf coach has guaranteed him a roster position (and possibly a scholarship). Otherwise, Early Action or Regular Decision may be better options to explore.

And what about applying to reach schools? This can be a risky exercise if the prospect applies without a coach’s sponsorship or before the coach shows any interest in him. If the applicant is denied (versus deferred) admissions, he will lose the option of reapplying later in the recruiting process, even in a case where the coach had started recruiting him. On the other hand, making an application and being accepted could increase a prospect’s chances of being offered a roster position, especially if he notifies the coach of his intention to attend that school. The student-athlete can always ask a coach where he stands on the coach’s recruitment list for his graduation class. An applicant needs to take all relevant factors into account before making the final decision regarding whether or not to apply to reach schools.

And finally, it is always a good idea to apply (nonbinding) to a few safety schools as a backup plan, particularly in cases where the prospect is not being recruited by any coach and needs to have a few options on the table. In this case, consider schools where the student meets the average admissions requirements, likes the campus environment, and has at least an outside chance of walking on the team during fall tryouts. If the recruiting process doesn’t turn out favorably, these safety schools will become more relevant later in the spring. Applying to these schools should be done prior to the Regular Decision deadlines, or if applying to schools that offer Rolling Admissions, prior to February 1st.

Once again, knowing your college application options and syncing these with the recruiting timeline will help you develop an optimal strategy. Realizing that this can be a fairly complex process, families should start collecting information early and hedge their bets between reach, target, and safety schools—both for golf and academics. An ideal strategy for family planning would include the development of a working document early in the prospect’s junior year that summarizes a list of potential “best fit” colleges and golf programs.

Best of luck in the college application process!

Coach Brooks
Red Numbers Golf®


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