Swimming in College

Why Swim in College?

Only eight percent of club swimmers go on to swim in college, and that is a shame. College athletes often:

  • find the transition to college easier
  • stay healthier during college
  • form lasting relationships
  • use contacts and experiences to forge opportunities after graduation

NAAC swimmers are more likely to participate in college swimming in some form and have reaped the benefits. How do you find the college swimming experience that is right for you? You need to start early and put in the work. In a perfect world, the coach from your dream college team would call one day and offer a four-year full ride. That will not happen, even for the most talented student-athletes. First, athletic scholarships are reviewed annually with no guarantee for the following year. Also, with NCAA scholarship limits and tight budgets, most student athletes rely on a mix of athletic and academic awards, their savings, and financial aid. Second, most college swimmers make first contact with the school they end up swimming for. College teams have limited time and money for exhaustive searches for prospective students. Contacting the teams you are interested in is the best way to bring yourself to a coach's attention.

Use the information below as a starting point to begin your own college search. Start early, and do not be afraid to ask for help. It can be a little scary, but it is also a fun and exciting process.

Parent Do's

Choosing a college can be difficult for any high school student. Choosing the college with the right academic, swimming and lifestyle fit is daunting. Factor in the time and emotional stress of a busy student-athlete and it is clear that the right kind of help from parents and coaches can be invaluable. Here's a short list of ways you can help.

  • Offer help but respect boundaries
  • Encourage your child to work with his or her coach throughout the process
  • Be honest about finances and realistic about financial aid, grants and scholarships
  • Help organize due dates, transcripts, test scores, honors, etc. (See Resources - The Common App)
  • Gather all the info you can on the potential swim teams and coaches on your child's short list
  • Plan unofficial visits to colleges as early as possible to help your child develop their criteria
  • Enjoy the fun parts of the college hunt. Reassure your child that they can be happy at a variety of schools

Parent Don'ts

Fostering independence in a teenager is a tightrope act. Too little help and your child can become overwhelmed. Too much help and you own the process, robbing your child of the opportunity to develop the confidence that only comes from facing a big hurdle and overcoming it. It is not easy, particularly when it comes to the college selection process.

  • Don't assume your child will start the process early enough or make deadlines without gentle and persistent reminders
  • Don't assume that what you want for your child is what your child wants
  • Don't overestimate your child's academic, athletic, or social abilities or inclinations.
  • Don't speak for your child. It is okay to offer to proofread, but not to rewrite, application essays. If you are present when your child talks to a coach let them talk. Swimmers who communicate directly with their age group coaches and take responsibility for their equipment, attendance at practices and meets, etc. have an advantage here.
  • Don't think that your child is the only person who is being evaluated. How you act on visits reflects on your child, too.
  • Don't miss an opportunity to encourage your child during this process. Be a safe haven from pressure and self-doubt.

Picking the Right School

When should you start the college search? It is never too early! The classes you chose and the grades you get from the first day of high school until graduation will count to college recruiters. Swim coaches will want to know your best times, but they will also want to know your SAT or ACT scores, your grades, and other intangibles like your leadership skills and practice habits. They want to recruit swimmers who will be happy and successful student-athletes. Begin no later than your junior year. Remember that you will need to narrow your search and that takes time, something busy student athletes cannot afford to waste. Rule of thumb: Narrow your choices to no more than 25 schools by spring break of your junior year.

Start by answering general questions. What do you want to study? A major that is offered in only a handful of schools will limit your choices. Some majors require travel or time abroad. Is your major compatible with swimming at your prospective school? Do you want to stay in-state? Do you like the resources of a large university, the friendlier feel of a small school, or something in between? Do you like urban, suburban or rural locations? Are you hoping for a faith-based or single-gender school or team? Do you want to practice year-round or only seasonally? Will finances, including tuition, travel, healthcare coverage, etc. play into your decision? Make a manageable list you can investigate.

Making Your Choice

  • Types of Colleges

    courtesy of Alexis Keto, Head Coach Colorado Athletic Club
    • Division 1- “the big division”
      • Minimums – sectional finals or above, preferably NCSA Junior Nationals
      • Mid-Major (CAA, AAC, WAC) vs. Big Five(ACC, SEC, Big 10, Big 12, Pac 12)
      • Separate National Championships, sometimes separate conference champs
    • Division 2 – “Growing division”
      • -Minimums – sectional level or above, although girls can be slightly slower
      • Can be state or private schools, and usually range dramatically in size
      • Combined National Championships, includes the 1000 free
    • Division 3 – “no athletic scholarships”
      • -Minimums – Zone level swimmers, sectional and above will get an extra look
      • Usually smaller liberal arts, academic schools with limited athletic budgets, but not always
      • Combined National Championships, with cuts usually falling near D1 B standards
    • NAIA – “Division 2 – Version 2.0”
      • wide range of ability – great for the late bloomer with some State cuts
      • Looser academic requirements than the NCAA
      • Separate Eligibility Center
      • Combined championships – usually cuts around the faster Sectional standard
    • NJCAA – “Training Wheels”
      • also a great first step for late bloomers or swimmers academic issues
      • 2 year degree program allows for easy transition into NCAA programs
      • Combined championships – relatively easy time standards for participation
    • Club Swim Teams – “fun swimming”
      • Great for any level of swimmer as well as any commitment level
      • No recruiting needed, just contact the club president, similar to Masters
      • Yearly championship in Atlanta, occasionally some training trips
  • Range of Choices

    Now is the time for an honest evaluation of how schools will view your swimming and academic results.

    Times Compare your top times to each school’s championship, conference results, and their top times list. Would you be ranked in the top three for 3 to 5 events?

    Team Make-Up Does the team give priority to local or in-state swimmers? Do they accept out-of-state or foreign swimmers? How many seniors will be graduating, leaving more room for incoming swimmers?

    Academics Coaches want swimmers who will be able to handle both academic and athletic demands. Is your academic history a good fit for the schools on your list?

    Your short list of schools to approach should include one or two stretch schools - ones that may be a bit of a reach for you as a swimmer. Have a minimum of three to five fit schools - ones that are a good match for your swimming and academic performance. Finally, include a couple of safety schools - ones that will be confident that your swimming and academic ability will shine at their school.

  • Visiting the Schools

    By NCAA rule, you may take up to 5 official visits, and an unlimited number of unofficial visits. Remember to balance the desire to visit as many schools as possible with the need to focus on your grades and training. If you start early enough you can begin visiting colleges during school and swim practice breaks. Always contact the coach well before your visit and ask for an unofficial visit. Do not just show up and hope to track down a coach.

    Be prepared with a list of questions for the coach, and with answers coaches are likely to ask you. Be yourself, but be aware that as you are evaluating schools they are evaluating you, so put your best foot forward. Do not be rushed into a decision. Do not commit during your visit. Be prepared to be firm that you need to examine all of your options before you commit.

  • Making the Selection

    Do not feel pressure to commit during your visit. Weigh all of your options. Your NAAC Coach is a good person to talk to about the pros and cons of the schools you are considering.

    National Letter of Intent The National Letter of Intent is administered by the Collegiate Commissioners Association (not the NCAA). When you sign the National Letter of Intent you agree to attend the institution with which you signed for one academic year in exchange for the institution awarding financial aid, including athletics aid, for one academic year.

    Transferring Picking a college is a big decision with a lot of unknowns. If you give it your best shot and cannot make your chosen school work for you remember that plenty of students transfer and are very happy at their second school. Make your best decision, but know that it is not irrevocable.

  • Financial Aid

    Athletic Scholarships First, know that their is no such thing as a "four-year full ride." NCAA DI and DII schools can offer one-year athletic scholarships. During the contract year a coach cannot reduce or revoke the aid based on athletic ability, injury, or performance. Aid can only be revoked if the athlete becomes ineligible for scholastic reasons or misconduct. However, an offer of aid for one year is no guarantee that aid will be offered the next. When you visit a team ask the sophomore, junior and senior swimmers if they are still on scholarship.

    National Letter of Intent The Collegiate Commissioner Association maintains the National Letter of Intent Registry. The student athlete signs an agreement for one year of academics at a school in exchange for one year of financial aid, including athletic aid. Read the fine print before signing. Failing to attend the school after signing will impact eligibility.

    Other Scholarships Most college athletes have a combination of athletic and academic awards. There are also many private awards and grants offered by local entities, parents' employers, etc. Do some research but beware of scams.