Ask a Coach!: Making a Decision in College Recruiting

PHOENIX, Arizona, November 30. THE Ask A Coach! series today offers advice on the collegiate recruiting process. Tennessee associate coach of men's and women's swimming and diving Tyler Fenwick writes about the ins-and-outs of how to narrow down your college choice.

Dear Coach,

Our son is a Junior in high school, swims year round with his club team and competes for his high school team. We are starting to seriously look at colleges and wanted some advice. He actually has already received some letters and emails. This is our first time through this process so we're wondering if you can provide some guidance on the best way to go about looking at schools and finding the best swimming program. Also, what is involved in obtaining an athletic scholarship? Thanks for your help!

Linda and Doug

Hi Linda and Doug,

I have received a lot of questions similar to yours in my mailbag over the last few weeks. Selecting a school is complicated and time consuming but it's never too early to start! I'd be happy to provide some guidance as to what steps are important. In this week's article I'd like to discuss the process of narrowing down your son's college choices. Next week, I will take time to talk about how college athletic scholarships work.

We are fortunate in the U.S. to have many great colleges and universities. The level of academic and athletic excellence is unparalleled around the world. When advising high school athletes and their parents on college choices, there are a few key steps that help streamline information. First, make a list of what you value. Do you want to be a big fish in a little pond, or a small fish in a bigger pond? What type of academic environment would a student best succeed? Do you want a large school? Does location matter? How about campus diversity? These are examples of questions that will help your son decide what type of school would be the best fit for him. By prioritizing what is important, the list of potential schools becomes a bit more manageable.

The next step is to research. Learn as much as you can about schools that seem to fit your criteria. I used to purchase an annual online subscription to US News and World Report in order to investigate the academic profile of each school. It provides great information about acceptance rates, average GPAs, standardized test scores of admitted students, financial information and much more.

Once you have a handle on the academic profile and specifics of a school, begin to look at its swim team. Learn about the coaching staff, philosophy, training style, facilities and overall athletic experience. This will allow you to decide which teams seem like they'd be a great fit and those that might not. Gathering information and learning about each school will put you in a position to make a thoughtful and informed decision. Take your time and reach out to coaches and academic resources at each school that interests you. There is no such thing as too much information!

After you are comfortable with your general knowledge of each institution, begin to compile a list of about 20-25 schools. These should be schools that fit your expectations in terms of academics, athletics and what you value. Your list should include several “reach” schools. These are schools that would pose a challenge to be admitted but offer everything you want and more. The bulk of your list should target schools that fit your academic profile and line up well from a swimming perspective. These might not be schools that your son could swim for at the moment, but if he attains his goals for the season, a spot on the team would be within his reach. At the end of the list, include several “safety” schools. These are schools you are confident your son would be admitted to if he applied today. This is insurance in case the process does not go as expected.

Once this list is compiled, spend time researching each school in greater depth. Consult with your coach and academic advisors at your son's high school to see if they have any additions or suggestions. Involving people who know your son the best in the classroom and pool will prove to be a major asset.

Go on each team's website and fill out their recruiting questionnaire. Email the coaching staff, introduce yourself and let them know you're interested in being a part of their team! Don't be offended if a coach does not write back immediately. Coaches wear many hats and often wish there were 25 hours in a day!

Finally, enjoy the process. It can be hectic, stressful and complicated but at the end of the journey your son will be in a position to find a lifetime of success. There is no better feeling than finally selecting a school and knowing that you made the right choice! I wish you the best of luck. Remember that knowledge is power. Learn as much as you can and your list will narrow itself down quickly. There will be a point in the process where you find that one school just feels right. Your son is lucky to have parents who are willing to help him along the way. Make sure to keep us posted!

Our resident expert coach currently is Tyler Fenwick, Tennessee's Associate Coach for the men's and women's swimming and diving program. Fenwick has coaching experience at both the collegiate and club swimming level. Before moving to Tennessee, he spent three years (2009-12) as the Head Men's National Team coach for the Mission Viejo Nadadores, a premier gold medal club in Mission Viejo, Calif.

In his time with the Nadadores, Fenwick's athletes posted 58 National Age Group top-10 swims, 24 top-three swims and seven #1 ranked swims. His swimmers broke 13 Nadadore club records, four Southern California records and one National Age Group record. This past year alone, two swimmers each made the U.S. National Team, Junior Pan Pacific Team and Junior World Championship Team. Two of his swimmers won gold and bronze medals at the Junior Pan Pacific Championships. To cap it all off, he coached the 5k National Champion, David Heron, at the Open Water National Championships. Heron, and another top distance freestyle recruit Evan Pinion, have since committed to swim for UT after high school.

If you would like to submit a question to Coach Fenwick, email us or leave a comment below! All swimming-related questions are welcome!

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