Prior to beginning any recruiting process, swimmers need to gain a general idea of the kind of college experience for which they are looking, and establish a way to limit the search based on their interests and preferences.
Click here to answer common questions about college. Here are some questions from USA Swimming.
There is an excellent questionnaire at "Five most important college recruiting considerations" that you can use to help narrow your choices.
Once you have an idea of the kind of school you wish to attend, the part of the country in which you want to live and the size of the college/community in which you want to live, you can start to think about swimming programs and how you might fit in athletically.
There is often a misconception in the college search process that if you are not recruited or have not been offered a scholarship you must not be very good. That view is completely false. The fact is that most colleges just do not have the finances available to offer every good swimmer a scholarship. Another fact is that most colleges do not find out a student-athlete is interested in their program until that student has made "First Contact."
Many families assume that colleges are going to call them first. The reality is that most collegiate swimming programs do not have the manpower to search for athletes. Most coaches rely on meet results from large meets such as Sectionals or High School State, prospective student questionnaires, and through professional recruiters (not sports agents) whom a student-athletes pay a fee to have them send information to schools about them.
With the scholarship limits that are imposed by the NCAA, most college coaches are going to be looking at a students academic ability. The vast majority of swimming student athletes receive financial aid through academic related scholarships, grants and student loans, not through athletic scholarships.
Swimmers should be prepared to contact those schools in which they have an interest and provide the coach at those schools with a swimming resume. The resume should include all relevant swimming accomplishments (both club and high school), academic accomplishments and standing, and test information.
Athletic Scholarship: An athletic scholarship is a one-year contract between you and a Division I or Division II institution. A school can reduce or cancel a scholarship of you become ineligible for competition, fraudulently misrepresent yourself, quit the team or engage in serious misconduct. During the contract year, a coach cannot reduce or cancel your scholarship on the basis of your athletic ability, performance, or injury. An institution may choose to not renew a scholarship at the end of the academic term provided they notify you in writing and provide you an opportunity for a hearing.
Remember a coach cannot offer you a "four year full-ride scholarship." They do not exist. Each student athlete award is reviewed annually. It is important to ask current collegiate swimmers if they are still on scholarship. Parents, it is not uncommon for a college program to offer and renew an athletic scholarship for the first 2-3 years of college and then ask the student to pay full tuition for the remainder of their college career.
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.
Swimming in College Timeline: Most student-athletes become overwhelmed by the search – especially those who are trying to balance their current academic and athletic obligations. To overcome this factor, it’s important for you to launch your educational search early as early as your freshman year of high school. To help with the recruiting process, USA Swimming has created a timeline for those high school swimmers seeking out a collegiate career. A guide by your academic year can be found here.
College Recruiting Links
College Swimming 101
NCAA Prospective Student Athlete - Eligibility Center
Guide for the College-Bound Student-Athlete
Gollege swimming recruiting trip tips
Ottati: The college odyssey begins
Recruiting Comparison Chart
Recruiting Comparison Worksheet
How To Handle College Recruiting
Stack Magazine Recruit Guide