Some Guidance for College Bound Swimmers and their Parents
I am writing this short guide at the suggestion of several HYB parents who, like me, are beginning the college search process with their children. Because they enjoy the competition and camaraderie associated with swimming at HYB, many of our children would like to continue swimming in college. The good news is that nearly 400 colleges have men’s swimming programs – nearly 500 in the case of women. 18,000 men and women participate in these programs. These numbers, and the fact that the level of competition varies widely from program to program, mean that any HYB swimmer who chooses to can continue to enjoy the sport in college.
But with so many programs to choose from, how can families find the school that is the best fit for their child? In the pages that follow I share some of the information and advice I have received during the past six months as I have worked with my daughter to narrow her college choices. But before getting into the details, here are some initial, overarching thoughts:
1. Focus on the college first – and the swimming program second - The college experience is a critical stepping-stone for all young men and women. It is the time when they learn to live and think independently, and when they prepare themselves for their future careers. So before considering swimming programs, sit down with your child and answer some basic questions:
· What sort of academic environment is the best fit for your child?
· Are there specific careers or areas of study that you are interested in?
· Do you want to focus on large universities, small colleges or the many schools that lie in between?
· Is there an area of the country that you are most interested in?
Once you have answered these questions, then begin to research the swimming programs in the schools that meet your overall criteria.
2. Make your search for a swimming program an integrated part of your broader college search process – Work with your high school’s college guidance program as you investigate swimming at the college level. Let your college counselor know that your child wants to swim in college. Most counselors have experience in advising college-bound athletes, and can provide useful information and assistance. In addition, they can help make sure that colleges receive the admissions information they need on time (including information needed for NCAA eligibility).
3. Play an active role in finding a swimming program for your child – Most swimmers won’t be actively recruited unless families seize the initiative first. With more than 100,000 boys and girls competing at the high school level, most college coaches will only contact swimmers who show an interest in their programs. This means that you and your child must do the research necessary to identify swimming programs that are good fits, and contact those programs to let them know you are interested. Nearly all college swimming programs have on-line questionnaires for prospective athletes on their web pages. Fill them out for all colleges your child has an interest in. Contact coaches at your targeted colleges by email to learn more about their programs, and when you visit your top choices arrange to meet with the coaching staff.
4. Put your child in the driver’s seat … but be a back seat driver – Work to get your child excited about the college search process, and ask them to play a lead role in researching schools and swimming programs. And once you have identified potential colleges together, let your child initiate contact with swimming programs. Most coaches would rather communicate with swimmers than their parents.
5. Keep your options open in the early stages of your college search, and don’t focus on one school too early in the process – Many college counselors suggest that high school students apply to five or six colleges, including both “stretch” and “safety” schools in the mix. To come up with this short list of colleges, most families begin by exploring a larger number of schools – typically a dozen or so – and then narrow their choices over time. This approach has several advantages. Students often change their minds about what they want in a college during the search process, and casting your net widely in the early stages allows students to compare colleges and make a smart choice in the end. In addition, actively exploring a range of schools is a good hedging strategy in case your child is not admitted to their school of choice or the swimming program they have targeted loses interest.
6. Take advantage of the many online resources that exist for prospective college swimmers – We live in the information age after all, so use the many college swimming web sites to help you during your search. Some of the more important web sites are mentioned in the FAQ section below. A good place to start is collegeswimming.com. This site has the most extensive coverage of college swimming news, has links to colleges with swimming programs and their conferences as well as message boards on a variety of swimming-related topics.
Swimming is a great sport. Swimming programs at the college level offer HYB athletes an opportunity to continue their swimming careers while creating a new network of friends. While swimming in college requires dedication and an often-serious commitment of time, swimmers often perform better academically than their fellow students. As noted in the introduction, every HYB swimmer who desires to swim in college can choose from a large number of schools that fit their abilities. It is my hope that this short guide will help these swimmers get started with their college search. I will try to supplement this document from time to time based on feedback from HYB parents and as I learn more.
I encourage parents and swimmers to work with your HYB coaches during the search process. Recruiting questionnaires uniformly ask swimmers to provide contact information for their club coaches. Make sure you let your HYB coaches know when you list them on these forms. And they in turn will let you know when they are contacted by a college coach.
Best of luck to all of you. I hope that everyone gets into his or her college of choice. Just remember that it is what you do once you get in that matters most.