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Working with Student-Athletes

It all begins in ninth grade

High school student-athletes share many of the concerns of other college-bound students. They also have distinctive concerns that require additional counselor advice and support, whether they hope to win college admission and scholarships with their athletic ability or just want to play on a college team.

What's special about counseling student-athletes?

  • The involvement and influence of coaches (high school and college) in the student's college search and application process
  • Application timeline differences
  • Academic preparation requirements that include national athletic association requirements in addition to high school graduation requirements

The counselor's role

Your number one role is to provide information to all students about the academic requirements for high school graduation, college admission and athletic participation. At the beginning of each academic year, provide the coaches of each sport with the most up-to-date information from the three largest athletic conferences — National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) and National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA). Provide additional college application information as appropriate. 

During the college search and application process, remind student-athletes that sports should be only part of their decision. Stress to them that they are choosing a college, not a team, and should consider all the factors that go into that choice, such as location, size, academic offerings and student life. They should look for a college they'll thrive in even if they stop playing sports. See Student-Athletes: Choosing a College.

Make sure that your student-athletes understand that meeting the academic eligibility requirements to play a sport at a given college is not the same as meeting the academic standards for admission to that college.

No matter how enthusiastic a college recruiter or coach is about a student-athlete, admission decisions will still be made by the college admission staff. And no matter how outstanding the high school athlete, simply meeting NCAA academic requirements may not be sufficient to gain admission to desired colleges.

As with any student, the more rigorous a course load your student-athletes take, the more options they have when it comes time to choose a college.

Start in the ninth grade

Student-athletes need to know the athletic associations' academic eligibility requirements early in their high school career. It's also important to get parents on board early. Here are some strategies:

  • Speak at ninth — and 10th — grade assemblies about the athletic associations' requirements.
  • Bring in guest speakers, such as an athletic director from a local college, to talk about requirements and options.
  • Give ninth-graders the NCAA worksheets (in the Guide for the College-Bound Student-Athlete from the Publications section of the NCAA website) to keep track of their course and grade information.
  • Make sure potential athletes know that the NCAA looks at their GPA in core courses only — not their overall GPA.
  • Reach out to parents and let them know what the academic requirements are.
  • Work with the athletic director to create a manual for student-athletes. Update it annually, since rules and regulations change often.

Work with your school coaches

It's important to maintain open lines of communication with your school's athletic staff. Here are some basic steps:

  • Meet with your school's athletic staff and let them know that you are a resource on college admission.
  • Review NCAA eligibility each year and inform coaches of changes.
  • Provide handouts of the NCAA eligibility requirements to coaches.
  • Share application details. The high school coach should know where students are applying and have the contact information of the coaches at those colleges.

Getting information to student-athletes

Below are some ideas for providing information to students and parents:

  • Host student-athlete nights for students and parents where you and the athletic staff can give an overview of the college selection and application process. Possible outside speakers include college coaches or athletic directors.
  • During your school's fall college nights, present separate sessions aimed at student-athletes. Invite outside speakers.
  • Distribute handouts listing current NCAA and NAIA requirements and other useful material at college nights and student-athlete nights.

Overview of the athletic associations

Colleges fielding intercollegiate teams are organized into associations. The three largest — NCAA, NAIA and NJCAA — are also called conferences. These organizations set the rules regarding recruiting, eligibility requirements and athletic scholarships for member colleges.

The NCAA is the most influential. Its members include the largest colleges.

NCAA Division I colleges are the most competitive athletically, can offer full and partial athletic scholarships (partially funded by the NCAA) and have academic eligibility requirements.

NCAA Division II colleges are less competitive than Division I and have different eligibility guidelines and financial aid offerings.

NCAA Division III colleges have no academic eligibility requirements and no NCAA-funded financial aid. (However, the colleges can offer scholarships of their own.)

Core courses

Prospective Division I and II athletes need to take NCAA-specified core courses beginning in ninth grade. See NCAA Course Work Requirements for more information.

NCAA Eligibility Center

The NCAA Eligibility Center is an organization affiliated with the NCAA that evaluates students' academic records to determine if they are eligible to play in Division I or II colleges. See NCAA Eligibility Basics for more information.

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