College Tour: Deciding Which Colleges to Include

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This is the first in a 3-part series of guest posts by FloridaSwimNetwork.com‘s Bess Auer, who took her son on a college tour this summer. 8 states, 6 colleges, 4 days. You can connect with Bess on Twitter or on Florida Swim Network’s Facebook page. You can read Part 2 here and then part 3 here.

When I was in high school, I didn’t know anyone who went on a “college tour.” We didn’t have prep courses for the SAT, ACT, or SAT 1, 2, or whatever. You simply picked a school, applied, crossed your fingers, and hoped for the best!

Fortunately for me, I got into the University of Florida (Go Gators!) and went on to letter in cheerleading there. My husband swam for the Gators, so I guess we’re about as big of a Florida family as you will find. In fact, my company Florida Swim Network livestreams their home swim meets, and so you would think I’d want my high school-aged son to go there, right?

Well, maybe.

Yes, everything is right about the University of Florida – sports, academics, networking – but it just may not be right for my son, Jackson.

Jackson attends a small prep school here in Florida, and he is a competitive swimmer who has always pictured himself swimming in college.  Well, ahem, do you know how fast you have to be in high school to get a scholarship to swim at UF?  Sure, we’ve got Florida Prepaid, so he technically wouldn’t have to get a scholarship to go there, and he may even make it on the team (Jackson was Top 8 at high school states in 2 events this year), but to have any meaningful swimming time as a “starter” at UF meets may be proven more difficult.

So, perhaps in addition to UF, Jackson might want to also look at some other schools, thus the decision for us to go on a college tour. (It never hurts to look, right?)

Deciding Which Colleges to Include

1) Schools that had shown an interest – some schools had already sent Jackson a letter of interest, so these definitely went on his radar. He spent time online learning about these swim programs, seeing this year’s top times, looking at the coaches, and seeing if he knew anyone currently on their team.

2) Size – his current school is very small, so I encouraged Jackson to consider smaller schools in addition to those big state schools.

3) Swim Programs – since he has always wanted to swim in college, he definitely wanted schools that had a collegiate swim program. The strength of the program didn’t always matter; just that they had one.

4) Reach for the stars – Jackson’s club coach Charlie Rose always encourages his swimmers to use their swimming to to take them some place, so some Ivy League schools went into the mix. (Why not?! Haha! Right now the price was not paid attention to since he would be applying for financial aid wherever he went. Surprisingly, most schools are willing to help out considerably based on need, so don’t ever let the price tag stop your interest!)

5) Geography – as a parent I wanted “easy access” to see my son. So, a major airport with reasonable airfare was a definite plus. New York and Washington, D.C.  are both non-stop from Orlando and pretty affordable via Jet Blue.

After doing lots of research with Swim in College’s database and then using U.S. News & World Report’s data, Jackson came up with around twenty schools he thought he might be interested in seeing, but that would be a college tour we just couldn’t afford! So, we narrowed it down even further by location.  Finally, we had our “tour” ready to go: Fly into Newark and drive to Yale, Princeton, UPenn, Georgetown, George Washington University, and then UVA before flying home from Washington, D.C.

While Jackson may end up not going to any of these schools, he would get exposure to a sampling of colleges, big to small, Ivy to state, large to small divisions.

Notifying the Schools of His Interest

1) NCAA Eligibility – before Jackson could show any interest, he had to be “cleared” by the NCAA. You can do this here and it takes a one-time registration fee of $75. This is a first step to swimming for an NCAA school.

2) Recruit Prospect Form – Jackson went to the chosen schools’ websites and located the swimming & diving recruit prospect form for each school. To make it easy, he kept his information on a Word document so he could cut and paste. He kept things like his NCAA eligibility ID number, school and club team addresses, coaches and college counselor information, GPA, etc. He will update this form for the next two years as his information changes.

3) Notify the College Coaches Jackson then emailed each of the college head swim coaches that he was planning to visit and gave the dates. While the head coaches were not able to answer directly, assistant coaches could meet briefly with Jackson or designate a swim team member to do so. At this time, they can only act as a tour guide and answer general questions. (Jackson is going into his junior year of high school, and so coaches must wait until next summer to talk directly with him.)

When to Visit

Since Jackson has only finished his sophomore year, why did we decide to go on a “college tour” this summer? It is a bit early in the process. It boils down to knowing my son. He is one who likes to visualize things before he can get excited about it. He has swum at the University of Florida and the University of Texas before, so he could clearly see himself there. He desperately needed to visit some other colleges and pools in order to broaden his horizon and see himself elsewhere. And, to make it even more perfect timing for us, Jackson broke his hand playing pick up basketball (Ugh! Swimmers!) and was still out of the water due to recent surgery to repair the break. This summer was definitely the right time for our family to go visit schools.

Summertime has its own problems, though. The campus is relatively empty and most swim programs are not “in season.” Sometimes the coaching staff is not even there but on vacation or recruiting. Be sure to check the school websites for campus tour info as it is often different from the school year schedule.

So, with plane tickets bought, car rented, and hotels reserved, we headed off to Newark, NJ to then drive further north to New Haven, CT to visit Yale University, our first stop on the college tour!

Stay tuned to read about our visit to Yale University.