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College Recruitment Process


In the second installment of First Touch Soccer Academies newsletter we will be discussing the Collegiate Recruitment process for Male and Female soccer players. As thousands of players continue to play with the goal of collegiate recruitment we want to give parents and players some insights and advice on this complex, arduous and at times fulfilling journey. Over 48,000 student athletes (across all sports) signed their D1 National Letter of Intent in 2024, many doing so on the first day of the window (November 8th for Soccer), celebrating their future home with family, friends, teammates and coaches. This is the culmination of years of hard work and should be celebrated as such. For every face on instagram smiling while signing a letter there is a face that no one sees where the process has stalled to a halt, or changed trajectory significantly. Although statistics for club participation and collegiate recruitment are hard to find, it has been published by the NCAA that out of 459,077 High School players that only 25,499 go on to play in college. Out of that 5.6% participation only 1.3% go on to play at the D1 level, with 1.5% playing D2 and 2.7% D3. Needless to say the process is only becoming more competitive as leagues are saturated, international student athletes are on the rise and college rosters are still recovering from the realities of Covid and redshirting Freshman in seasons that didn’t happen. 

Finding the ‘right fit’

Finding the ‘right fit’ is something every student athlete should strive towards. But what does that mean and what questions can be brought to the table. Prior to having that discussion however it should be stated that this process should be player driven, not parent driven. Once the game becomes transactional for a player and they lose the love of the game then it is going to be counterproductive to the ultimate goal. Parents who take over the process can unwittingly silence their child, causing them not to own their destiny. Furthermore, college coaches do not want to hear from parents in any way during the recruitment process. Every student athlete should ask whether they would be happy at the school they choose if soccer doesn’t work out. Injuries and coaches getting fired are an unfortunate reality in collegiate soccer. If this happens we can protect our overall well being by choosing a school we would love to be at regardless of soccer. 

What questions should we be asking ourselves?

Major considerations for families to discuss are how far away from home is a player willing to live? In addition, do they want an Urban / Rural / Suburban type of school and do they want a campus like environment wherever they go? Furthermore, what size of school are you looking at? Do you want a big state school like Penn State or are you looking for something smaller like Lafayette? Do you want to play straight away, or are you happy to work your way into the coaches plans? There is no doubt that at a smaller school you have a better chance of playing straight away. It can be hard to not travel to games, be on the practice squad, and not see the field. This can be a reality for players in larger programs. Is there a specific major that you are looking to study that rules schools out. I have had a number of players over the years want to go into nursing and this has been the factor that dictated their process. It may seem overwhelming to come to answers to the above questions but visiting schools as Freshman and Sophomores can give you a feel for campuses and where you feel most at home. 

Scholarships, Financial Aid and Academic Money

As a family you have to start to prioritize what is important to you. It may be that soccer is the driving force but it may be that the type of school you want to go to is most relevant. Scholarships may be the biggest priority for families. Financially every family is different but you should understand how scholarships work. Firstly, understand that in Women’s Soccer programs a maximum of 14 full scholarships are available to coaches of D1 schools and 9.9 to D2. It should be noted that Ivy League schools do not offer Athletic Scholarships but coaches have the ability to write six letters of support to admissions on an athlete's behalf. This differs to a maximum of 9.9 full scholarships in the Men's game. At the D3 level Athletic Scholarships are not available. Coaches at D1 and D2 schools can use these scholarships however they want, meaning they could give full scholarships or partial as they wish. In addition to Athletic Scholarships players are eligible to apply for financial aid and academic merit money. Financial aid is completely merit based and families will have to fill out a FAFSA application. Academic money will differ between schools. Regardless, coaches of programs will absolutely look to see what you qualify for and potentially shift their Athletic Scholarship offering based on that. I have spoken to many coaches who reference packaging an offer between athletic, financial aid and academic merit awards. At the D3 level coaches will definitely help to ensure that high recruits are afforded the best package possible, within the limitations of the financial aid and academic applications. Ultimately, this helps parents limit costs for their child attending school. It is important to note that a coach may have more patience, initial trust and ultimate flexibility to a player he has invested a large Athletic Scholarship to. It doesn’t look good for a full ride Athletic Scholarship player to be riding the bench in their Junior and Senior year. 

Realism and Conferences

As you go through the above process one thing that is often skewed is the realism that parents and players show regarding prospective schools. In my experience too many players do not have a realistic expectation of where they are able to play at school. The Power Five conferences (ACC, Big Ten, Big East, Pac 12 and the SEC) take literally the best player on top club teams around the country. The percentage for the regular player is very low. Knowledge of the different conferences and levels should also be considered. Parents and players should be fully aware of that and look at where they rank on their current team and the strength of that team. It is also a fallacy to suggest that other D1 conferences like The Ivy’s, Patriot League or CAA is anything but very competitive soccer with the vast majority of players being recruited as top players from top programs. Some of the most meaningful collegiate experiences of ex players are those who had no issue considering good D3 schools from the outset of the search. My advice here is to do an honest self evaluation and speak to your club coach and respect the transparency they show. In addition to having realism on your conscience another factor that is undervalued, at times, is the focus on academics. One of the first questions a college coach asks me is ‘how are they in a classroom?’ Having a higher GPA will absolutely keep more doors open from an admissions perspective. 

One of the biggest challenges of this process is the unknown. You will have very little control over how a college coach evaluates you outside the obvious of performing to your potential. The beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder however and there have been many times where my evaluation of a player wildly differs to the college coaches thoughts. Although limited there are some things you can control. I will discuss later in the article about the level you play at and the value of ID Camps. 

What should I be doing and when?

There are some very basic factors you can take into consideration once you hit High School however. As a Freshman you need to focus on your development. If you are playing with Sophomores then you may get on some coaches' radars for later dates but ultimately there is very little evaluation of Freshman happening, outside of the top players in the country. You can however focus on your development and grades and start to visit schools to get a feel for different sorts of campuses and colleges. 

As you enter your Sophomore year you should see more college coaches at your events. Please note that no D1 or D2 school can contact any player prior to June 15th of their Sophomore year. This can be frustrating! Those coaches though will be evaluating you. They can talk to your club coach and you can absolutely attend ID Camps at their school. You can also send them highlight films. Good highlight film will be relatively short (3-4 mins max), highlight your strengths (offensively and defensively), show film from club soccer (high school is great but coaches want to see you playing at the highest level) and capture the imagination of the viewer. You can also create the habit of emailing college coaches the Sunday or Monday of an event with your schedule and film.This is your year to get organized. I strongly recommend making a list of schools from a soccer and academic perspective, both highlighting 7-8 schools in reach, attainable and safety categories. You should also create a template to organize your process. This should involve the schools you are interested in, the contact details of coaches, if you have visited the school, if you have had any communication with the coaching staff, if you have done an ID Camp there and what the average GPA is for admissions. 

This organizational tool will evolve as you get into your Junior year. During this time you should be participating in as many showcases as possible. You should be starting to narrow down schools to ones that have interest in you and you have interest in them. New schools may start to emerge based on coach interest from showcases. Schools that were lofty reaches, or safety nets you no longer need to consider, may be removed at this point. ‘Trapped’ players on U19 teams should be advocating for themselves to play with the clubs U17s in showcases. You should be persistent with communication as college coaches will appreciate a player who is truly invested in attending their school. If you enter your senior year without being committed it is not too late but certainly will be more stressful. The reality is that scholarship money is likely to have been used but D3 schools often want to see more academic transcripts so take more time to make decisions. You should see the process through as opportunities can present themselves. It is really important to be with a club who will prioritize November / December and January showcases for their 19s age group.  

Where should I be playing?

This is a newsletter in itself but controlling where you play and the exposure that comes from that is something you should consider as you get to 7th/8th grade. I would state that players should prioritize their development at the younger ages. They should find a club / team who has an invested coach, an environment that is positive and develops the passion for the game, and a team where they are challenged with the players they compete with for playing time and against on the field. As you get older there will be a greater shift to certain teams / clubs based on the league they are a member of. This should not be the be all and end all but it is a fact that at the High School ages you need to be in a league where college coaches are a regular part of the gallery. College Coaches only have so much time and so many resources and they are going to prioritize going to events and showcases where they feel they will be able to evaluate the most talent in the shortest possible amount of time. You should do your homework. Look at the list of alumni from clubs on their websites. They won’t and cannot fabricate anything in terms of where players are currently playing. Some players and families feel the need to pay for outside consulting services. If families have the financial means to do so then this can be helpful. I would say this should be part of a club's service to their players and a consideration when families are choosing their home for the high school years. 

One of the biggest issues parents and players have right now is navigating all the competing leagues and biased narrative that comes from clubs around the country. Some of my advice in this chapter is subjective but I also look objectively when possible. Playing in the correct environment is different than playing with the most exposure. I will simply comment here on the exposure part of a players experience and it varies greatly between Boys and Girls programs. 

On the Boys side the best players should be at the professional academies. If you are good enough to play at Red Bulls, Philadelphia Union or NYCFC then you will instantly be recognized by college coaches as players of the highest level. Those clubs are looking for the next professional however and probably give less attention to the collegiate path than other MLS NEXT clubs. If you are not one of the very small percentage of players who play at professional academies then the MLS NEXT league has emerged as the most competitive pathway for youth male players to apply their craft. These clubs are highly competitive and college coach presence at their showcases and events are high. The Elite Clubs National League (ECNL) on the boy's side has settled into a role where it supports the best players not in the MLS NEXT. There will naturally be exceptions to this comment but it is a platform where boys can play in a structured league and have enough exposure to college scouts. In my first newsletter I discussed the High School vs MLS Next argument but how does that factor into college recruitment? I found that only 13% of NCAA Men's Soccer players participated in club soccer only. Furthermore, 77% played club soccer and high school. I would conclude from that that you are not harming your chances of playing collegiately if you play for your high school team.  

On the girls side things are a little more murkier. The Elite Clubs National League (ECNL) and Girls Academy (GA) are the two most prominent leagues. The ECNL objectively keeps adding GA clubs to its league. GA clubs continue to apply for acceptance to the ECNL. It is evident that the ECNL provides the best pathway in terms of pure exposure than the GA. In 2019, 1629 ECNL players committed to playing soccer in college. Of this 1629 there were 847 who committed to play at the D1 level. I imagine this number has grown since 2019 as the league and participants have increased significantly. There are more up to date statistics from the GA league however where they stated in 2024 that more than 700 players will continue at the next level, with 61.7% of these being at the D1 level. The Elite 64 League on both the boys and girls side is emerging and relatively new. Time will tell if this makes a dent on the MLS NEXT and ECNL dominance of elite boys and girls players and thus collegiate scouting. 

ID Camps

As discussed earlier ID Camps are a valid part of the recruitment process. Not every family has unlimited time and resources however to fulfill all the differing offerings that are out there. My recommendation would be as a Sophomore and Junior to find camps where there are multiple schools present. As you start to narrow the search down and identify schools then it is a wise use of time to go to specific camps. Coaches may scout you at an event and invite you to an ID Camp as a follow up. If that school is high on your list at that time then it is worth making the effort to get out to the camp. I would warn families from attending too many ID Camps and try to pinpoint ones where you can get in front of coaches you really want to play for. ID Camps do provide you an opportunity to meet coaches and get a feeling of whether they are people you can see yourself playing for. 

2024 - The new normal

The recruit in 2024 is dealing with the leftovers from Covid. The pandemic canceled many seasons and thus saw a large number of 2020 recruits redshirt and claim an extra year of eligibility. This bloated rosters, slashed budgets for coaches and ultimately reduced opportunities for subsequent classes. 2024 is the last year where Covid Freshman are age appropriate for roster consideration. Name, Image and Likeness (NIL) money has alerted the best players to the possibility of cashing in on their student athlete experience. Michigan State Women's Soccer all earned $7,500 in 2022 as part of a program wide NIL deal. Other individuals are signing with agencies. The result, along with other reasons, is a larger amount of players entering the transfer portal and thus coaches looking to the portal to fill their rosters over recruiting incoming Freshmen. Parents should also consider changes in legacy traditions at schools. Families should no longer rely on legacy to help the recruitment process. International students remain viable options for college coaches. In 2018 NCAA statistics revealed that 34% of D1 Men's players were recruited from abroad, compared to 11% of D1 Women’s players. 

In summary

To summarize the recruiting process is complex and personal to each player striving to play at the next level. Players should continue to push themselves to be the best player and scholar they can be. Parents should continue to support their children to maximize the potential they have in the sport. College is often the crowning moment for players who spend so much time and effort honing their skills. It is hoped this article is helpful as the next generation of players prepare to step into the unknown.


First Touch Soccer Academy
First Touch Soccer Academy, PO BOX 407
Caldwell, New Jersey 07006

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