3 Tips for Identifying College Fit
During the introductory meeting at the 2015 Trilogy Middle School Aces East, I presented one of our players with a hypothetical premise. Would you go to a school where you are guaranteed to win a national championship but never step on the field? His answer — no — was simple and confident despite the uproar from the crowd.
To apply additional peer pressure and grab the attention of the parents, I pried further. What if it was Duke? Surely he wouldn’t be able to overcome the groans of the room littered with ACC gear and parents dreaming of a Duke education. The player remained steadfast with his response and rejected the proposal. At this point in the player’s life, the opportunity to actively contribute to a program far outweighed the enticing proposal.
At Trilogy Lacrosse, we analyze the recruiting process from both a macro and micro perspective so we can identify high-level necessities before diving into details within each option. From a big-picture standpoint, we instruct players to approach the process with the following prioritization:
Academics should be the top priority. Pardon the cliché, but it’s a four-year decision that impacts the next 40 years. Next, we value “Fit” or the social factors that match specific personalities. We advise players to ask themselves, “If it wasn’t for lacrosse, would I still be interested in this school?” The lacrosse program comes last in our weighted scale. For good measure, the tales of players that were injured, lost interest, transferred, quit, or somehow left the team are endless.
With this prioritization in place, we then advise players to examine the nuances within each category. Often times, self-reflection at this stage leads players astray. They don’t know their preferences, they incorrectly weigh all factors equally, or they assign a disproportionate amount of importance towards an inconsequential feature. For example, would the player above really turn down a degree from Duke University along with a national championship to boot?
At Trilogy Lacrosse we would suggest otherwise unless a school of comparable academics, better social fit, and projected playing time made this individual an offer.
So when diving into these macro concepts, what subcategories emerge and what do they mean in practical terms? We would suggest converting the below list of bullet points into a checklist for analysis when visiting a school or when comparing programs.
- Major/Degree of Interest
- Classroom Environment
- Level of Difficulty
From a methodology standpoint, picking the top school in terms of social reputation and perception is too superficial. First, players that have specific interests should ensure schools on their college list offer these programs. For example, players interested in engineering must research institutions that provide this area of focus along with a lacrosse program. Lehigh immediately comes to mind as an institution meeting both criteria.
Next, players need to identify their academic standing within the greater student body and select accordingly. Does one want to be challenged, middle of the pack, or valedictorian? Lacrosse commitments — both in and out of season — should be considered, especially when deciding between NCAA Division I, II and III programs. Lastly, players should pay attention to the organizational structure of lectures, precepts, and labs. Colorado College has a unique block plan where students take a deep-dive into one class at a time over a three-and-a-half week stretch. Does that count towards or against this institution?
- Type: Public vs. Private
- Setting: Urban, Rural, Suburban
- Travel from Home: Time/Distance and Type
- Extracurricular Activities
- Religious Affiliation
- Political Association
Asking teenagers to ascribe their personal tastes across all of the above factors is far too daunting of an undertaking. Typically they either don’t know their preferences or have a difficult time verbalizing an opinion. So where does one start?
For the average teenage lacrosse player, his frame of reference doesn’t extend beyond the hometown. Therefore players should focus on attributes they can identify and whether they want those features as part of their college experience. Using this approach, players typically fall into two categories when it comes to their selection: change-averse or change-seeking. For example, many players from southern states prefer to remain in the relatively balmy weather they enjoy over inches of snow they would encounter up north. Campus visits play an important factor in this regard and must be executed to confirm preferences.
The Trilogy ICE program includes multiple campus visits over the course of a 10-day residential program so players can develop these specific tastes. One of our players was originally dead set on attending a big school. Then he completely flipped his opinion after spending time in colleges of various sizes, ending up selecting what ultimately turned out to be right fit for him. These trips provide the necessary exposure ultimately to make a better decision based on factual experience instead of projections.
- Level: NCAA or MCLA
- Coaching Staff: Tenure, Reputation, Alma Mater
- Style of Play
- Off-season Training
- Academic Support
- Athletic Program Prioritization
- Roster Size: Freshmen Class vs. Senior Class
- Projected Playing Year
- Projected Role: Captain, Starter, Role Player, Scout Team
- Time Commitment: In-Season/Off-Season
- Lab/Class Policy
- Study Abroad Policy
- Team Culture
Again, one can easily get lost given the myriad of factors. Players should consider what they want as their overall on-field experience and layer it on top of schools with the right academic profile and social fit. In terms of playing time, immediately competing for a starting position and red-shirting the freshman year represent two ends of the spectrum.
Years ago, a number of schools approached one of our club players, including a prominent Division I state school in his native New Jersey. While the appeal of playing Division I toyed with his ego, he knew what he wanted — to contribute right away, make an immediate impact in the program, and compete for a national championship. With these priorities firmly in place, he committed to a Division II school that offered these opportunities along with a major in his area of focus and a social match befitting his personality.
Players should execute lacrosse program due diligence by examining the roster size and construction along with the stability of the coaching staff. Alarms go off when schools bring in extraordinary large classes or have disproportionate number of freshmen to seniors. These figures signal pending cuts, quits, and transfers — typically not a positive indication of a healthy program. Bonus points should be awarded when alumni are at the helm of a program. Clearly they respect the traditions, value the institution, and feel responsible for the on-field product and off-field character development.
Perhaps most famously, Johns Hopkins University employs three former Blue Jays on its staff: head coach Dave Pietramala (’90), offensive coordinator Bobby Benson (’03), and associate head coach Bill Dwan (‘91). The lone outsider, assistant coach Dave Allan, enters his ninth season in this role. With regards to stability, they make Prudential jealous.
Lastly, culture plays arguably the most important role but can be the hardest to define. In simplest terms, a player should ask himself if he enjoys spending time with the team. Sometimes a gut reaction represents the most powerful tool in the decision-making process.
One also needs to consider the team in terms of the greater athletic department and school as a whole. Does the program have access to the necessary facilities and resources that will make the team and players successful? Moreover, what are the team’s policies when it comes to other school programs? For example, many Division III players enjoy a semester abroad during a normal four-year cycle, whereas Division I players rarely entertain the possibility or must do their travelling during the summer. Likewise with certain classes and labs — depending on the program, in-season practice can take precedent over academic pursuits. Players should vet these details during the recruiting process so their expectations are managed before they commit.
Creating a college list can seem like an incredibly overwhelming task without even factoring the necessary reciprocal interest from the school itself. Additionally, the timing of communication — emails, phone calls, campus visits — varies based on the parties involved. Needless to say, the recruiting process is unique for each individual and therefore impossible to boil down into a few simple rules. Instead, use the above guidelines to help build an initial college list and reference these priorities when making the final decision.