The second semester of a high school athlete’s junior year can be an extremely stressful time. The combination of social life, school, sports, extracurricular activities and the college application process all pull on a teenager’s life and can weigh down even the most determined students.
Becky Sharpe works with thousands of high school student-athletes each year. As CEO of International Scholarship and Tuition Services, she helps manage more than 500 scholarship programs across the country, resulting in more than 1 million applications and $30 million in scholarships annually.
Sharpe offered eight strategies to help high school juniors manage these next two years in a way that maximizes their potential to play football in college and graduate with a degree.
- Stay on top of academics. Colleges place great importance on grades earned during the high school junior year and continue to monitor academic progress even after a student is admitted. GPA can be weighted or unweighted depending on the school and a student’s coursework. It is important for students to make sure that their GPA is accurately represented on transcripts that are sent to colleges.
- Identify realistic colleges of interest. In addition to financial, geographic and athletic factors, “Look at admission standards for schools of interest,” Sharpe said. “Athletes need to understand what is required of them to be an athlete at School X and make sure it matches their ability levels. It varies by school, but all that info can be found on the school’s website.”
- Find football camps that will maximize exposure. “Camps are a great way to get exposed, but an invitation needs to be perceived as exactly what it is,” Sharpe said. High school coaches can be resources for an honest evaluation of an athlete’s talent level and skill set. Using that information, players can find the camps and schools that best align with their abilities and give them the chance to stand out.
- Research available scholarships. “There are a plethora of free scholarship sites out there,” Sharpe said. “The key to navigating the scholarship world is if it’s fee-based, you should probably question it. All legitimate sites are free such as fastweb.com, chegg.com and scholarshipmonkey.com that list free scholarships. If you are applying for financial aid, make sure you fill out a FAFSA form and share it with schools you are interested in applying to.” Many companies and colleges have their own scholarship programs. Students can ask their parents and family friends about any connection to these opportunities, research them online and contact the financial aid office at their prospective schools with questions. Most scholarships will become available in the fall of senior year, with most financial deadlines occurring the following spring.
- Continue offseason training programs. Augment regular physical conditioning with advice from coaches and trainers at camps. Playing other sports helps to develop overall athleticism.
- Keep a Hudl highlight video up-to-date. Hudl is a useful tool for showing what a player can do on the field. Make sure the video is up-to-date with the most recent game footage. “In addition to a highlight video, we suggest an introductory video, maybe 30 seconds, one minute at most, to post on social media,” Sharpe said. “Show you are well-spoken, introduce yourself to recruiters and give them a sense of why you want to play at the next level or attend their school or just why you love the game, anything to set you apart.”
- Maintain a positive, tasteful presence on social media. “Represent what you want a coach to see about you,” Sharpe said. “When in doubt, don’t post. Avoid instant posting. Take the time to think about it first.” Social media posts should be positive and upbeat. Sharing goals and plans to achieve them reflects positive attitude and ambition, whereas complaining and offensive material reveals immaturity. While every recruiter is different, many will only skim or glance at these accounts, so avoiding any obvious red flags is paramount.
- Stay organized. Staying on top of these seven goals is daunting and can overwhelm student-athletes without a proper plan. There are apps and online tools designed to assist organization. These can help to arrange priorities and meet deadlines. “In order to achieve a goal, there has to be accountability,” Sharpe said. "Find a partner or a peer group and say, ‘This is my goal and this is when I’ll reach it.' Write it down, tell someone and get them to help you – a parent, coach, friend or mentor who will push you to achieve that goal.”