What is an official visit?
So, what makes a visit official? Any visit to a college campus in which any part is financed by the school is considered an official visit. Coaches usually save invitations for their top recruits and getting asked is a huge step on your recruiting journey. It’s important to prepare in advance for this crucial part of the recruiting process. We’ve put together everything you need to know to ace your next official visit.
NCAA official visit rules
Each division level has its own set of rules surrounding official college visits. Division I has the strictest regulations. The following are the rules you need to know:
- The NCAA allows a recruit to make only five visits to Division I schools, limited to one per school. Official visits to DII and DIII schools are also limited to one per school, but there is no limit on total amount of visits.
- The school can pay for the following for you and your parents/guardians: transportation to and from the campus, lodging throughout your visit, three meals per day and three tickets to a home sports event.
- Schools may pay for a recruit’s transportation to and from campus. However, they can only provide transportation for parent/guardians if they travel in the same car as the recruit. Flights and separate bus or train tickets may not be purchased for parents.
- At all levels, recruits can take only one official visit per school.
- Each official visit may be up to 48 hours long, or the span of one weekend.
- For D1 men's basketball, recruits can begin taking official visits starting January 1 of their junior year of high school. Women's basketball recruits may begin taking official visits April of their junior year of high school, beginning the Thursday following the Women's Final Four tournament.
- For D1 women's basketball recruits may begin taking official visits April of their junior year of high school, beginning the Thursday following the Women's Final Four tournament.
- Due to a rule update by the NCAA, effective May 1, 2019, official visits for all other DI sports can begin August 1 before the athlete's junior year of high school. For almost all sports, this bumps up the official visit date.
- Official visits are not allowed to occur during recruiting dead periods.
Within these official rules, each school will have a slightly different way in which they conduct visits. Some schools will be able to finance your whole trip, paying for transportation, meals, lodging and tickets to a home game. But this is the maximum of what colleges can provide for their recruits. Some programs simply may not have the money to pay for your entire visit, opting to finance just a small portion of your visit. An official visit can also include having an on-campus lunch or dinner that is purchased by the coach. It doesn’t have to last the full 48 hours—again, that’s the maximum amount but not a requirement.
Generally speaking, the more money a coach spends on your official visit, the higher up on their list you are as a recruit. However, that’s not a reason to discount a program that’s trying to recruit on a budget. If you’re interested in a school, official visits can be the last piece of the puzzle to help you understand if it’s your best college fit.
What are the new recruiting rules around official visits?
Effective May 1, 2019, the NCAA created a series of updated recruiting rules to slow down the recruiting process and cut back on the number of recruits getting verbal offers as eighth graders, freshmen and sophomores in high school. Athletes will now have more time to research colleges and focus on developing athletically and academically. Then, as juniors and seniors in high school, they will be better equipped to decide which college or university is right for them.
According to the new rules, DI recruits in most sports can now start taking official and unofficial visits starting August 1 before their junior year of high school. In the past, official visits weren't permitted until the athlete's senior year of high school and there were no restrictions on unofficial visits. While this is exciting news for recruits eager to visit campuses, these rule changes will also likely put more emphasis on athletes and families needing to be proactive early in the recruiting process. With top prospects being offered official visits their junior year, this means even more schools can lock down their recruiting classes early. As a recruit, you need to start the recruiting process as early as possible so you're ready for official visit invites August 1 of junior year.
How does an official visit work?
Depending on the sport and division level, athletes can begin taking official visits junior year. A coach may extend an official visit offer to recruits during a phone call, email, text or direct message. Once a coach invites you, grab your family schedule and work out a weekend to take the trip.
While receiving an invite does indicate you are at the top of a coach’s recruiting list, it doesn’t mean you’ve locked in your spot just yet. This means the coach will be evaluating you during your entire official visit. Most importantly, visits are a great way for coaches to get a better understanding of your personality and character. They want to see if you are a recruit who will be a positive asset to their team and the school.
Insider Tip: Coaches will look at how you interact with your parents—are you respectful, courteous and kind? Or, do you brush them off and behave rudely? Do you answer the coaches’ questions thoughtfully or do you give one-word responses? While it may be intimidating to visit a college campus and get evaluated by the coaches throughout, it’s important to make an effort to put your best foot forward.
How to prepare for your official visit
Because official visits are more formal than unofficial visits, there’s a bit more prep work required from athletes before the visit takes place. Follow this checklist to make sure you’ve covered all your bases:
- Register with the NCAA Eligibility Center. Before your visit, the coach needs to know that you are eligible to actually compete at their school. If you’re visiting Division I and Division II schools, you need to get a Certification Account. Make sure that your parent/guardian is with you as you sign up, because there is a fee involved. This is a good step to take your sophomore year of high school, so you're ready to start taking official visits your junior year. If you’re visiting a Division III school, sign up for an NCAA Profile page, which is the free version of the Certification Account. You only need a Certification Account if you’re actively getting recruited by Division I and/or Division II colleges. When you register with the NCAA Eligibility Center, you will receive your NCAA ID number. Many coaches will ask for your NCAA ID number before your official visit.
- Have the coach add you to the Institutional Request List. This is another formality to ensure that you are eligible to compete at an NCAA school. Request that the coach add you to the IRL list, which will put your Eligibility Center application on a fast track to get cleared. Because the NCAA receives so many requests through its Eligibility Center, the Institutional Request List serves to make sure athletes who need to be cleared quickly will be.
- Send the admissions office your transcript and a standardized test score. If you’ve already registered with the Eligibility Center, the school should be able to access your transcript and test scores. However, this step helps the admissions office ensure that your academic criteria are up to the standards of that school, while the NCAA Eligibility Center ensures that you’ve met the academic requirements mandated by the NCAA to compete in college sports.
- Know how you will respond if you receive an offer. As mentioned earlier, offers are not guaranteed during official visits, but they do happen. To avoid freezing on the spot, go into your official visit with a game plan for how you will respond. If this is your top school and you’ve visited the other colleges you’re interested in, it might make sense to say yes as soon as possible. However, if you have other schools on your list, you can ask the coach when the offer will expire.
- Put together your list of questions for the coach. During your official visit, you will have a chance to get all your questions answered, so take advantage of this opportunity. Sit down with your parents before the visit and brainstorm all your questions. Write down your questions for the coach and bring the list with you. This way, you don’t forget an important topic and you can impress the coach with your preparedness.
Do parents go on official visits?
Parents are invited to go on official visits. The school can pay for three meals per day and tickets to a home sports match. However, the school is only allowed to pay for their transportation to and from campus if the parents are traveling in the same car as the recruit. Flights and separate bus or train tickets may not be purchased for parents. Parents have a very specific role throughout the official visit: Let the athlete be the focus of the experience.
For some parents, it might be hard to let go and allow their student-athlete to take center stage during this visit. However, parents should let their athlete ask questions and take control of the conversation. Give them an opportunity to hold a candid, uninterrupted conversation with the coach. Allow them to make their own opinions about the school before injecting your point of view. When the conversation turns to finances, scholarships and paying for college, this is where coaches typically expect parents to jump in.
What happens on an official visit?
While every official visit will be slightly different, recruits can expect that the trip will include a campus tour. This is your chance to familiarize yourself with the campus and ask yourself if you would enjoy living there for four years. As you tour the campus, take notes. When you’re trying to remember what you liked—and didn’t like—about each of the schools you visited, you can refer back to your notes to help jog your memory about the trip. Use the following checklist to make sure you hit all the key spots on campus:
- Check out the library and sit in on a class.
- Visit the different housing options, both on and off campus.
- Meet your future training staff.
- Eat in the school cafeteria or food court.
- Set up a meeting with an academic adviser.
- Hang out on the campus grounds.
- Stay off your phone and experience the campus.
Coaches typically will want you to meet a few members of the team—or the whole team—to see how your chemistry checks out. You may also be invited to participate in a workout or another team activity. According to NCAA rules, however, any kind of workout you attend on an official visit cannot be organized by the coach or coaching staff. Typically, the workout will be led by the team’s captains. Take this opportunity to see if you connect with your potential teammates.
Questions to expect from the coach on your official visit
You will also likely get some one-on-one time with the coach. This is a chance for you to ask any final questions that you have. Before your visit, write down some questions and keep adding to the list so you have something to go off of when you sit down with the coach. The coach will also probably have some questions for you, too. Here are just a few examples of questions to expect from a coach during your visit:
- “What other schools are recruiting you?” Be honest here and tell the coach other schools you’re actively talking to. If it’s true, list schools that are rivals with or comparable to the school you’re visiting. This will make the coach want you on their team even more.
- “What other colleges are you visiting?” Again, it’s important to be honest. If you have—or haven’t—visited any other schools yet, let them know.
- “When can you commit?” While getting invited on an official visit doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get an offer, it certainly does happen. If this is your number one school and you have a good feeling about it, this might be the right time to lock down a commitment. If you have any other schools to visit before you make your decision, that’s OK, too. Simply make an educated guess when you think you will know. Ask the coach how long the offer stands and when they would like to know your answer.
Some coaches will arrange for you and your parents to attend a home sporting event. They might also have a teammate take you to dinner or walk you around campus again. Plus, you’ll get some free time to explore the area and learn more about the school.
What to bring on an official visit
A lot of recruits ask us what to wear on an official visit, and our best piece of advice is to err on the side of overdressing, rather than underdressing. You want to look neat and clean throughout your entire trip. For men, bring a collared shirt with nice jeans or khakis. For women, a skirt, dress, nice slacks or jeans are acceptable. Avoid wearing sweatshirts, sweatpants, hats, flip flops and ripped jeans. Bring athletic clothes and shoes in case you get invited to work out with the team.
As mentioned before, it’s a great idea to come with some questions for the coach. When the moment comes to ask your questions, it’s easy to freeze up and forget them all. Having them written down will ensure you get the answers you need, plus it will show the coach that you are organized and responsible. Make sure you do your homework and read up on the school, too.
Your follow-up after the visit
Have you ever heard that the follow-up is the most important part? After each visit, make sure you follow up with the coach. Send them a “thank you” note, thanking them for their time and telling them some of your favorite parts of the visit. You can also let the coach know where you’ll be competing next if they’d like to watch you in person. The follow-up shows the coach you’re a thoughtful, courteous athlete, and it also keeps you top-of-mind as they assemble their roster.
Overall, enjoy your visit! This is your chance to get the “red carpet” treatment and get a taste of what life at that college will be like.