Ask The Experts
Roundtable: How to Choose a College
by TennisRecruiting.net, 27 August 2013
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For many teenagers, choosing a college is the first big decision they make in their young lives, and the decision process can be a difficult one. Big university or small college? What factors should come into play? How to narrow a list?
When you add athletics to the equation, the process gets even more interesting. How do you balance athletics and academics? How important is the coach - or your future teammates?
With so many questions, we thought it best to engage a group of young women who have recently finished up their college tennis careers. Take a look at what they had to say...
Q) Hindsight is always 20-20, and wisdom comes from experience and learning from mistakes. You went through the recruiting process just a few years ago, and now you have the college experience fresh in your mind. What were the most important factors in your college decision when you chose your college and tennis program as a high school student? If you had to do it over again - or if you were advising a younger sibling - what would your most important factors be today?
Danielle Lao, Southern California
Playing for a university that I loved was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. I am lucky to be able to say I would go back and do it all over again, but there was still struggle and a lot of thought that went into my college decision. At the age of 17 and being recruited by many exceptional schools, I was given the biggest dilemma of my life. Weighing out the pros and cons, I realized each university had so much to offer, but a few key things were vital in my decision. I was looking for was a program with a culture of high ambition on and off the court - and an environment where I could surround myself with people who would make me feel important because they believed in me.
While I was thrilled with how things turned out I wish I had reached out and made connections to college coaches earlier on in my junior career. The best and most highly-desired recruits tend to make early commitments. I was a special case - I made my decision a week before signing day. USC had a last minute spot open for scholarship because a member on their team had no plans to return the following year, and so I made a game-time decision to commit to USC instead of the other colleges I was considering.
Although my last-minute decision worked out fine for me, I would advise others not to leave their future to chance by waiting for the coaches to reach out to them. Sometimes you need to be the first to catch their attention so that you can get the communication started before you are crunched on time. There are many cases where making a timely decision is out of one's control, but do not make that the case because you failed to take the initiative. From what I hear from my coaches over my four years at USC, they love recruits who show their excitement by being proactive.
Lauren Embree, Florida
When I was thinking about college, I wanted to go somewhere with a successful program where I would have a chance to win a national championship. I also wanted a school that had a good athletic program and was very supportive of athletics.
During the recruiting process, all the coaches were very nice and complimentary about my game. And when it came down to it, the coaches played a huge role in my decision process. At Florida, I really liked how the coaches interacted with me and with the players, and I thought they would help me improve my game as well.
When you combine the coaches and players with the successful athletics program and warm weather, Florida stood out to me.
Aeriel Ellis, Texas
There's no doubt that I was lucky at the University of Texas. I think that the biggest thing is the support system that surrounds you. Obviously that's hard to figure that out in one recruiting weekend, but each school has the same amount of time to impress you - it's fair game.
Looking back, one thing I would have done different is to take all five recruiting trips. Lucky for me, I knew which school I wanted to attend by my third trip, but I doubt that it's usually that easy. Each school brings different assets to the table. The more schools you see, the more you'll know what you'd want out of the school.
Another thing that a high school senior should pay attention to is the vibe they receive from the team. Girls should realize that they will spend countless trips, practices, and memorable nights together with the girls on the team. If you're lucky, these girls will easily become sisters, and that's definitely an experience that any girl should be able to have.
Lastly, I think the connection with the coaches is really important as well. Your coaches are the people you go to not only when you're having problems on the tennis court - but probably situations off-court too. These are the people that you need to develop a positive relationship with to fully complete the college athlete's college experience
Jordan Wylie, Emory
When choosing a school, I really wanted to focus on the mixture of different things that were important in my life. Finding a school with the right balance between tennis and the other things that are important to me was one of the most difficult parts of choosing a college, but it provided me with a valuable and completely unforgettable life experience. I didn't want to sacrifice parts of who I was to pursue a specific tennis program or a specific academic life. There are always times where you have to compromise, but my main criteria were nonnegotiable. Those criteria included: being close to my family, a diverse population of students, access to a city, good and challenging academic world, and, of course, a great tennis program.
Tennis and academics are the factors that drove the availability of choices that I had when searching for the right fit for me. I wanted to stay committed to the fitness regimen I was accustomed to as well as a program that was focused. The division was much less important to me than finding the right feel. Similarly, the academic realm presented a criteria that was inflexible. I was not willing to abandon what I was looking for with those two things. Family and location were the next two biggest factors. I wanted to be close to home, but I also wanted to experience a student body that offered a more diverse makeup than what I had been acquainted with. Emory began to emerge as the perfect fit for me.
Looking back, I am so happy with my decision and wouldn't change it for the world. I found a program and an academic life that perfectly fit my personality and my goals. There are some things that can be compromised when searching for a college, but the decision is too big and has too large of an effect on the individual to warrant sacrifice of the things that make up your identity.
The one piece of advice I would give to a younger sibling would be to decide on which of your criteria are paramount and then to find the atmosphere that embodies those criteria. What you are looking for is out there - it just may take some time to find.
Alexa Guarachi, Alabama
I don't think teenagers can fully appreciate the transition from junior to college tennis. College tennis is such a team environment, and you really need to find people that will support you and make you better everyday.
For that reason, the best advice I can give someone going through the recruiting process today is to find teammates and a coaching staff that you know you can rely on - and a situation where you have great relationships. Your teammates and coaches are the people who you will surround you - you will be with them almost every day.
Gina Suarez-Malaguti, North Carolina
When I went on my college visits, I considered a lot of factors. What was the bond like between the head and assistant coaches? Did they get along well? Do the players show respect towards the coaches? Is there good chemistry between the girls? How many girls are on the team? Is the head coach married? In my opinion, when the head coach is married it really shows some type of commitment in his or her life, and I think that kind of commitment is important when leading a team and making them into a family. Has the team been making progress towards its goals - improving over the past few years?How are the practices set up? How much importance is given to fitness and nutrition?
When I was in high school, I was looking most for team chemistry and respect between the players and coaches. While that is clearly important, I now know that the most important thing is being supported by my team, and knowing they will have my back no matter what happens. It is also very important to know that my coaches trust me and have faith in me to achieve great things.
One thing I learned about college tennis that I didn't know before is that in college tennis it is no longer just about the individual - it is about the whole team. Everything you do - good or bad - will affect the team. A huge responsibility is put on you to represent your team in the best way possible.
Mary Weatherholt, Nebraska
The most important factors for me were the coaches, team, and overall fit with the university. I also wanted to go somewhere close to home which played a big part in my decision.
I'd say those first factors are still the most important. Do the coaches care about and respect the players, and do the players care about and respect the coaches and other players? Those are a couple of the most important questions in my mind.
A lot of it comes down to differences in the recruits as well... Are you looking for a school that will prepare you for pro tennis? Graduate school? Are you looking to contribute to a team that's a national championship contender? Propel a team to national prominence or help build a program? I think the biggest thing is finding coaches and a team culture you fit in with, and the next biggest thing is asking the right questions and finding out which is the overall best fit for your tennis and academic goals.
Kathryn Talbert, Wake Forest
The recruiting process for me personally was very exciting - but a stressful process as well. When I began the process of first deciding where to take recruiting trips, the way coaches reached out to me was a big factor. I felt more inclined to visit places where not only I wanted to visit but also where I felt wanted. Each visit I really tried to grasp the feel of the team and coaches, the athletic department's missions as a whole, and most importantly the academics of each university. While the academic side was always a significant priority, the tennis program was the main factor. I wanted to make sure that I chose a school where I felt I was going to have the ability to thrive as an athlete and reach a new set of goals I had set for college tennis.
In the end I chose Wake Forest because of the combination of academics and athletics that I felt would meet the main things I wanted out of a college experience. The relationship with the coaches who recruited me, Chad Skorupka and Jon Stokke, played a very important role in my decision process as well. In my situation, my coaches left after my freshman year which, unfortunately, happens in college sports. While the coaches play a big role, I would also advise prospective college athletes to consider the role and vision of the athletic department for the tennis program as well.
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