Think you've got what it takes to play sports in college? You might, but unless you're making headlines, college coaches are not going to come knocking on your door. Most athletes aren't actively pursued by colleges -- and when they are, it's a strictly enforced rule-bound process. If you hope to make the team and perhaps even score athletic scholarships, you have to get your name out there.
College information: First things first
As you probably already know, getting into college, especially a good one, requires some planning early on. Just as you need to know what it takes to get into a top school, you also need to know what it takes to play for a Division I or II school, because you need more than just athletic prowess.
If you plan to play a sport at the Division I or II level as a freshman, you should be familiarizing yourself with NCAA eligibility requirements as early as your sophomore year of high school, because if you don't meet them, you won't be making the team. Every athlete must meet minimum standardized-test scores and core curriculum requirements -- and continue to meet academic requirements each year. In other words, excelling at a sport won't keep you in sports college if you don't meet both the NCAA's and the school's academic requirements.
NCAA academic requirements vary depending on the division level of the school, but you can be sure that you'll need to maintain at least a GPA of 2.00. Available online, the NCAA publishes an annual guide on the ins and outs of eligibility and distinctions among recruiting rules in Division I, II, and III schools. Look for the Guide for the College-Bound Student-Athlete at www.ncaa.org.
Find a college
With your sport in mind, explore colleges and universities that interest you, but take time to consider all the variables. And dig into all the college information you can find. The school mascot and the look of the team jersey shouldn't be your main considerations, because education and student life are other things that will dominate your college years.
Your athletic skill might help get you some financial aid (in the form of athletic scholarships and sports scholarships) but it's not likely to get you a multi-year, multimillion-dollar contract with the pros when all is said and done. (And if it does, then you're a rare commodity.) So, keep your studies and future career in mind.
Sports in college: More to do
When you start applying to colleges, you'll also need to register with and be certified by the NCAA Eligibility Center (formerly known as the NCAA Initial-Eligibility Clearinghouse) if you are applying to Division I and II schools. As with many things today, this can be done online at the Eligibility Center website. You can check the status of your registration, find information about specific eligibility requirements, and explore links to the NCAA and other Web sites that provide useful information to student athletes.
The purpose of the Eligibility Center is to determine if you meet academic eligibility requirements. This does NOT mean that the schools you've applied to have accepted you. Registering with the center is a separate process -- you still have to apply to each of your target schools through the normal application procedures.