The Importance of Looking Beyond the Soccer Program When Searching for Colleges

College campus with students

While the majority of competitive high school athletes envision themselves as future collegiate players in the NCAA, the odds are not in their favor. According to the NCAA, just 7.2% of women high school players go on to play in college, and just 2.4% of all high school players end up in Division I. Even those who commit to collegiate programs may not remain a student-athlete. I myself know of many talented players who were benched, injured, or burnt out in college and decided to leave the sport.

With so much riding on your college choice, it is essential that student-athletes in high school look beyond the shiny window dressings of soccer programs and the red-carpet treatment during official visits, and focus on the school itself. As the head of academic advising for CBW Soccer Elite, and a former student-athlete who has personally weighed various programs in Divisions I and III and even transferred halfway through my collegiate career, I am well equipped to offer you these important aspects to consider:

1. Size

Many of the high school athletes I advise indicate that their “ideal” college is anywhere from 5,000 to 25,000 students. That just can’t be true. Everyday life, athletics, and opportunities available at a 5,000 person college could not be more different from those at a 25,000-student university. The size of an institution helps inform many important policies and social norms that shape a student’s experience. For example, do athletes live and eat separately from non-athletes? Will your academic advisor have 20 students and know your name, or consider you number X out of 200 s/he has to oversee? Do students walk around campus or does its size necessitate the use of shuttles or cars?

2. Classes

A 200-person lecture makes for an incredibly different learning environment than a 16-student course. Each has its advantages: large lectures allow more flexibility and usually have less stringent attendance policies, while smaller courses mean more individualized attention and opportunities to develop relationships with peers and professors alike. Registration for courses at smaller schools can be challenging as classes fill up quickly and many do not offer more than one section. Larger universities may offer more sections of popular or introductory courses, but oftentimes rely on teaching assistants or graduate students to lead instruction. Determining what will be most effective for you as a learner is key; after all, that is the number one reason we place such a high value on college educations.

3. Campus

What is the overall feel of the campus? Do your research and determine if people live on or off-campus, as this greatly impacts the social dynamics and has the potential to make you feel isolated or restricted. During your visit, eat at the dining halls and ask students their opinions and get information about meal plans. Are there places to eat that open early before class or late at night after a study session or practice? Be sure to check out the library, too, since you will likely spend a lot of time there. You’ll want your study places to be quiet, comfortable, close-ish to your dorm and/or practice facilities and preferably with a cafe for fuel.

4. Student Body

On your visits, can you see yourself becoming friends with anyone you pass by on campus? Would you share similar interests, values, or passions? Evaluate the campus vibe as well. Some campuses are teeming with stressed out and uber-competitive academic students, while others are more mellow. It’s also really important to determine the role diversity plays for you. For example, would you be comfortable going to school with people of similar socioeconomic backgrounds with limited cultural variety or is having a more inclusive and melting-pot type atmosphere what you envision?

Whatever your interests, wants and needs, make sure that your college search reflects them. It can be tempting to select a school based on the reputation of its soccer program – after all, you’ve worked hard to get to this level – but ensuring that the university as a whole is the right fit for you is key to a successful, well-rounded and happy collegiate experience.

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Chris Bart-Williams is the founder and owner of CBW Soccer Elite. After an extensive career in the English Premier League, Chris now uses his vast soccer knowledge to assist families throughout the college recruiting process and prepare players for the mental and physical challenges of collegiate soccer. You can reach him at

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