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            If you’re a high school soccer player and want to play in college, start planning early, as early as your freshman year.  It might seem like you have plenty of time before you need to think about college, but the months will go by quickly.  There are things you can do, even before entering high school, that will get you started on your college search and position you so that you can best promote yourself as you enter your junior and senior years.

            First of all, make an effort to visit college campuses, large and small, rural and urban, when you have the opportunity.  This is easy if you have an older sibling looking at colleges.  Going along for the ride gives you a chance to check out a few schools.  Even if you think you’d never want to go to a school anything like what your sister is interested in, it helps to actually walk around a few campuses and see what feels right.

            You can fit school visits into other trips, like when traveling to tournaments, as well.  If you’re at the Jefferson Cup in Richmond, VA, for instance, take a few minutes to drive through the University of Richmond, or visit the University of Virginia, an hour away, while you’re in the neighborhood.  There are at least five colleges and universities a short drive from Greensboro, NC, one of the sites for Score at the Shore.  And there might be other schools along the way you could visit.  Campus visits are easy to accomplish if you plan ahead.

            Plan to drive through a college campus when you visit relatives or are on vacation.  After visiting a few campuses, you’ll start to know what type of school appeals to you. 

            Another way to get a feel for the level of play in the various divisions of college soccer is to see a game.  You may have Division One, Two, and Three schools not far from home, and you might be able to visit a couple games each fall.  The schedules are on the schools’ websites. 

            Some players have a specific school they dream of attending.  If so, you’ll want to see if you fit the school’s level of play.  Keep an eye on the team’s schedule; they might play a game not far from where you live.  The NCAA tournaments that take place at the end of the soccer season is another chance to see teams play on the road. 

            If you plan to play in college, you’ll need a résumé, so gather the information starting in your freshman year of high school.  Keep a record of the tournaments you’ve played in and where your team placed, as well as the awards (scholastic and athletic) you’ve won.  Just toss the news clippings, schedules, and awards into a box or plastic container.  Having the information in one place will make it easier when the time comes to create your résumé.

            Get on the highest-level team you can by your sophomore year in high school.  If your team isn’t at an elite level, try to guest play at top tournaments.  Some tournaments list players interested in guest playing in an effort to match them with the attending teams.

            Consider attending a soccer camp on a college campus, perhaps one or two a summer, if you can.  The residential camps will give you a feel for what that college’s campus is like.  Some camps have coaches from several colleges in attendance, and some will give you an indication of your strengths and weaknesses and the level where you might fit in a college program.

            College coaches are looking for four things: skill, speed, size, and strength.  The more you do to improve in those four areas, the more appealing you’ll be to a college coach.  Even if your club or school coach doesn’t emphasize these things, you should work on each regularly, including in the off-season. 

            Don’t forget academics.  While it’s important to hone your soccer skills, you have to keep your grades up and take academically challenging courses in order to be accepted into a college, especially those that are competitive.  Coaches sometimes can pull strings to get a player who doesn’t meet the school’s academic criteria, but you’ll stand a much better chance of being accepted if you’re the player who has high scores rather than being the one the coach has to go to bat for. 

            Bottom line: your high school years will go by quickly, and the more you do to prepare and position yourself well, the better the chance you have to make a team at the school of your choice.

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