If you’re hoping to play soccer in college, there are many things to consider beyond the general characteristics (large, small, urban, rural, etc.) of the school. At some point you’ll want to speak to the coaches at schools on your list, but you can check out many aspects of the soccer programs prior to contacting them. This will help you further winnow the list of schools you’re considering.
First: try to see games of the teams you’re considering. This isn’t always possible due to the distances involved and there’s the added problem of planning trips around your schedule. If you check the schedules, you might find that some schools play a game close to where you live. Dartmouth, for instance, plays in Princeton every other year. If you live in New Jersey, that’s an excellent chance to see a Big Green game.
There’s a big leap between high school and college soccer, and it helps to see the speed, strength and skill of a team to decide whether you can play at that level. Even watching a few games at local colleges that play in different divisions can help you determine where you might fit.
If you visit a school, be sure to check out the field while you’re there. Take note of its condition. Is it artificial or natural turf? (You probably have a preference.) Check out the athletic facilities as well. What are the athletic center and training rooms like? Poor facilities can contribute to injuries. Are there indoor training facilities? Is there a weight room?
Do you need financial aid or a scholarship to attend a school? While private schools are usually more expensive than public, they often have more generous financial aid packages that can narrow the disparity. Athletic scholarships are only available at D1 and D2 schools, but they’re not easy to get. If you aren’t getting serious inquiries and contact from coaches at those levels, it’s unlikely you’re on their list of possible scholarship recipients.
Look at school websites. How many games do the teams play during the season? D1 schools often have a heavier schedule than D3, but the number of games played varies by conference. Conferences have their own rules about off-season play as well. You’ll likely have to ask the coach about that.
Can you get a feel for how much travel is involved? The number of games and the distances between can them vary a lot by conference. For instance, the D3 UAA Conference includes Emory in Atlanta, The University of Chicago, New York University, and Case Western Reserve. Those teams fly to several games and the number of players making the trip is limited.
However, the D3 North Coast Athletic Conference is made up of schools from Ohio, Indiana, and Western Pennsylvania. They mostly travel by bus and might be more inclined to take the entire team. You can get a feel for the travel requirements from a team’s schedule. More travel over greater distances can affect your studies.
Check out the roster. How many players are there? Are they mostly local? Are their international team members? Are a lot of seniors graduating? Are the players who play your position mostly juniors or seniors or are they younger players? (A coach might ask you to play a different position than you’re used to, however.)
How successful has the team been recently? Consider the quality of teams played outside conference and the conference playoff record. Keep in mind that the more successful the program, the more competition you might have for a spot on the team.
How long has the coach been at the school? A school with a new coach and a weak record can provide an excellent opportunity to play as a freshman if the coach is committed to improving the program.
Many times news stories about the past season are posted on the team website. Read through them. Who were the standout players? (Check the season’s stats as well.) You may be able to glean something about the coaching staff or the team’s playing style from these articles. Occasionally there are links to game videos, although it can be hard to determine speed and skill from that.
By doing your homework before you contact a coach, you might be able to prioritize the schools that interest you. At the least you’ll come up with a few questions to ask coaches when you talk to them.
However, it’s always worth considering a school if the coach has contacted you. Don’t close the door until you check it out, visit, or at least have a good reason to cross it off your list. You’ll have the best opportunity to play at a school where the coach is interested in you.