Believe it or not, the path that leads to the selection of a college/university for your child, a choice which has the right balance between academics and tennis, actually begins during your child’s junior career. Simply put, the path your child paves in the juniors, starting with the number of times they practice, the number of tournaments they play in, the type of tournaments they play, and of course, the results they achieve, will usually dictate the type of school they will end up at if tennis is to be an important part of the mix. This is why it is imperative that parents have a good understanding of what they expect as early in the junior level as possible so that the right path can be chosen, step by step. This will save you much angst, many sleepless nights and possibly money when all is said and done.
Three critical questions that need to be considered and answered early on …
Will financial assistance be a determining factor in choosing a school?
Everyone would like a scholarship to play tennis, but is a scholarship the only way one’s child can attend college? Obviously, if a family is in the position to pay for their child’s collegiate education, any and all Division 1, Division 2 and Division 3 options are available to them depending on their child’s grades and tennis ranking. However, if the only way your child can attend college is with a scholarship, then D3 will not usually be an option unless you can receive a tremendous amount of financial aid because D3 schools do not offer athletic scholarships. Neither do the Ivy’s for that matter. D1 schools usually have the most amounts of scholarship dollars to offer, but not all D1 schools are fully funded, meaning they do not have a full scholarship for every player. The school might, for instance, have 3.5 scholarships to divide amongst the entire team. D2 schools usually don’t have as many scholarships to offer as D1 schools. Parents should ask the coach of schools they are considering this question ASAP in their child’s junior year in high school, to determine if the scholarship level is adequate for your needs. FYI, scholarship dollars available vary from year to year for all programs, depending on how many players graduate that particular year.
Do you want your child to play at the best tennis program available to them, perhaps sacrificing the quality of the education they will receive, or do you want them to attend the best academic program available to them, perhaps sacrificing the quality of the tennis program they play in?
Considering this question truthfully will require some real soul searching but when answered, the truth will set you free to make a decision on your terms with eyes wide open. D1 schools run the spectrum from big time athletic schools (Duke, UNC and Wake Forest) to smaller schools (Fairfield University, Marist & Niagara), to state schools (University of Rhode Island, Stony Brook University and the University of Albany, to name a few). Each school offers a very different academic/athletic mix, which ultimately will lead to very different collegiate experiences. D2 and D3 have some really great schools with not-so-great tennis programs. But some schools have a great mix of both academics and tennis, such as Emory University in D3, which has a tennis program that is as good as a great many D1 schools and great academics.
Do you have the resources and sense of commitment necessary to see the plan through from the time your child is 10-11 until the time they graduate high school?
If the plan is to have your child play for a big D1 program, then come to grips with the fact that it will require a great deal of time, effort, expense and commitment from you to make it happen. These schools are looking for players with high ranking, with a great deal of national tournament experience. International Tennis federation (ITF) tournament play helps as well. Participating in National/Super National and ITF tournaments comes with a price tag related to extensive travel (airfare, accommodations, food and transportation). Keep in mind, that in order to be competitive at these levels usually requires practicing five to six times a week, working with a personal conditioning trainer and playing tournaments two to three times per month. Calculate these expenses into the equation as well. And don’t forget that your child cannot take themselves to these events, so you either have to pay a coach to go with them or one of the parents has to go as well. Get the picture, big commitment and sacrifice from both the parents and the player for the 12, 14 16 and 18 age groups.
Smaller D1 schools, D2 and most D3 schools will accept players with much less national, ITF and tournament experience, which means that the practice and tournament schedule can be less stringent, thus translating to less time commitment and reduced expenses. However, never lose sight of the fact that the more experience the player has, the more attractive they will be to coaches.
In between big D1 and D3 programs are a multitude of schools with academic and tennis programs of varying levels. The sooner one can come to grips with what type of program they want their child to end up at, the sooner you can start implementing a game plan which paves the way. Then, all you have to do is plug you and you child in and enjoy the ride, for this ride should be as rewarding as getting into the school of choice.