I remember my college decision-making process.
I was consumed with finding the right environment at any cost. One week I was obsessed with Quinnipiac and the rolling hills of Connecticut. The next I longed to sit under the stately oaks on the campus of Tulane. And of course, ask my parents about Pepperdine.
Pepperdine was, to me, the holy grail. And I made sure my parents knew it. I’d blast music from the family computer (this was 2004 after all) that sang of my desire for California beaches. Our desktop background was a picture of their campus. I was in love.*
*Until I got rejected and never realized the dream but hey life isn’t all about sunshine and lollipops and look I ended up at another beach school so it all worked out fine.
What was my primary desire?
I wanted an environment that met my needs and felt like home.
We’ll talk about what it means to find a place that meets your needs and feels like home in a minute, but my fear is that there are thousands of future college athletes making the biggest mistake of their lives. You see, it’s too easy to “play college” and make a decision based upon literally nothing––––
Your best friend or boyfriend decides to go to that school down the road–––so despite your desire to get away–––you stay at Hometown U.
Coach Bigmoney gives you $1,000 more than anybody else, so you take it, without vetting the total cost of the institution.
You want the “name brand” school, because what’s the point of playing Division 1 unless everybody can see JHU lax ’24 in your Instagram bio?
Why make a commitment to a place that’s the completely wrong fit? If you can’t do the research and make an informed decision, you’ll forever be a fantasizer. You’ll dream of the school you thought you committed to, not the school it actually is. And fantasizers transfer. You don’t want that to be part of your athletic legacy.
And I don’t want that for you, either. I want you to find an incredible home from day one and stay there.
How do you prioritize needs and fit?
Your first step in prioritizing needs and fit is a brutal look in the mirror. You must be honest with yourself about your limitations. Taking it back to my story, we’ll go down the line:
Quinnipiac: No shot. I knew playing lacrosse was important to me, but I was absolutely not D1 lax material.
Tulane: New Orleans is a world away from suburban Michigan and the deep south was a culture shock. This was also post-Katrina, so that was a concern too.
Pepperdine: A little too far from home, honestly. I wanted to have my truck and that would’ve been a no-go. In addition, $70k a year was unreasonable for my financial situation.
UM/MSU/GVSU: Any in-state school was a little too close to home for my personal preference.
Right away, I knocked out a group of schools that did not meet my needs and would have been a poor fit.
If you’re being honest with yourself, you’ll weed out the future-failure schools early. Who cares about chasing a D1 dream when you might, at best, make the roster? Maybe your true fit means becoming an All-Conference player at the Division 2 level. Maybe your skills are best suited for the NAIA. Lying to yourself about your ability only delays the moment where you have to tuck your tail between your legs and say “this level of lacrosse wasn’t for me.” Better to do it now then at Christmas, when every family member and friend is asking how Furman is and you have to meekly tell them you’re transferring.
Likewise, if it’s too close or too far from home, kick it to the curb. No big-time college football, but you want college football on fall Saturdays? Great. Buh-bye. If you’re having trouble determining what you want, ask yourself three questions:
Where, geographically, do I want to go? Do I want to have the ability to come home on the weekends? Would I rather explore a new state and come home only for school breaks? Would I prefer a school out west, out east, on the beach, or in the mountains? Skyscrapers? College town? Cornfields?
How big do I want my school to be? Do I want to be one in a million (or 45,000)? Would I rather have a smaller environment with more intentional learning experiences? How small is too small for me?
What do I want to study? Use your athletic ability to go get an incredible degree that will turn into a great career. You might find the perfect lacrosse program for you, but if you have to concede your passion to study what they have, forget about it. Likewise, understand your environment. It makes a lot of sense to study law at Georgetown, economics at Columbia, or marine biology at Palm Beach Atlantic. Your environment should add value to your degree, not take away from it.
By asking yourself those honest questions, you should have a pool of maybe 10–20 schools from which to pursue. That’s a great start. From there, the back-and-forth of being known by the schools you love and showing them why you’d be the next great thingis your priority.
In the end, I found an incredible education at Palm Beach Atlantic University that gave me the opportunity to play lacrosse on the beach and met every single one of my needs. But more than anything? It felt like home.
That’s the x-factor.
There are a million places to play in college. There’s only one that’ll be your home. It’s the place where you’ll always have a seat at the table.
It’s the place where your coach is your mentor and your parent-away-from-parents. You can call them years from graduation and they’ll pick up at a moment’s notice, just like mine does. And just like I would do for you, if you join our Sailfish family.
It’s the place where your teammates are your everything. They’re the people you’ll call when you need something tomorrow or in ten years. You’ll invite them to your wedding and send them pictures of your eighth kid. Maybe they’re octuplets. Maybe you’re octomom. Who knows. It’s the future.
Nevertheless, if you’re looking for that one thingto help you make a decision, seek family. Ask yourself, “are these my future best friends?”
If no, find out why and potentially go elsewhere.
If yes, congratulations. You’ve found your home sweet home.
Thanks for reading!
Creating Future Wins is my blog about life, leadership, and lacrosse. My heart is to create a mixture of writing that you can’t find anywhere else and I’d love for you to be a part of this journey. Hit that subscribe button and of course, if you value what I’m doing here, I’d love for you to subscribe to my premium content.