“The biggest thing to consider when looking into pursuing an athletic career in college is what the university can offer outside of athletics,” said Jason Smith, a USATF middle and long distance coach who used to work as an assistant at Hampton University.

According to the NCAA, across men’s and women’s basketball, football, ice hockey, men’s soccer, and baseball, only 0.X% of college athletes turn pro. Never mind what the actual percentages are; they all have a decimal in front of them, so your degree better mean something.

“So many times I have seen student-athletes get wrapped up into the name of an institution, how many games are televised or the fact that my parents went there and they end up not doing well athletically or academically,” Smith said. “You have to find an institution that fits your educational needs, not only your athletic needs.”

This is especially important if you know what field you want to go into. If your decision comes down to two programs and one doesn’t offer a field of study that interests you or you could never take those classes due to practice time, there’s your answer. Set yourself up for success beyond your athletic career.

Boo Williams, a prominent AAU basketball pioneer and advocate for youth sports, stresses the importance of being comfortable with the coach when making your decision.

“Can that coach get you where you want to go on and off the court? Can that coach help to prepare you for life?” he asks. “. . . Does the system that coach runs fit your style of play?” This question could be pivotal for the highly-touted recruits as well as those that fly under the radar.

Ultimately, athletes make their decisions for a number of different reasons, from family legacy to favorite colors. In the midst of it all, it’s important to keep your goals in mind and remember: You take yourself with you wherever you go.

If you’re content with being a member of the team versus a key piece to the team, then choose that school, and that’s okay. On the other hand, if you want to play and be a priority, don’t get enchanted with names necessarily — go where you will have the most meaningful experience.

I could make a checklist of things to consider when making your decision, but in all honesty I don’t have a crystal ball. The coach that you commit to could easily get a bigger, better contract and be gone by the time you start your sophomore year (or recruit you and be gone before your career starts, as happened in my case). Your new team could be devastated by injury or hammered with some type of NCAA violation, and then what?

The only guarantee in college sports is adversity. No matter how carefully you choose your school adversity will come.

“Find out all you need to know to make [the] decision [that’s] best for you and you only,” Smith said. “You are the one who has to get up for class, be on time for practice, make it to study hall and perform on the field, so make sure that the decision you make is yours. Your friends and family can call you and ask how is everything going but you are the one who has to get it done.”

Now buckle up and enjoy the ride. 

Monica McNutt was an All-Met basketball player at Holy Cross Academy who went on to star for the Georgetown women’s team. She will be offering advice to high school athletes who are looking to make the leap to college sports.

Got a question for Monica, or an idea she can use for a future post? Leave it here in the comments, or email her at hss@washpost.com. Follow her on Twitter at @__MCM__.


Navigating the recruiting process: “Get a clue, control your career” (Oct. 18, 2011)

Secrets to success: Food and rest (Oct. 11, 2011)

Introducing “Transition Game” (Oct. 4, 2011)