College Visits as a Student Athlete: What You Need to Know about Official and Unofficial Visits

Ana-Marcela Lopez / Colleges of Distinction »

It can be hard to understand the rules around official and unofficial visits when it comes to choosing a college as a student-athlete. Throw in the NCAA recruiting calendar into the mix, and you’ve got a recipe for confusion! Let’s break it down by the basics.

Student athletes interested in playing sports in college at Division 1, 2, or 3 schools have two options when it comes to campus tours. Official visits are offers explicitly extended by coaches to tour the program and determine if the student and the school are a good fit for each other. Coaches may still play a role in organizing unofficial visits, but students and their parents largely set these up for the same reasons.

University visits, both official and unofficial, should place emphasis on the relationship between the athletics program and the prospective student-athlete to determine if it would truly be a strong fit.

The NCAA has rules and bylaws for official visits and unofficial visits. They also have concrete recruiting calendars that vary by sport. The recruiting calendars are made up of contact periods, evaluation periods, quiet periods, and dead periods.

The recruiting calendar also has an impact on when college visits are and aren’t allowed. For example, during the dead periods in Division 1 and Division 2, unofficial campus tours for athletics purposes and official visits are not permitted.

Student athletes looking to set themselves up for success in a university athletics program should prepare by learning the ins and outs of the NCAA recruitment standards as soon as possible.

Official Visits According to the NCAA for Division 1, 2, and 3 Schools

Official visits can be made beginning in August of an athlete’s junior year of high school. The rules and limitations for official visits are as follows:

Division 1 – The NCAA allows student athlete recruits to make five official visits to Division I schools, with only one visit per school.

Division 2 – Official recruiting visits for Division 2 schools are also limited to five visits with only one visit per school. It used to be that student athletes could visit as many Division 2 schools as they wanted. However, a rule change in 2018 limited the number of official visits to 5.

Division 3 – Student athletes can take as many official visits to Division 3 schools as they like. However, like D1 and D2, they can only visit the same school once. Recruiting for Division 3 schools does not have to follow the NCAA recruiting calendar, so more communication between an athletics coach and a student athlete recruit is common.

Invitations for official visits are extended by a university coach specifically for the purpose of recruiting. The biggest difference between official and unofficial visits is the way they are financed.

In an official visit, the college or university may pay for the transportation and lodging for a student athlete and their parents, three meals per day, and three tickets to a home sports event. Official visits can last for up to 48 hours or throughout one weekend, but no longer.

Each program may handle the financial aspect of an official visit differently, for example, paying for lodging but not transportation, providing an on-campus lunch rather than a stipend, etc. However, D1 universities in particular typically pay for all the expenses in an official visit.

Unofficial Visits According to the NCAA for Division 1,2, and 3 Schools

The student athlete and/or their family schedule unofficial visits themselves. There are two ways to go about an unofficial visit:

1. Schedule a campus tour as if the athlete were any other student

2. Reach out to the coach directly and try to schedule a campus tour or meeting with them. The regulations for unofficial visits are as follows:

Division 1 – University athletic departments, including coaches, are not permitted to be involved in a recruit’s unofficial visit before August first of their junior year of high school. Otherwise, there are no regulations involved in unofficial visits to D1 schools.

However, keeping the recruiting calendar in mind when organizing unofficial visits to Division 1 schools is essential. During dead periods, a coach can have absolutely no in-person contact with a prospective student athlete. It would be unwise to schedule an unofficial visit during that time.

Division 2 – Unofficial visits to Division 2 schools are unregulated by the NCAA. Prospective athletes can schedule unofficial visits with D2 athletics departments regardless of age and can speak with the coach on campus.

Division 3 – Unofficial visits to Division 3 schools are also unregulated by the NCAA. Additionally, coaches from Division 3 schools can give verbal scholarship offers at any age, regardless of the NCAA recruiting calendar.

Before reaching out to an athletics coach to arrange an unofficial visit, there are a few things to consider. The current relationship between the student-athlete and the coach is the first to consider. Unofficial visits, especially to D1 schools, are easier to arrange if the coach is already aware of who you are. The student-athlete should also have their academic and sports information readily available to be viewed by the coach.

What to Expect on a Campus Tour for College Athletics

While unofficial visits and official visits can mean very different things, the activities that take place during them are basically the same.

Both aim to determine whether the athlete and the program are a good fit for each other. However, it is more common for students to receive verbal offers and scholarship offers on official visits. Here are common activities that occur in both official and unofficial visits:

  • A guided tour of the campus grounds and buildings, including department buildings, the mess hall, and the library
  • An appointment with an academic advisor to discuss your major, academic goals, potential scholarship opportunities, and campus culture
  • A tour of the housing options available to you as a student
  • A meal on-campus at the dining hall
  • Sitting in on a class and meeting some professors from your intended major(s)

The following activities are more likely on official visits but can also occur on unofficial visits with coaches:

  • Meeting the training staff
  • Attending a practice and meeting the team
  • A behind-the-scenes tour of athletics facilities
  • Attending a home sports game

These activities give prospective recruits an idea about what life is like on campus. Although the goal of every recruit is to play sports at their dream college or university, it’s important that it feels like home to them. Imagine yourself on the campus within the next year or two, and see how you feel!