Donovan Tennis Strategies



What is the difference between Division I, II and III schools?

There are a number of differences, but the primary difference is how many students the school has, the style and philosophy of the school and athletic department, and how much funding the institution has for sports. The division also determines whether or not the school can award athletic scholarships. Division I and II schools can award scholarships while Division III schools cannot. However, just because a school is Division I does not insure that they have scholarship money.

Division I has over 250 men’s tennis programs and nearly 325 women’s tennis programs. While many Division I schools offer tennis scholarships, Ivy League schools and various other programs do not. A fully funded men's program can offer 4.5 scholarships and a fully funded women's program can offer 8. Some schools offer fewer than the maximum, and some schools may offer scholarships for their women's program but not for their men's program. Financial aid based on academic achievement and/or financial need is also available in most cases.

Division II tennis programs can offer a maximum of 4.5 scholarship for their men’s programs and 6 for their women’s teams. Like Division I programs, not all Division II schools offer scholarships. Financial aid based on academic achievement and/or financial need is also usually available.

Division III is the largest of the NCAA divisions, with nearly 300 men’s programs and over 300 women’s programs. There are no athletic scholarships available, but financial aid based on academic achievement and/or financial need may be available.

What are the NAIA and NJCAA?

In addition to the NCAA there are hundreds of institutions in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) and the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA). These are simply other athletic organizations for schools who opt not to be subject to the NCAA, yet, like NCAA programs, are governed by the ITA (Intercollegiate Tennis Association. These associations, similar to the NCAA, provide oversight to their own member institutions and, generally, their recruiting and eligibility requirements tend to be more lenient than the NCAA’s. NAIA and NJCAA can compete against NCAA institutions, but they do have their own separate national championships and systems for rankings. These schools usually do provide athletic and academic merit aid in addition to financial aid based on need.

Which schools offer tennis scholarships?

NCAA Division I and Division II schools can offer tennis scholarships. While many Division I schools offer tennis scholarships, Ivy League schools and various other programs do not. A fully funded Division I men's program can offer 4.5 scholarships and a fully funded women's program can offer 8. A fully funded Division II men’s program can also offer a maximum of 4.5 scholarships while a fully funded Division II women’s program can offer a maximum of 6 scholarships. Some schools offer fewer than the maximum (i.e. partially funded or non-funded), and some schools may offer scholarships for their women's program but not for their men's program. NAIA and NJCAA schools also offer scholarships. Division III schools do not offer athletic scholarships. Financial aid based on academic achievement and/or financial need may be available to qualified student/athletes at schools not offering tennis scholarships.

What is an official visit?

An official visit is a prospective student-athlete’s visit to a college campus paid for, to some extent, by the college. An official visit can last for up to 48 hours on campus. The college can (but is not required to) pay for items such as transportation to and from the college, room and meals (three per day) while visiting and reasonable entertainment expenses, including three complimentary admissions to a home athletics contest. Prospective student-athletes are allowed to take up to five official visits at Division I and Division II schools. There is no restriction on the number of official visits at Division III schools, although D III schools don’t often have the budgets to pay for travel expenses. Official visits may happen after August 1 of the junior year for Division 1, after June 15 preceding the junior year in Division 2, and after January 1 of the junior year for Division 3.

What is an unofficial visit?

An unofficial visit is any visit by a prospective student-athlete and his/her parents to a college campus paid for by the prospective student athlete or the prospect’s parents. The only expense the prospective student-athlete can receive from the college is three complimentary admissions to a home athletics contest. The prospect may make as many visits as he or she likes and may take the visits at any time. For Division 1, even if a prospect is on campus before September 1 of the junior year, he or she may not meet with the coach until after that date. For Division 2, that date is June 15 preceding the junior year. Division 3 has no restrictions around meeting coaches on campus during unofficial visits. The only other times the prospective student-athlete cannot talk with a coach during an unofficial visit is during a dead period.

What is a dead period?

A dead period is a designated time in the recruiting calendar when the college coach may not have any in-person contact with the prospective student-athlete or the prospect’s parents at any time. The coach may write and telephone during this time. In tennis, the dead period is once a year for a 4 day period during the signing week in November.

How and when do I set up official visits?

Often recruits think that they need to wait for the coach to extend an official visit, but recruits can ask the coach directly for one. Once you have your list narrowed down (likely at some point in the junior year), you will need to request an official visit if the coach has not already offered one. In many cases, a recruit may gain an advantage with earlier official visits by being ready to commit to a coach before other recruits do. However, not all coaches/schools are on an accelerated timeline with commitments, and some prefer for unofficial visits to happen first, so it is no uncommon for the majority of official visits to happen in the spring of junior year, and in some cases the fall of senior year.

Will I be practicing with the team or playing as part of my visit?

Except for Division 2 schools, it’s against NCAA rules for a recruit to practice with the team if the coach is present. In some cases, a coach may want a recruit to work out with someone on the team outside of practice hours; however, the coach cannot formally plan or require this, and they also cannot watch. The best advice is to ask the coach before your visit whether you should bring your tennis gear if there may be an opportunity to hit.

What questions do I need to ask myself after I visit a school to determine if the school is a good fit?

  1. If I were unable to play tennis because of an injury would I be happy at the school?
  2. Am I comfortable with the culture of the team? Do the coaches and players have a philosophy I align with and seem to genuinely care about each other?
  3. What are my chances of being a starter as a freshman and thereafter? Is that important to me?
  4. Will I be academically successful at this school?
  5. Will I fit in with the rest of the student body at this particular school?
  6. If the coach were to leave the school would I still be happy with the program and the school?

I sent an introductory e-mail to the coach and he/she has not responded. Does that mean there is no interest in me as a recruit?

No. It can depend on the time of year and the coach’s style. Some coaches are very quick to respond to recruits, others may take longer to return a call or e-mail, and some don’t reply at all. This should not be seen as the final indicator or their level of interest, especially if your list of schools is appropriate. Don’t give up on a school because you don’t hear back right away, but rather continue to be persistent and reach out again.

I’m getting e-mails from schools that I’m really not interested in. How should I handle this?

Early on in the process, it’s important to keep an open mind until you learn more about particular schools. If you know for sure that you are not interested in a school you should respond to the coach (and not just ignore the e-mail) saying that while you appreciate the interest, their school does not fit the current criteria you have for your search and at this time you will not be pursuing their school. If you receive a mass mailing letter, there is no need to respond to that coach if you are not interested in their school. Throughout the recruiting process, it’s important to be prompt at communicating with coaches, and that also goes for being courteous to the coaches at schools you’re not interested in.

How important is it for me to make a video?

Ideally a coach will want to see you play a live match. This can happen either at select tournaments (usually national events) or at a DTS College Prospects Showcase. If a coach is not able to see you live the next best thing is to see you play on video. If you make your own video make sure it’s mostly point play (a competitive practice match is fine if a true tournament match cannot be recorded) where the coach can see the whole court or as much of the court as possible. (See “Tips for Making an Effective Video” on this DTS Recruiting Navigator system.)

Are Division I programs stronger than Division II or III programs?

Just because a team is Division I does not necessarily mean that it is stronger than all Division II or III teams. Much of a school’s division designation has to do with matters attached to the overall school and athletic program, and not the level of just the tennis team. DTS can provide you with the necessary information to determine the strength of certain teams in the various divisions. There can also be differences between the divisions in the length of the fall and spring seasons and the overall amount of time that players train each week.

What is an early read?

Most schools that are recruiting you will be able to give you an "early read" which is a preliminary assessment of your academic fit for the school. Once you have narrowed your list down to the schools you are most interested in, you can ask the coach for an early read. The coach will take your transcript, standardized test scores, proposed senior year schedule and your school’s profile into the admissions office and ask them to assess whether you would be a viable candidate to be accepted. The early read is by no means a guarantee of acceptance but can give you a sense of what the outcome is likely to be. A positive outcome of the early read gives a coach a go ahead to keep recruiting you, or less positive feedback might suggest that recruitment should not continue and a recruit should pursue other options with more vigor. For more information on this topic, please see the early read article on the DTS website under the Features tab.

When should I start working on my college applications?

You can start working on your applications as early as you would like. We highly recommend that you start the Common Application no later than the summer after junior year and, if possible, have your college essay finished before senior year starts.

What is the common application and is it used at all schools?

The Common Application allows you to fill out one application (in theory) and submit it to multiple schools. Instead of filling out a separate application form for each school, you fill out the Common Application, pay a fee for each school, and then submit it. The Common App system automatically makes sure that the application form gets to each school you want to apply to. This also includes the School Report your counselor fills out, your teacher evaluations, and the midyear report some schools require. This greatly cuts down on the amount of stress and paperwork a student has to keep up with. The only thing you have to send under separate cover is the transcript. Some schools have supplements that you have to fill out. These are usually one or two pages of extra questions that are not on the Common App, but that these individual schools want to know. Sometimes these supplements require an extra essay or recommendation.

Not all schools use the Common App. There are more than 800 Common Application members in 49 states. For the list of schools that accept the Common Application and to review the application form please go to

Is it important for me to continue playing tournaments once I've been accepted to college?

We recognize that you have put a lot of time and energy into your junior tennis career and may want to take a break from tournament play at some point. While it’s OK to perhaps play fewer, or different types of, tournaments than before once you have committed to a school, we would not advise you to stop playing tournaments altogether. Coaches want you to be prepared for when you enter your freshman fall and there is no better way to be prepared than to continue to play tournaments.

What's the role of my personal coach in the recruiting process?

It may be appropriate for your private coach to call, or write to, a college coach on your behalf. This would typically happen later in the process once you’ve narrowed your list down considerably. Coaches will assess your game for themselves when they see you compete live or on video, so it is often more helpful to college coaches for private coaches to comment more on your character and personal attributes which are sometimes harder to get a clear sense of than your level of play.

What’s the best way of telling a coach whose school you’ve been seriously considering that you will be committing elsewhere?

We strongly recommend that you share this decision via a phone discussion, as that is considered most respectful of the time and effort the coach spent supporting you and developing a relationship with you. For a coach who did not make much effort in recruiting you, communicating your decision via email is fine. Be courteous and thankful for the coach’s interest in you. If there were very specific reasons you did not choose the school, you should outline those so that the coach has some constructive feedback (e.g. the school is smaller than you want, you feel the other school better matches your academic areas of focus, etc.). If you don’t want to go into too much detail a good general response is to say something along the lines of: this was a difficult decision since I really liked your school but, overall, I just felt that another school (it’s fine to mention the actual school you’ve committed to) was an overall better fit for me.

When I get a commitment from a coach at a Division 3 school will I get something in writing prior to applying saying that I will be accepted?

Not necessarily. In most Division 3 cases, you will need to wait to get your formal acceptance letter just like any other student applying to that school. The verbal commitment you engage in with a coach simply means that you have agreed to apply in the desired application pool, will cease active communication/recruitment with other programs, and will attend and play for that program if accepted. The coach is agreeing to have a spot for you on the roster if you are admitted and/or will provide support for you in the admissions process either with the use of an admission slot, submission of a letter of recommendation, etc. In some cases, however, the coach will have "cleared" you through the admissions office, meaning that you’ve effectively been accepted. In a case like that, you might get what is referred to as a “likely letter” confirming that if your academic status remains on track and you don’t have a significant drop in grades, classes, or disciplinary status, you will be accepted in your application pool. Most Division 3 coaches are not permitted to give a guarantee of acceptance in writing prior to official notification from the admissions office. On rare occasions, a positive early read from the coach does not result in an acceptance. While this is quite rare, it has happened.

What is the National Letter of Intent (NLI)?

The National Letter of Intent (NLI) is a letter that a recruit signs to commit to an institution for an academic year in return for an athletic scholarship. It marks the end of the recruiting process and prevents other schools from contacting you. The NLI signing period begins in November and continues through August, meaning that an NLI can be signed at any time in that window. If you are committing to a college without athletic scholarship, you will not sign an NLI but can sign a “celebratory letter” provided by the college for use at HS signing ceremonies or for local press events. 657 Division I and Division II institutions participate in the NLI program. For more information about the NLI you can go to their web site at

When will I know what college I’ll be attending?

While this can vary dramatically from case to case, commitments generally start to happen late in the junior year, and will continue into the fall of the senior year, with October being the heaviest month for commitments. On the extreme side you will see a handful of commitments as early as the winter or spring of a player’s junior year and some commitments as late as the spring of the player’s senior year. The best approach is to start the process early and do some unofficial and when possible/appropriate, official visits during the junior year so that you’re prepared should you be highly interested in a school and get an early offer from that coach. For more information on commitments and signings, visit the Features page on the DTS website to read our article on this topic.

I’d like to have one more year to improve my tennis (and/or academics) to be able to consider better college teams. Can I do that?

In 2012, the NCAA changed the rule that allowed players to take an extra year between the end of high school and the start of college. However, the one-year grace period was reduced to 6-months for those considering Division I schools. In order to avoid losing a year of eligibility at the start of a player’s college career in Division 1, he or she would need to start college in January of the year after high school graduation, or refrain from organized competition between the date marking six months after HS graduation and the start of college in September. Players planning to attend a Division II, Division III or NAIA school are permitted to take a year between the end of high school and the start of college. For further information, check out the Gap Year article on the DTS website under the Features tab.

What are the rules for transferring to another school?

A one-time transfer between four-year colleges is permitted. In most D1 or D2 cases, a player does not need to sit out a year to maintain eligibility, but transfer rules can vary depending on a student’s status, so the compliance office at the school being transferred to will need to assist with certifying that process. However, in D1 (and likely starting in 2019 in D2), before a player is permitted to speak with coaches at other schools, he or she will need to notify the compliance office at the present school to be input into the national transfer portal. Once the student-athlete is listed in that portal, other coaches may contact the student-athlete to discuss transferring. In Division 3, where athletic aid is never in play, a “self-release” can be obtained by the school’s athletic department and once the student-athlete submits that signed form, other coaches in any division may contact that student-athlete regarding transferring.