When do student athletes need to begin the recruitment process?
In general, a lot earlier than the average student. Many college athletes will have been recruited although maybe not signed up from as young as 13 years old (especially for basketball, baseball and football).
If you are a student athlete that is in a position where you have not been heavily recruited by college coaches for whatever reason, the best way to get seen is to start making yourself known. How do you do that? there are many opportunities ....
Start looking for high school showcase opportunities in which you can perform in front of college coaches and show what your made of. If you are contacting coaches from universities which are not local, start building connections with college assistant coaches e.g. e-mail them (this has to be clear, concise and well presented) try to put together some valuable footage of you performing your sport in a competitive setting (not in your backyard or with a mate). With video footage its about quality not quantity so edit to put your best moments on one dvd.
Assistant coaches are generally better to contact as the head coach of many sports programs are consistently bombarded with prospective athletes like yourself, and often assistance coaches have a heavy hand in the recruiting process.
I have many other key tips for prospective student athletes, however you will have to contact me directly for such information.