By Valerie Willis So you wanna be a big-shot college athlete? Playing ball, swimming strong or running hard is only the first step. On top of keeping up an exemplary athletic record you still have to worry about navigating the extra applications, eligibility requirements, meetings and negotiations. Stressed? Don’t be. Start early and follow this year-by-year breakdown for a sweat-free trek to the University of Superstardom. Freshman and Sophomore Year: Academics: I’ll get the counselor spiel out of the way early. Keep your grades up. Academics may seem to be of backburner importance when you’re the local track star, but you have to actually graduate high school in order to play college sports. Failing classes will interrupt your high school timeline because you are required to complete a core curriculum to be eligible with the NCAA. Make sure you are on track with NCAA approved core courses and enlist the help of your counselor to verify that your schedule meets the requirements. Recruiting: For most Division I sports, you may receive questionnaires and brochures for camps and you are allowed to make calls to college coaches, but they can’t call you. You are also allowed to make as many unofficial visits (a trip paid for by you or your parents) as you want, but official visits (paid for by the school) aren’t okay by the NCAA. Coaches are not allowed to fraternize with you or your parents off-campus either, so keep the meetings on school grounds. Junior Year: Eligibility: At the beginning of your junior year register with the NCAA Eligibility Center. Make sure to print the Transcript Release Form for your counselor so he can mail your impressive class history (see Freshman and Sophomore Year “Academic”) to the Eligibility Center at the end of the year. After you register, complete the amateurism questionnaire on the NCAA’s eligibility website to verify that you aren’t secretly a major league pro. Academics: Study for and take the ACT or SAT. Don’t forget to request that test scores be sent to the Eligibility Center by using code 9999. These standardized test scores are your chance to redeem an abysmal GPA, and with high test scores you are more likely to be offered academic, as well as athletic, scholarships. Recruiting: For most sports you can start to receive recruiting materials at the beginning of your junior year. Coaches are allowed limited phone calls to you during certain months depending on the sport you play, although you can ring them as much as you want. Off-campus contact and official visits still aren’t allowed during your junior year, but unofficial visits made by you and your parents are fine by the NCAA folks. Senior Year: Eligibility: Update and finish your amateurism questionnaire on the NCAA Eligibility Center website. Don’t forget to sign the final authorization signature on the 10.1 statement and submit it online after April 1 of your senior year. Have your guidance counselor mail your final transcript to the Eligibility Center after you graduate and if you have attended any other high schools, make sure they send official transcripts as well. Academic: Take the ACT or SAT if you haven’t already and check with your guidance counselor to confirm that you’re on track to graduate. Fill out the general applications for the universities you’re interested in and take campus tours of the top contenders to get a feel for the schools as a whole in addition to their athletic programs. You must send a college your transcript and ACT or SAT scores before they are allowed to invite you on an official recruiting visit so be sure to have your scores sent to your favorite schools and mail your transcript as soon as possible. Recruiting: For Division I sports, college coaches may call you a limited number of times per week but you can call them as often as you want. Off-campus contact is permitted during your senior year, meaning a coach can watch you play, make evaluations and visit with you or your parents outside of campus, although the number of times is limited. Official visits are finally allowed, so athletic coaches can host you on the school’s dollar once during the year even though you may visit unofficially as many times as you like. The NCAA limits your official visits to no more than five colleges. If you have made your decision about a college and they have offered you athletic financial aid, you may sign a National Letter of Intent. By signing the letter of intent you commit yourself to the university for one year and the college promises to give you that scholarship in return. Be sure before you commit though, if you change your mind at this point you’ll lose a year of eligibility and be required to sit out from competition for a year at your next school.