College Swimming: How To Select The Best Program

Michelle Lombana created College Swimming Guide to help parents like her whose children want to swim in college. Download the summary of NCAA Recruiting Rules and NCAA Calendar for helpful information.

You’ve researched college swim programs, you’ve communicated with coaches, you’ve gone on official visits and received offers to join teams –  now how do you select the program that’s best for you?

Will You Contribute To The Team?

There are multiple ways to contribute to the team, usually through scoring points in regular season meets and at the Conference Championship Meet.

College coaches are primarily interested in swimmers who will score points at meets, but they may extend offers to swimmers who show potential to score in the future, who are good training partners and who exhibit strong team spirit.

Think about what motivates you. Do you want to be among the fastest swimmers who score points and set team records as a freshman? Are you satisfied with not making the travel squad your freshman year and working to earn your spot in future years? If you don’t make the travel squad, will you be motivated to do your best in practice every day knowing you won’t be competing in most of the meets?  

Are You Comfortable With The Coaching Style?

You probably experienced different coaching styles on your club team while growing up and college coaches have varied styles as well. Think about the type of coach you respond to best and who inspires you. When communicating with coaches, asking about their coaching style is perfectly acceptable.

When speaking with swimmers on the team, ask about the coaching style. You’ll be swimming for this coach for four years so it’s an important consideration.

Do You Click With The Teammates?

You’ll be spending a lot of time with your teammates so it’s important to feel comfortable. Not only do you practice with them every day, but you’ll eat meals and socialize with them. If they’re big partiers and you prefer a quiet night in the dorm, think about whether or not you’ll be comfortable there. Conversely, if you’re always up for a wild party and team social activities usually include board game nights, you might prefer a different team.

Try to gauge whether it’s a positive environment where the teammates are welcoming and accepting versus a negative atmosphere where they’re judgmental and critical.

If you aren’t comfortable with your teammates, it can be awkward and makes for a long four years. You can make friends in the dorms and in classes, but much of your time will be spent with the team

Am I Happy With The Level Of Intensity?

Teams vary in intensity with some emphasizing academics more and others emphasizing swimming almost exclusively. The appropriate level of intensity for you may depend on your major and future plans. It’s difficult, but not impossible, to major in a rigorous area of study like engineering while competing as an athlete.

If you want to be involved in other areas of campus life such as clubs or a fraternity or sorority, selecting a program that’s not as intense may be preferable. On the other hand, if you’re hoping to achieve an Olympic Trial cut, an intense team where the swimmers improve significantly may be just what you’re seeking.  

How Is The Academic Rigor Of The School?

Academic rigor varies by school and by major. The midrange SAT and ACT scores required for admission are a good indicator of rigor. In some cases, swimming will help you qualify for a more rigorous school than you might have qualified for on your own. This can be a benefit but make sure the school is not so difficult that you’ll struggle to do the work.

If you’re planning to go to grad school, you want to select a school where you can do well and achieve a high GPA.

What Is The Cost?

If cost is a factor, it needs to factor in to the decision. There are many types of scholarships for swimmers, in addition to athletic, so ask the coach if you qualify for academic money or other scholarships. You can also ask the coach if they can do a Financial Aid Pre-Read to see if you qualify for need-based financial aid.

You can also ask about the possibility of qualifying for higher scholarships in future years based on performance. This can be risky though, as it’s not guaranteed. It’s best to be honest with the coach and explain how much you’re able to afford and ask if there’s a possibility of him offering you enough financial assistance to get to that amount.

There are no right or wrong answers to these questions, each swimmer needs to make the decision individually as to which program is the best fit for them.

About College Swimming Guide

College Swimming Guide simplifies the process of being recruited to swim in college by providing sample emails to coaches, lists of questions to ask coaches, and spreadsheets of colleges and conference championship times to see where your swimmer fits. We also have lots of information available, such as checklistsNCAA Rules SummaryNCAA Calendar and more. We’ll walk you through the process and let you know what to do and when to do it.

To learn more and to receive the College Swimming Guide Relay, sign up here.

Press Release courtesy of College Swimming Guide, a SwimSwam partner.

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Coaching…is the coach and staff going to be there for the long haul ?


Does the team’s name start with a “W” and end with a “olfpack”


In all seriousness though why not? I think swimmers should look into programs that have a rich history of developing swimmers. How many diamonds in the rough has a program like NC State found? They have a niche of turning good swimmers elite. Not everyone is gifted with the talent to be recruited by a Texas or Cal.


Go in knowing that coaches can leave, so make sure you’re happy with the school, and would be proud to have a degree from there. some kids will transfer if their coach leaves, but most will not. You’re probably not going to the Olympics, so use your swimming talent to help you get the best education you can.

Caeleb Dressel WILL get 7 golds in Tokyo

Good thing Caeleb is going to Tokyo then.

College Swim Mom

Get the best education you can, and don’t forget that swimming is extracurricular and it’s supposed to be fun! Being able to check out your future friends and your school environment is a tremendous benefit that the recruitment process gives you. Be open minded, pick the school that will give you the best overall experience and keep in mind that 4 years goes by fast. If you identify your priorities and choose a school based on these, you will be making the most of these (likely) last years of team swimming.