How To Find The Right Fit To Swim In College

by SwimSwam Partner Content 3

February 07th, 2017 College

courtesy of Michelle Lombana

After narrowing down the type of college you are interested in, the next step for a swimmer is to begin analyzing swim programs to figure out where you might fit in.

Decision: Where Do You Want To Fit As A Freshman?

You can be among the fastest on the team as a freshman and set school records, or not even make the travel squad until junior year with a wide range in between.

Think about what motivates you – if you set school records as a freshman, will you have anything to work for as a sophomore? If you do not make the travel squad, will you be motivated to do your best in practice every day knowing you will not be competing in most of the meets?

There is no right or wrong answer, the only person who can truly make this decision is you.

Analysis: Where Can You Score in Conference Champ Meets?*

Most college coaches are looking for swimmers who can contribute to the team score at the conference championships. Look up the results of the conference champ meet and see if you would have made finals or been close.

If your times are far off of those that qualify for finals, you might want to consider some slower conferences. If you would have won the A final as a freshman, it may be reasonable to research faster conferences, unless you are looking at a school that has an academic program that is top-notch and will prepare you for the career of your dreams.

*You can find these at most college athletics web sites, conference web sites or College Swimming Guide has prepared spreadsheets of conference times for members.

Analysis: Which Schools Are In The Conferences Where You Fit?

Now look at the list of schools within the conferences. Google the conference to find the list of schools, then look up which have swim programs. Based on your preliminary assessment of schools, you will rule some out immediately based on location, size, climate and so forth.

Analysis: Divide Your List of Schools Into Tiers

Look up the top times by event (usually found on the college athletics web site) and see where you fit in. If your best events are 100 and 200 breast stroke and the school lists 4 fast breaststrokers who are all freshmen, the school may not have a strong need for you.

This is not a reason to rule out a program as the coach may have room to bring in extra swimmers who show potential, one of the swimmers may leave, etc. It just means this school should probably go on your “Second Tier” list for the time being.

If another college has 2 fast breaststrokers who will be graduating the same year you will enter, then they may need you for your best event and you will be able to contribute to the team quickly. This school would place well on your “Top Tier” list.

Develop a fairly large list of potential schools in the beginning as there are many swimmers competing for the same event and admissions requirements vary.

Analysis: Do You Meet The Admissions Requirements?

If you fall within the mid-50% of test scores of accepted students, you are in a pretty good place. It you fall above this range, it obviously helps your chances of being admitted.

If you are in the bottom 25%, the coach MAY be able to get you admitted but you do not want to count on that at this point. Most coaches would rather pursue swimmers who can be accepted on their own merit unless they are really a top swimmer.

College teams are ranked on swimmers’ GPAs (within the college, the conference and nationally) so they want to recruit strong students as well as strong swimmers. They are more likely to focus on a student who will raise or maintain the team GPA than one who will bring it down.

Consider: Do Swimmers On The Team Improve?

Depending on your goals, it may be important to look at whether swimmers in the program tend to improve over their four years in college. You can do this by looking at the Top Times listing for the last few years and tracking the swimmers’ performances in your events.

Some kids swim in college for the camaraderie, the exercise, and love of the sport and are satisfied if their times remain the same or improve slightly. Others are training hard to achieve NCAA cuts or even Olympic Trial cuts so a team where swimmers improve is a priority.

These questions are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of analyzing swim programs to see where your swimmer fits best.

Michelle Lombana created College Swimming Guide to help parents like her whose children want to swim in college. Take advantage of this complete article and related Checklist and check out her summary of NCAA Recruiting Rules and NCAA Calendar for helpful dates.

College Swimming Guide is the all-inclusive guide to navigating the college recruiting process for swimmers. We will help you through the process of researching colleges and swim programs, including sample emails to contact coaches, figuring out how you fit into the team, scheduling official and/or unofficial visits, and evaluating and accepting an offer.

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I would say make sure you know the head coach. A lot of coaches put on a show for recruiting trips and then you get to campus and they are entirely different. Don’t let them fool you. Talk to the team about the coach.


Head coach is important. Almost as important is coach for your group. If you’re D-group and the HC focuses on sprinters it’s the D-group assistant coach that will likely have the most impact on you. Of course assistants move a lot more, so the tone at the top set by the HC will be a major factor in who an assistant might be,


Overnight visits are critical. Best way to get a feel of what the team is like. The swim team will be your friends during your time at college.