What is the difference between an official and unofficial college visit?
Going on visits to colleges is an important part of the recruiting process that allows for prospective student-athletes to a get a better idea of what different schools have to offer. It’s important to know what the varying rules are and what to expect based on the type of visit it is you’re dealing with.
There are actually quite a few differences between unofficial and official visits, but the primary distinction is based on who pays for the visit itself. On an unofficial visit, the recruit and his family are responsible for paying for all of the expenses related to their trip and time on campus. An official visit on the other hand is funded by the school who is hosting the prospective student-athlete and his family.
When are you allowed to go on an official visit?
The dates that a recruit is allowed to go on official visits varies across the different sports. For men’s basketball, recruits are allowed to begin going on official visits on January 1st of their junior year of high school.
For women’s basketball, recruits are allowed to begin going on official visits the first Thursday after the conclusion of the Women’s Basketball Championship of their junior year of high school.
For football recruits, the earliest they are allowed to begin going on official visits is April 1st of their junior year in high school.
For all other sports not mentioned above, the earliest a recruit can go on an official visit is September 1st of their junior year of high school.
When you are allowed to go on an unofficial visit?
For all sports other than men’s basketball, women’s basketball and football, an unofficial visit can be taken at any time after September 1st of the prospective student-athlete’s junior year of high school.
For women’s and men’s basketball, prospective student-athletes are not permitted to make their visits during July or during the dead period unless they have already signed their National Letter of Intent.
For football, prospective student-athletes are not permitted to take an unofficial visit during the dead period unless they have signed a National Letter of Intent.
How long do the visits last?
Official Visits: According to the NCAA rules, an official visit is allowed to last for no more than 48 hours. Many times, they will end up being much shorter than this, as two full days is simply the absolute maximum amount of time the visit is allowed to last.
Unofficial Visits: An unofficial visit does not have a strict time limit the same way that an official visit does, but they will generally be shorter since the burden of paying for meals and lodging falls on the prospective student-athlete and his family.
How many visits are you allowed to take?
Official Visits: A recruit is allowed to take up to 5 official visits to different Division 1 or Division 2 schools. Prospective student-athletes are also limited to one official visit per D1 or D2 school. There is no limit to the number of official visits a recruit can take to Division 3 or NAIA school. They are still restricted to only taking one per school, however.
Unofficial Visits: There is no limit to the number of unofficial visits a prospective student athlete can take.
Things that can be provided on an Official Visit:
During an official visit, the host school will typically be doing their best to convince a recruit to commit to joining their program, as these types of visits are almost always reserved for the prospective student-athletes that the school considers to be a high priority for them. Because of this, the host school is allowed to pay for different aspects of the recruit’s visit.
Transportation: For recruits that live further away this can be done by paying for a roundtrip airline ticket. For recruits who are within a reasonable driving distance of the campus where the visit is being held, the school can reimburse the recruit for the gas money spent to get there and the cost of a rental car if needed.
Housing: Once the recruit arrives on campus for the visit, the host school can provide housing for the recruit to stay in during the duration of their visit if it is going to last more than one day. If the recruit chooses to bring family along with them on the visit, they will have to make arrangements for their own place to stay.
Food and Entertainment: The school can also provide 3 meals for the recruit, and up to four family members, on each of day of their visit. They also are allowed to provide snacks for the prospective student-athlete in between meals. For entertainment, schools are allowed to provide three tickets to a home sporting event during the visit.
Each Visit is Different: Even though all of these things are allowed to be provided to potential student-athletes during an official visit, what is actually paid for can vary on a school by school basis. Not every athletic department will have money in their budget to provide all of the things that the NCAA permits. Especially at smaller schools and among lower division participants, it may be asked of the visiting recruit to pay for parts of their visit even if it is technically allowed to be paid for by the college.
Things that can be provided on an unofficial visit:
As we mentioned before, the main difference in the two types of visits is that the school is not allowed to provide nearly as much for the recruit on visits considered to be unofficial. Because of this, the only thing that a recruit will receive for free on their unofficial visit is up to three complimentary tickets to a home sporting event at the school. The responsibility of paying for transportation, food and lodging all falls on the recruit and his family. The host school can help to set up some of this for the recruit and his family though, as things such as staying in the dorm and eating on campus are permissible as long as they are paid for.
How should you decide where to take an unofficial visit?
Explore Your Options: Because there is no limit to the number of unofficial visits that a recruit can go on, they are a great option for potential student-athletes who are not sure about what they are looking for in a college yet. Since taking one of these types of visits does not prevent you from going to see other schools, going to as many as possible in your local area could be a good idea to help narrow down the schools you’re choosing between. It’s also a good idea to try and set up some unofficial visits at schools that are further away if you have separate plans to be in that area anyway such as playing in an out of town AAU tournament for example.
Be Realistic: One important thing to remember when setting up unofficial visits is to be realistic. Even though it is generally a great idea to go on a lot of them to get a better idea of what different schools have to offer, you still don’t want to waste your own time and money visiting at places that won’t have any interest in you as a recruit. For example, it may not be a good use of your resources to try and set up a visit with an Ivy league school if you’re just barely above the NCAA minimum grade requirements, or to visit a dominant Power 5 program if you are only getting interest from division 3 schools.
How should you decide where to take an official visit?
With official visits, the considerations behind making the decision on where to go are different than they are for unofficial visits. Since often times these visits are fully paid for, factors like how much it costs to get there and whether or not you will already be in the area near the school are far less relevant than they are for unofficial visits. Unlike unofficial visits, there is a strict limit to how many official visits you are allowed to go on, so it is important to use them only on schools and programs who you have a legitimate interest in becoming a part of. The strategy of using visits as an exploratory way to find out about programs of which you are unfamiliar is certainly not recommended for official visits the way it is for unofficial ones. Instead, official visits should be taken as a way to make final determinations about schools that you already have a decent understanding of.