As 2020 draws to a close it’s easy to be pleased to see the back of it with the COVID-19 pandemic making it one of the toughest years in history. It’s not all doom and gloom though and here at Recruit-HQ we believe there is a lot to be grateful for and, more importantly, an awful lot to look forward to as we head into 2021. Here we’ll take a look at the top rated college athletic programs according to current and former NCAA student-athletes and what Recruit-HQ can offer to aspiring young athletes and those around them whether they be parents, guidance counsellors or coaches.
The importance of the student-athlete relationship is very familiar to the team behind Recruit-HQ as we've been through the recruiting process ourselves, not so long ago.
In August 2020, Recruit-HQ went live with over 1,000 reviews by current and former NCAA student-athletes. Now, just a few months later the platform holds more than 1,500 reviews covering all three NCAA divisions with hundreds of programs represented.
What does this actually mean for you? Well, it means that as you head out of high school you can get an in depth view of what it will be like to compete in your specific sport at a specific college or university and there is no ‘big school’ bias either, so you might unearth a hidden gem.
Head Coach Kevin Bullis has been in the top job at Whitewater since 2015 and based on the reviews we see he runs a very tight ship with athletes unanimous in their praise of the system and structure in place. The university is a cheap alternative to most schools but there is no cutting corners as they deliver a “world class” service in football and their wider academic classes.
Dartmouth offer a "welcoming and accepting” experience to their students alongside their ability to provide DI football combined with an Ivy League education. It’s widely acknowledged that balancing both requires hard work but “top notch” facilities and excellent relationships position students in a strong place to achieve positive things.
There is a feeling that you have to live and breathe football to enjoy Ithaca but the fun-filled coaching and “best facilities” means you’ll feel like you’re experiencing DI football despite actually being in DIII. If, however, you’re a fan of a warmer climate than you might want to give Ithaca a miss as almost everyone cites bitterly cold winters!
Life at Duke is far from a breeze with strong expectations placed on students both academically and athletically. That said, the consensus from those who have attended is that they’ve enjoyed the experience of having to juggle both worlds and have left with “lifelong relationships” and having “grown”.
There is a strong belief among students that a degree from Miami (Ohio) will stand you in great stead with the school benefiting from a decent academic reputation. The staff are also praised by most who feel they facilitate relationship building. That said, there is a belief that those outside of the school don’t place enough respect on the football team’s name, which is harsh given they compete at DI level.
There was once a feeling that Iowa State didn’t respect their football players enough with coaches running them “into the dirt”. That’s not the case for the DI side now. Head Coach Matt Campbell and his staff having transformed their reputation. One student went as far as to claim it was the “best 4 and a half years of my life” with praise again given to Campbell for showing he “cares”.
With Rutgers being just a short trip from New York you might not be surprised to learn that the students love the location but their schooling is about much more than that. The university have rattled through some coaching changes in recent years but everyone speaks highly of the way they’re treated both in sporting and academic circles.
The messages coming form former Oberlin graduates are pretty consistent when it comes to the football team; the “camaraderie” is brilliant meaning long lasting relationships will be built. Like a lot of schools, there is still a huge importance to do well academically and just because you’re an athlete doesn’t mean you can coast away off the field.
The opportunity to play DI football at a school that excels in academics is something of a trend when students leave their thoughts. They speak of a “close-knit” group but one where even the football coaches encourage you both on and off the field. On top of that, the “social scene” gets a fair few nods too.
Very few students knock the program at Saint Anselm but the message that you need to be ready for “hard work” to make a success of it is a consistent theme across the reviews. The other message that sees repetition is that the school tees you up for the “real world”, which almost everybody sees as a big plus point.
If you’re interested in learning more about what student-athletes past and present have made of either your current or potential college then why not sign up for a Recruit-HQ account? The process will take a matter of seconds and won’t cost you a penny.
When the words “world class” and “top notch” keeping rearing their heads you know you’re onto something good. That’s exactly what Chris Pollard serves up as the Head Coach of the baseball team. He and his coaching staff are lauded for their efforts across reviews with feedback suggesting they should simply “keep doing what they’re doing”.
The common words for Eastern Kentucky is “facilities”. They are seen to be some of the best around with the program improving every year. The balance between school work and baseball can be difficult to juggle but the coaching team are there “whenever needed” regardless of whether you need to discuss sport, school or life.
The coaching set up at California Davis come highly endorsed by their students with reviews even labelling them as “some of the greatest educators in the world”. The school is far from a one trick pony though with plenty of emphasis put on the academic side of things alongside developing you to play elite level baseball.
There is clearly room for improvement where facilities are concerned with Seattle University but the baseball coaching staff are nailing their roles. Comments from students are that they are enabled to develop as players and people under the tutelage of Donny Harrel whilst managing their academic workload too. That said, the non-sports staff could be more enthused about the ambitions athletes hold.
The college has been through a revamp where facilities are concerned with Boston College now having “state of the art” facilities from a position that was perhaps seen as being behind the curve. There is an “amazing culture” about the baseball team and although there is a strain to play and complete the academic side of college, it’s something you don’t mind for the opportunity to play at the top level of collegiate baseball.
The verdict is unanimous, Head Coach Tony Schifano is brilliant. The students openly acknowledge that their school isn’t the best there is with San Francisco being an expensive place to base yourself, despite the university campus and facilities being less glamorous than others. What you do get though is a coaching staff committed to both your personal development and the schools long term standing.
Oberlin’s baseball program gets a lot of praise for the way it balances the sporting and academic demands whilst it’s clear that you get a “supportive” network too. Advice to the coaching staff in the reviews we’ve had is limited, which says a lot.
There is enough evidence to show that the program at Amherst takes plenty of effort from the student with “time management” an important skill to either possess or quickly acquire. Support from the non-athletic community on campus can sometimes be lacking but the togetherness built by the Head Coach means you’ll have a strong team network around you.
The general school and its people are highly praised across reviews whilst the baseball team competes at the DI level, which is a big plus for aspiring athletes. The one consistent negative we see is the facilities, which are deemed “inexcusable” by one former student.
There is praise for the level of competition that the baseball program offers at Charleston Southern and the academic and athletic balance doesn’t come under the same levels of scrutiny as other colleges but there are comments questioning the level of investment into the program.
Head Coach Chris Apple is the shining star of Rochester’s soccer program. He is seen as someone who aids the long term development of his students whilst creating a “very strong and rewarding team culture”. The program is believed to be well respected too alongside offering a more than adequate academic experience.
La Salle offer soccer at a top collegiate level with “tough games every week” and whilst the coaches invest in you as a soccer player they’re there to help you on your wider journey with a “classroom first” attitude. The combination of sport, academics and socializing is well managed to give a great all round experience.
A highly regarded DII program, the facilities and level of competition available at the University of Tampa is praised throughout our reviews. There is a consensus that the staff and teammates offer plenty of “support” but you should be prepared for a “very busy” lifestyle.
There is lots to like about California–Davis with Head Coach Dwayne Shaffer building a “tight-knit” group whilst not ignoring the next steps in his players careers, even if that move isn’t towards pro soccer. There is clearly a good spirit amongst the athletes and they are supported through their academic studies too.
What you get at Villanova is top drawer facilities and “really good staff” that help students develop in all levels of their education, whether that be on the grass or in the classroom. The positive atmosphere at the university is mentioned regularly although some feel the soccer team isn’t held in the same regard as the likes of the football team.
If you’re picking a common theme from the Chapel Hill reviews then the words are “growth” and “learning” with students clearly valuing the experiences they get from being part of the soccer program. There is also a strong bond amongst students on campus but the ability to juggle your time will be important.
West Chester might struggle to deliver the same equipment and facilities that are on offer at other colleges but they provide a caring and supportive environment that prepares students for real life. Academic studies are considered as important as the athletic side of things but you’ll still get an extremely competitive soccer experience.
“It makes you better” reads one review. That is a sentiment echoed by most of the reviews where NC State is concerned. The university isn’t seen as being located in a typical college town but you’re “never alone” meaning you have a good network around you from both fellow students and the coaching staff and there is plenty of evidence that you leave the school in a place where you feel you can make an impact on the world.
If you want to attend a university that has a “family” feel about it then that’s what you get with Chico State with plenty of that feel good factor generated by Head Coach Kim Sutton. You’ll be challenged both on and off the soccer pitch but the atmosphere and support network around campus should set you up for an “incredible” experience.
The fact the soccer team play in DIII along with the fact the university isn’t the biggest means the stands won’t be packed on game day but that doesn’t stop the students raving about the program. Students are quick to praise the balance achieved across their athletic and classroom education and they’ve just added new facilities to their existing “tight knit” team spirit as well.
There are clear themes that managing the workload associated with “phenomenal academics” and DI sports comes as a shock to the system. That said, there is high praise for the way Duke embrace their soccer team with the “community” standing out as one of the biggest factors.
Playing DI soccer is a huge plus and the staff at Virginia Tech “take care” of the athletes in all areas of their college life. The wider campus value what you bring away from the pitch as much as on it and the coaching team provide students a “springboard to adulthood”.
Tufts might play at DIII level but you’ll be working in above average facilities and with a coaching team that demand effort on all fronts. You won’t be allowed to drift purely by being a good athlete. Martha Whiting, the Head Coach, should be applauded for having a program that helps to “shape” the entire collegiate experience.
If you sign up at Lafayette College don’t expect a head start because you’re an athlete. That’s not how the students suggest it works with staff creating a “challenging” path to encompass both soccer and studies. It’s not a bad thing though and one review suggests they nail the “perfect blend” of both worlds.
Attending the soccer program at the University of Michigan will give you two “prestigious” ticks on your resume; one for the fact you’ve competed at in one of the toughest DI conferences and one for the fact you’ve graduated from a well-respected school. “Hard work” will be paramount to your success but “amazing friendships” and all the support “you could possibly need” will be your reward.
San Fran State can’t offer the best soccer facilities and don’t have the largest circle of athletes but what you will get is “great coaching”, a “beautiful” stadium and campus and plenty of time investment to ensure you graduate as the best you possible.
If a buzzing social life is for you then perhaps the University of Florida’s soccer program isn’t because your time will be spread thin. The flip side of this is that you’ll form lasting relationships with your teammates as “team bonding” takes plenty of focus.
Whilst comments about the level of competition (DIII) not being strong enough rear their heads you’ll be taken out of your “comfort zone” in other ways and will have plenty to look forward to. Expect lots of time from your coaches on a one-to-one basis and a team that becomes a “support system”.
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Everyone at Chico “want to see you succeed” and the all-round atmosphere from staff, tutors and other students are tailored to support you on your journey. You’ll be responsible for a lot of your own drive to achieve academically but it puts the power in your hands.
There is a feeling amongst students that the volleyball team are treated on a par with the bigger sports of football and basketball, which gives the opportunity for lasting relationships to built with a wider circle of people. The coaching staff don’t leave “any box unchecked” meaning students can excel on the court and in the classroom.
If you’re looking for a university program that puts you with like-minded players to develop strong rapport with then Florida State is worth a look. Not only will you be surrounded with “amazing” teammates but the wider college community is strong and, as a result, so is the fan base.
Clemson offers the opportunity to compete at a high level whilst residing in a smaller town, which means you get a glimpse of the adoration that could come your way if you kick on after college with the locals full of “pride and spirit”. From a school perspective, expect to be “taken care of” whilst receiving support in volleyball and your studies.
The reviews of Duke paint a pretty clear picture. Expect to be challenged as there is an “expectation of excellence” on the court and in the classroom. There is a feeling that the diversity of students helps you to “grow socially” whilst the overall balance at the school is one that leaves students feeling “inspired”.
If you’re looking for a college that expects you to lean your focus towards volleyball then Augusta could be a good fit as there are occasions when the coaching staff expect you to commit to the team over the academics. Striking the balance can be “mentally trying” but the opinion of the reviews are that the program ran by Sharon Quarles will set you up well for the long term.
Life at California, Davis is one that sees you form great relationships with the other athletes, whilst competing at the DI level is well respected in much wider circles. The funding awarded to the volleyball teams could be better but, all in all, you’ll play at a strong level and gain a “great education”.
Boston University is awash with positive reviews. The students and staff relationship has a “family” feel to it and, even though juggling athletics and sport is tough, you’ll be given the “best resources” to smash through any barriers you come across. When you come to graduate you’ll do so with “friends that will last forever” and “skills for the real world”.
SUNY might play in DIII but athletes should still expect a “very competitive” experience. Your teammates will probably become “friends for life” such is the nature of the athlete community at the college whilst the staff will “truly care” about your wellbeing throughout.
Heading to Winthrop University will give you a student athlete experience like few others. The school itself is a reasonable size and in a nice location with “great weather” but class sizes are kept small meaning you’ll “get to know” staff and other students well. This all feeds into a great “team environment”, which will become key as you face up to the challenging nature of balancing sport and study while competing at the DI level.
The women’s lacrosse program at Ohio State comes highly recommended by the former alumni of the school with the “athlete support system” and facilities receiving consistently impressive praise. The expectations are high though so you need to be sure the sporting side is definitely for you.
Campbell is one of the smaller schools you’ll find competing at the DI level. That has some pros and cons to it; you’ll find coaches have more time for you but respect from those away from the college won’t necessarily be the same as others in a lacrosse program receive. Time management will be a tough adaption for most but you can count on lots of help from staff and teammates.
Life in the lacrosse program at Duke comes with plenty of stress – both physically and mentally – as you adapt to being a student-athlete. What you do get from Duke though is a “push for excellence” and “state of the art” equipment and facilities.
While competing at the DI level there is a strong focus on academics and general personal growth at New Hampshire University. The coaching team still provide plenty of “support” if and when needed. Schedules will be tough but the trade off is the lasting “friendships” you’ll make.
Joining the lacrosse program at USC will put you in and around other athletes who are aiming for the top of their respective sports and sharing surroundings will serve to drive you. That said, it comes at a price with enormous demands of effort and time commitment. As tough as some hurdles might be you will at least have “world class” tutors to help you overcome them.
Endorsements don’t come much better than “life changing” but that’s what many think of the Men’s Lacrosse program at Ohio State. The facilities are as good as they come with the “commitment” of the staff and their desire to help you grow “as a person” regular themes across all reviews.
Stony Brook provides a fine split of academic and athletic development with the “care” and “tools” in place to help you succeed on both fronts. As a person, you’ll learn to deal with the ups and downs of life whilst building a support network of lifelong friends.
Head Coach Mike Murphy will treat you as an adult. What that means is that you’ll be provided everything you need to succeed at DI-level lacrosse as well as helping prepare you “for life”. It also means that you’ll get out what you put in with an onus on the student to pursue the opportunities that are available.
The coaching staff at Cornell are happy to provide “all the support in the world” to their students whilst the fact it’s a smaller school means the team spirit you build is generally very positive. The other thing the gets regular mentions is the fact the academic side uses a “one course at a time” style. It seems to help balance the study and athletic time.
The combination of DI lacrosse with a highly prestigious degree isn’t something all universities can brag about. Princeton can. In addition to that, you can expect to learn “valuable life lessons” and graduate as a “better person” —such is the excellence of the program. The only caveat is that you’ll need to knuckle down and work hard.
There is no doubting the level of competition you’ll face at Canisius with DI the height of college lacrosse. The campus community is one that lends itself to developing lasting relationships but some professors struggle to comprehend what goes in to being a student-athlete.
When you consider Brown compete in DI the approach to athletics is not as pressurized in some institutions. This does mean sports won’t be your main focus but, depending on your outlook, that may be a good thing with time management a big struggle for the wider student-athlete community.
The men’s lacrosse program at Notre Dame is an “incredible experience” but it can be a tough four years with the local area and whether a particular challenge. The “opportunities are endless” with a strong “alumni network” to support you through the tough times that will inevitably arrive. Regardless of long-term plans, you leave Notre Dame ready for the “real world”.
There is no questioning the academics of Boston University but the lacrosse program doesn’t scream glory with some feeling it is “inferior” to others who compete at the DI level, with the facilities taking a fair knocking.
When you look through the reviews coming the way of Yvette Healy’s softball program there are very few complaints. The university ticks standard boxes such as being a “beautiful” location, but it’s the “great facilities” and team closeness that is really bigged up by students who absolutely “loved” their time in Wisconsin.
Penn is a school that moves with the times in terms of facilities as they’re ever evolving to remain top drawer. From that base, the journey continues to be a good one for students with the level of competition praised whilst it comes across that all parties believe academics take priority over softball.
The entire community at Virginia Tech clearly has a “family” feel to it with staff particularly “helpful and nice”. The softball team doesn’t always feel like it gets the same levels of respect as other sports but the overall experience is “next level” and one that most students “wouldn’t trade”.
First and foremost Santa Barbara is a “phenomenal” location in which to spend your college years. It’s not all about living a great social life though with school and softball being balanced well by the “strong support staff”. The budget associated to athletics could be more handsome but if you enjoy an underdog story and want to “grow” then it’s well worth a visit.
The Hartford softball team is a “tightly knit” group where the coaches are truly “invested in the success” you go on to have. Some tutors fail to recognize the difficulty athletes have in marrying their studies and sport together but, all things considered, the “support system” is decent.
For starters, Boston College offers students the opportunity to study in a “great place” with the school and wider area deemed “beautiful”. On the softball front the staff are “wonderful” even though the facilities can be described as “lacking” compared to other DI outfits.
The main takeaway from the reviews of Loyola is that whilst you’ll enjoy a decent enough experience partaking in the softball program the time commitment means you may find you have “no life”. The lack of social time won’t hamper relationships too much though with “everlasting relationships” likely to be built with teammates.
Life at Berkeley is an eye opening experience with the “amazing spirit” on campus underpinned by a “ethnically, culturally, and academically diverse” population. The level of softball is extremely tough, which is seen as a positive, but there are question marks over the coaching team who seem “more worried about their win/loss record”.
“How do I get recruited?” It’s the question that every student-athlete has in their mind. The answer isn’t one that can be given in a single paragraph. Thankfully, our free pdf – The Definitive Guide to Getting Recruited has you covered so we suggest you seriously consider hitting that download button.
Whitewater is “world class”, “top notch”and “tremendous in every aspect”.
Here is a university that provides the opportunity to “make history” whilst academics and athletics are both “great”.
Chico provides a “cheap” alternative to a lot of colleges but you still get huge “support” from coaches and staff and a “high level” of competition.
A “great” all round experience with “close relationships” enhancing your time at university.
A “smaller school” that gives exposure to “elite level athletics” whilst setting you up for the real world.
The staff at Northern Illinois “truly care” about their students and coaches show you the utmost “respect”.
Strong coaching staff, “great facilities” and a winning mentality that will last beyond your college years.
The structure at Dartmouth helps with balancing academics and athletics and is a “great learning experience” with“amazing coaches”.
Provides a “once in a lifetime experience” at a school that is “out of this world”.
A “great experience” where the staff “really care” with a fantastic balance across sport, study and social life.
A “diverse campus” that aims to “push for excellence in sports” as you build “lifelong memories” and relationships.
As an athlete attending Merrimack you’ll be looked up to by others with the coaching team providing “great support” on your journey.
The community at USC is like a “family” whilst you also get the opportunity to partake in a “top ranked” academic program.
“The coaching staff is amazing” and will ensure you graduate well prepared for the “world of professional sport”.
Expect to find “loyal fans” that cheer you on in “competitive” leagues as your comfort zones are challenged.
Temple offers athletes brilliant facilities and equipment with the wider experience one that provides students the “perfect place” to grow as individuals.
The coaching team at Colgate are all about their players with an “unbelievable network of alumni” helping you in your ambitions to succeed.
An “affordable school” that lets you compete at the top level whilst making “lifelong friends”.
Bentley University is one that will encourage you to be the best you both in the classroom and in athletics.
Auburn provides a “family atmosphere” for its athletes that helps you overcome “obstacles” for a “rewarding experience”.
A “great” school offering “high-level academics as well as high-level athletics”.
There is “so much school spirit” surrounding the athletic programs at Virginia Tech with “good supporting staff”, which will result in a “great experience”.
The expectations at the University of Florida are huge for athletes but you’ll find a “great atmosphere” and excellent coaches that push you to become a “better athlete and individual”.
George Washington University offers the chance to compete in high level athletics whilst maintaining a “great balance of academics” in a brilliant location.
“The school loves sports” and offers a “world class education” to boot with plenty of “support” to see you through.
“Wake Forest is a special place” that gives athletes access to “good academics” alongside their sporting activity.
The fact Stony Brook is a “commuter school” hampers the social aspect of college life but you’ll receive caring coaching and “all the tools necessary to succeed”.
Athletes at Princeton are respected and given top of the range gear but are treated like any other student, which means excellence is “expected”.
Oberlin gives you access to a “quality education” and a “family” like community that helps keep you on the right track.
At Lake Forest you’ll find a “very close” athletic community with the overall plan intended to “set a foundation” for the long term.
Although the Recruit-HQ platform has a vast depth of reviews covering loads of colleges and sports, it’s feasible the combination of your chosen school and sport won’t feature. That’s not a choice made by us. If a current or former student-athletes leave a review then they will be posted for all to see. It makes the next step easy, doesn’t it? Whether your review is good, bad or indifferent leave it now because they all count and contribute to helping high school athletes find a college athletic program that they'll love.