Trying to answer this question really depends on each situation as well as the sport. Basketball and football are among the biggest sports at the college level but their process of finding prospective athletes is much different. Regardless of how they hear about you, it is important for you as an athlete to get your name in front of the college coach so that they are at the least aware of you.
I know for a fact that some Division I college football programs start with a database of athletes that is over 5,000 prospective players. Like I have said before, if you get a form letter from the big school in your state, keep that in perspective that you may be one of thousands of athletes receiving the exact same thing. From there, the college coaches work to eventually break that down but it is important to be on that initial list. So how does one get on that list in the first place? Really there are a lot of different ways but here are some of the ways that help:
*Have a helpful high school coach (CLICK HERE FOR A PREVIOUS ARTICLE ON THIS) – College coaches know that they can use high school coaches as a very helpful resource in the recruiting process. If your coach is established and has made a lot of contact with colleges, he will likely be giving those coaches the name of juniors that are serious prospects and possibly younger players to keep an eye on in the future (In football, this normally happens in the spring when college coaches are making the rounds at high school). Again, this does depend on situation to situation but most good high school coaches are active in the recruiting process and want to help their athletes get to the next level.
*Be an All Stater – There is no other way to put this out there than make sure that you are named All State as a sophomore or a junior (In most cases, earning the honor as a senior may be too late to really help recruiting). College coaches may have their graduate assistants scouring the Internet to find All State lists for other areas outside of their own. Once they get the lists, they may pull the juniors, sophomores, and even freshmen off and put them into a recruiting database. This may sometimes work for All Conference lists but unless you play in a very competitive and large conference, most really big schools won’t take the time to do this. Smaller schools may, but it is unlikely that Division I programs will be looking for second team All Conference selections in small conferences.
*Make them aware of your ability (CLICK HERE FOR A PREVIOUS ARTICLE ON THIS) – I have written on this a great deal and spent time saying how important it is to make college coaches aware of what you have accomplished in your sport of choice. My recommendation is to read the article I linked as well as read up on this website. That should really help in understanding how vital this is to the recruiting process.
*AAU/Camps/Showcases/Travel Teams/Other - Obviously this site does focus on basketball and football but this also applies to baseball (Showcases), volleyball (Club teams), and soccer (Travel teams). Anyways, for hoops, playing on an AAU team is a very important time for you to get your name out there. I really have not touched on this much but this time (Even for volleyball and soccer on the travel teams) is essential to have college coaches see you in action in front of other top notch players. If you play at a small school, this is your chance to prove that you can play against a higher level of competition than you play at during the regular season. I have seen basketball players have a great weekend and end up with a scholarship because he played well on the right weekend. And I have also seen outstanding basketball players not get a chance to earn a scholarship because they were unable to afford the price tag to play. Trust me in saying that for Division III coaches, it is easier for them to recruit a player who has not traveled the country playing AAU basketball. The more times you play in front of college coaches, the more opportunity it is to impress them.
*Football Camps/Combines - Because I went so in depth on basketball and the travel teams, I thought I would make a special point regarding football players. The camps and combines are a very good way to get your name out. Speaking of another topic I should write about, combines are something that I have some serious feelings about. If you are paying for a combine, then there is a good chance that you are getting ripped off. The Nike Combine that travels across the country does a fantastic job of getting you in front of college coaches as well as publishing your results once finished. And more important than anything, it is free and anyone can attend. Some of the other combines that charge over $50 in just about every case are something I would not recommend. As far as camps go, getting to college camps are a good way to get your name out there. More than anything, it may be that you need to get there before your final summer of high school football. That way, the colleges have your name and should have already established a relationship if you have the ability to play at that level.
Another note to make about the college camps is that at most Division I-A football camps, there are Division I-AA, II, and even III coaches there. So even if you may not have what it takes to play at the big University, it might be a good time to speak with the coaches at smaller schools. This is when it is important to be realistic about your abilities, which is not an easy thing to do.
*Rivals.com- When the Internet first started to blowout, people considered a site like Rivals.com something that only recruiting junkies would follow. But it has become something that college coaches use as a serious resource. With offer lists, recruiting articles, and video on the top prospects across the country, this is a huge way for college coaches to find prospects that could be good enough at a high level. There are obviously other options outside of Rivals but that site is the most consistent when updating profiles and recruiting information on athletes. They are also teamed with the Nike Combines that were mentioned above.
*Other scouting services- This one is more of a general category and I don’t really know how serious the coaches take this but there are other scouting services and recruiting services that you pay for that send your name to college coaches. But when a coach gets a list of hundreds of players, I am not exactly sure how serious they are going to recruit these athletes. I am not too high on recruiting services to be honest.