At every high school there are casual athletes, serious athletes, and elite athletes. Almost all selective colleges value athletic experience, and most top high schools have extensive enough athletic programs that almost any student can make their way onto a team. If you’re not immersed in the arts or sciences, there’s no reason not to go out for a team and, if you like it, get serious about it. If you’re an elite athlete, however, you know who you are.
Elite athletes aren’t just starters or team captains. They are league MVPs. They make all-section or all-district teams. They play on high level club teams year round including summers. Some small Division III liberal arts colleges are happy to welcome merely serious athletes on to their teams, but to get recruited at a Division I school, you must be elite. (This is true of every school from USC and Penn State to Columbia and Brown.) For better or worse, these athletes have special avenues to get into college. (Keep in mind, the rationale is that many athletes with lower grades have lower grades specifically because they’ve spent so much time on sports!)
If you are a top-level high school athlete and considering being recruited, there are a number of things you need to do junior year. First of all, sign up on the NCAA website so you are official. Next, identify the names and address of college coaches at the schools which are of interest to you – they are high level in your sport, etc. Then, you will want to contact each coach with a letter and a resume so he/she knows you are interested. It pays to put together a stat sheet that has all the particulars (your height, weight, athletic awards, level of competition) along with your GPA, test scores and any other academic distinctions so coaches can see if you are going to be strong enough to pursue as an official recruit.