Young swimmers compete on club teams and may wish to continue their careers through college. Recruiting for collegiate swimming often starts on 1 July following the athlete's junior year of high school. That date marks the day that college coaches can contact athletes via phone to discuss possibly swimming for their team. After speaking with high school recruits via phone and email, college coaches are able to invite athletes on official recruiting trips, during which the recruits participate in a wide range of activities. Such activities include meeting the team members, attending classes, meetings, and athletic events in order to gain form an idea about what it might be like to attend that college. The trips are funded by the athletic department and are known as structured sales pitches designed to impress the student-athlete. Each student-athlete is allowed to take five official recruiting trips, each lasting no longer than 48 hours. Swimmers most often base their college decisions on how well they mesh with the existing team and coaching staff, the location of the school, the academic opportunities, and the cost of attendance.
Student-athletes must reach a certain standard of academic performance depending on which college they seek to attend. In some cases, the athletic department may have some control over who is admitted. Once admitted however, academic regulation and policies, such as mandated study hall and credit hours, are strictly enforced. Swimmers can choose from competing in Division I, Division II, Division III, Division IV, or the NAIA. Swimmers that choose to compete in Divisions I through IV adhere to the rules set by the NCAA.
The collegiate swimming season spans from mid-October to mid-March and ends with the NCAA Championship meet. Meets between two or three teams, known as dual meets or the latter as tri-meets, run throughout the season at collegiate facilities. Conference championships, usually lasting four or five days, include all teams in each conference and are usually held at larger aquatics facilities to accommodate spectators. Collegiate swimmers are eligible to compete in the NCAA championships for Division I, II, and III contingent upon swimmers meeting the qualifying time standards. The qualifying time standard for the NCAA Championships are based on the times that qualified for 16th and 24th place for the meets the previous three years.
The NCAA invites 235 male swimmers and 281 female swimmers to the competition each year based on the qualifying standards. There are two qualifying standards, “A” and “B”, where those qualifying with the “A” time standard are automatically invited to the championship. Then the next fastest swimmers with the “B” time standard are invited to keep each of the events even. This process is repeated until all of invite spots are filled.
The NCAA qualifying times varies across the different Divisions. The qualifying standards for the NCAA Championship meet can be found on the NCAA championships site.