Colleges have turned to social media in search of scholarship athletes.

When Rachel Cho decided at the beginning of her senior year of high school in British Columbia to pursue a collegiate running career in the United States, she hadn’t even heard of Nova Southeastern University in Florida.

Less than six months later, she accepted a scholarship offer to the Division II school more than 3,000 miles away.

The school and athlete got connected in what has become an increasingly popular fashion, by using the website Like a form of online dating to connect interested athletes and schools, beRecruited has brought efficiency to what had been an overwhelming process.

“I saw that they looked at my profile, and that’s how it all started,” Cho said. “It really streamlined the process. I’m not the most exceptional athlete you’ll see, but I was good enough for Division II. Most people think it’s hard to get recruited because there are so many athletes out there. This does make it a lot easier.”

Many elite athletes, especially in higher-profile sports like football and basketball, still get recruited the old-fashioned way, through tournaments, relationships between coaches and schools, and in-person scouting.

But internet recruiting services are a boon to athletes in sports like swimming, volleyball, and track, as well as those seeking opportunities to play football or basketball at smaller schools.

“We are for the 99 percent, not the 1 percent,” said Vishwas Prabhakara, the CEO of beRecruited.

Founded by former Duke swimmer Ryan Spoon in 2000 as an attempt to streamline recruiting in swimming and diving for athletes and coaches, the service expanded to other sports and has been growing rapidly since.

The site serves athletes and coaches in 31 sports and has more than 1 million registered users. There are more than 500,000 current high school athletes on the service, with the growth going from about 85,000 members of the class of 2009 to more than 200,000 athletes graduating high school this year.

There are athletes from more than 80 percent of all U.S. high schools using the service, and about two-thirds of college coaches are registered.

The growth has been fueled in part by the fact that registration for athletes is free, compared to the hundreds, or even thousands, of dollars some recruiting services charge. Students can pay $60 to find out what coaches have looked at their profile.

“It was a really great way to communicate to colleges and see which ones look at me, instead of me just reaching out to college coaches,” said Nikki Bond, a basketball player from Vancouver, Wash., who will play next season for Corban University in Oregon.

“It made it simple. It’s hard to talk to college coaches all the time on the phone. You can take 10 minutes out of the day and see every single coach who bookmarked or looked at your page. It’s a faster and simpler way to get recruited.”

With so many athletes having used the service successfully so far, the site is able to give out advice about how best to go about the recruiting process.

The biggest lessons are to put profiles up early and update them frequently with results, video, and any other pertinent information.

“It won’t do your work for you,” said Jake Prodoehl, a swimmer from Pewaukee, Wis., who will attend Miami of Ohio in the fall. “You need to be committed throughout the whole thing. You can’t wait and sit back for schools to come to you. It’s hard for kids my age to approach big college coaches, but it has to happen. Staying up to date with your profile is so important. When you see a coach has looked at your profile, you have to touch base with them or nothing will happen.”

The service is also extremely helpful to coaches, who are able to recruit wider areas despite shrinking recruiting budgets.

For Kevin Licht, the cross country coach at NAIA Roosevelt University in Chicago, it was essential when he took over a program at a school that reinstated intercollegiate athletics in 2009.

“Part of the challenge we faced was getting in front of kids,” Licht said. “They didn’t know us. We had to cast a wide net in pulling kids not only from the Chicago area but across the country. The first recruit I signed was from San Diego.”

More than half of his team was discovered through beRecruited, with athletes coming from Georgia, Arizona, Texas, Missouri, Michigan, and California, as well as the Chicago area.

“This has really helped us build our brand,” Licht said. “This is unheard of, to have a database of end consumers sitting there waiting for your call. Typically, it’s the other way around. I have to seek out the customer. Here thousands of customers are waiting for your call. It’s a great site.”

For Rick Younger, a volleyball coach at Butler Community College, the site has helped differentiate his program from the nearly 20 junior colleges in Kansas he competes against.

Since starting to use the service, he has been able to supplement in-state athletes with others from Colorado, California, and Texas to remain competitive in his conference.

He has the site on his cell phone and home computer and is constantly checking it to see what athletes are checking out his program.

“I always joke and call us bottom feeders,” Younger said. “The big boys will get their stuff. We generally have to deal with Division II, the NAIA, and the other community colleges. The database they have is tremendous. It has allowed us to fill holes in the program and compete in our conference.”

One facet college coaches like best is the ease with which they can communicate directly with the students and their parents without having to go through club or high school coaches.

“You can contact the kid directly,” said Jim Brewer, cross country and track coach at Concordia College in California. “They’re putting out there that they want to be recruited. It’s frustrating when you hear from coaches that they don’t have kids good enough. You can’t limit kids’ potential. Sometimes a kid no one is talking to has the desire to succeed.”