It's important to understand that before the travel team circuit blew up, colleges would make money by hosting instructional camps. Now, most schools with the exception of major D1 programs have stopped offering instructional camps in favor of prospect days.
Prospect days are a way to pay the assistant coaches a little bit of extra money. If the prospect day is $75 and there were only 60 kids there, it wasn't a huge money maker for the program and they were more focused on watching the kids on campus compete. If it is a two day event with 150 kids at $445 a piece then they are trying to make some extra money.
If you've been out at any tournament or any camp over the last couple of summers, chances are your contact information has been acquired or shared with college coaches who will invite you to their prospect day because they are trying to fill the event. Just because you are invited to a prospect day via email doesn't mean you are actually someone they are interested in having on campus.
It is important that you discuss the prospect day invite with your club and high school coaches before attending. It is their job to help you. Don't try to make these decisions on your own. There is a financial commitment that must be made to attend. You really don't want to go to a prospect day if you're not an appropriate fit for the school. It can be waste of time and money that can be better off used elsewhere.
However, if the prospect day is a $100 fee, the travel is reasonable, and you're not going to show up to your next larger event tired, attending a D1 prospect day can be useful from an information gathering standpoint.
People that go to prospect days are interested in that school. You'd be competing with and against other potential Michigan recruits for example. The coaches will compare you against those players to help them make a more refined list. If you're an attackman who goes to a D1 prospect day and cannot beat any defender there 1v1, you're probably not a D1 attackman. Conversely, having a great day at prospect day does not mean the school will be interested in you nor does it mean you are a D1 recruit. But by putting yourself in that environment you leave with a better understanding of who you are as an athlete.
Players also get to closely interact with all coaches from that school which is much different than an assistant coach seeing you play at a tournament game. All coaches will be able to form an in person opinion about your game. The flip side of that is you may discover you actually don't like the head coach and are no longer interested in the lacrosse program regardless of what may come of prospect day results.
D1 prospect days can offer a little more bang for your buck because local D2 and D3 schools might attend. The expectation is that 60-100 kids might be there and they can't all be D1 kids.
We have heard some frustration with parents following prospect day weekends.
Do you have to go to a prospect day? It depends on who you are as an athlete.
If you're a potential D1 athlete, you need to be out at prospect days to show coaches that you are interested in their school. Pittsburgh lacrosse players aren't competing for ACC and Big Ten roster spots. Very few players around the country are at that level. So, that leaves the rest of the country trying to battle for roster spots at Ivy League, Patriot League and low tier D1 programs. The sooner that you are seen by these coaches, the better chance you'll give yourself.
Side note 1: If you're a 2020 that didn't play in front of college coaches, you are behind.
Side note 2: If you're a 2019 that doesn't have film from the spring or this summer by late August, you're not serious about the recruiting process.
Timing becomes an issue when so many players are attempting to secure so few roster spots. So if you think there is a chance you're a D1 athlete (reminder there are only a handful coming from Pittsburgh every year), you need to be financially prepared to attend prospect days.
The majority of D2 and D3 schools aren't even going to have them and may never have them. If you're a 2019 or 2020, don't worry about attending a D2 or D3 prospect day because early recruiting isn't moving that fast at those levels. Is it going to help or hurt if you decide to attend? No.
A couple of parents have expressed frustration with the prospect day experience. Wouldn't you rather compete and know you're not a D1 athlete? The other option is to stay home wondering, wishing and blaming everything on being from Pittsburgh. There will always be kids who have great showings at prospect days and don't get offers. Just like there will always be kids who make all star games at camps and tournaments.