Every year colleges in the US give out tens of millions of dollars to thousands of students as athletics scholarships. Only a fraction receive a 'full-ride', covering all of their college costs. But many others receive a significant contribution. This guide will help you see if sport can be your ticket to a US education.
Athletic scholarships are widespread; they cover a range of sports and are offered to talented students as an incentive to attend a specific university.
Each athletic scholarship is governed by the rules of one of a few athletic associations - the main ones are the NCAA, NAIA, and the NJCAA (there’s links to each at the bottom of the guide). These associations oversee championships and enforce rules such as financial aid for athletes, recruiting, and determining athlete eligibility.
In order to get an athletic scholarship, you need to meet the academic requirements of the particular athletic association, as well as the sporting requirements for the colleges to which you are applying, which will vary from institution to institution depending on their interests and needs.
So how do you get on an athletic association’s radar to be considered for these scholarships?
People generally only receive an athletic scholarship for a sport they’ve been playing for a long time, with a multi-year track record of excellence. Maybe it goes without saying, but you need to be seriously good at your sport in order to stand a chance of getting a scholarship.
If you think this might be the path for you, start thinking early - like, three years before you’ll be applying to colleges early. If you’re hoping to get NCAA funding, the top tier of US athletics, you need to register on their eligibility portal two years before graduation.
Show off your skills
You need to show exceptional mastery of a sport, along with years of proven dedication to the sport. For US students, this can be done by inviting college coaches and scouts to come watch important games - or, if your school has a reputation for producing great athletes, they might be there already.
Thanks to the magic of the internet, all is not lost for international students. Get your friends, family, teammates, or coaches to help you put together a highlight reel demonstrating your skill.
Do some research
Not every university is going to be able to provide a scholarship for your chosen sport. All of the athletic divisions linked below offer scholarship search tools to help you discover which institutions are interested in recruiting in your sport.
Remember to look off the beaten path: there are many smaller universities who are eager to recruit students, and there are US universities on the hunt for players of sports you wouldn’t necessarily expect, like polo and rugby.
If there’s a university you love and you can’t figure out if they offer athletic scholarships, just ask! Reach out to the coaching team for the sport first, and if you can’t get hold of them, try the admissions or financial aid offices for the university.
Once you’ve narrowed it down, start reaching out directly to coaches in your sport to introduce yourself and send them your highlight reel. You’ll want to start doing this a year or even two years before you actually intend to apply. Talk about your athletic history, your goals for the future, and why you think their university could be the place to achieve them. Remember: this is the US, so be confident and don’t under-sell your abilities!
If your high school has a big sports program, there’s a chance international recruiters will be coming to take a look - ask your school if this is the case. If so, reach out to the recruiters as soon as you can to express interest in their university.
If you get an athletic scholarship...
First off, congratulations! But it’s also important to remember that athletics scholarships get renewed every year - so you need to make sure to maintain good academic standing so that you can stay on the team. They are not a free ticket to get a BA without doing any work: you’ll still need to complete the requirements of your degree, attend your classes, and do the same academic work as your classmates.
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