Sports in US Colleges

Posted on 4th May 2021

Whether you’re an elite athlete or an armchair spectator, there’s no denying that sports are a big deal in America. They’re just as big a deal in colleges – college sport is a pathway to the professional level, and college teams have just as many fans as do the pro teams.

“The student athlete experience in the US is unlike any other experience a young athlete could have,” says Holly Cram, former international field hockey player and Director of Aspire USA. “Its truly unique structure allows you to train and play at the highest level with world-class training facilities, support staff, cutting edge strength and conditioning, and all the high-performance tools needed to be the very best athlete you can be.”

But sport in college is about more than just aiming for the pinnacle: it also forms part of the fabric of campus, and playing at all levels is encouraged and respected.

Before I get all philosophical about the virtues of sport in general, let’s touch on the three main reasons an applicant to a US college might be thinking about sports.

1)    Getting a sports scholarship

If you’re very good at a particular sport, and think you might want to do it as a career, you might consider being recruited by a college team, and, hopefully, being paid for the privilege. Scholarships might cover all your tuition fees and expenses, with kits and flights to boot.

But don’t underestimate just how good you might need to be. “International students often underestimate the sporting level you need to be at in order to get scholarship funding at some of the top tier universities,” says Rob Thomas, Director of Sporting Elite USA. “To give an example at the higher end of men’s soccer, Duke University took a player from Scotland on a full scholarship in 2015. This player turned down a three-year pro contract with Celtic, due to the size of the scholarship and career opportunities outside of soccer that Duke could give later in life.”

Look at the students already on teams – and their achievements – to get an idea of the sort of level at which you might need to be playing. Consider the different sporting bodies and divisions (NCAA, NAIA, NJCAA), as not all offer scholarships, but might be at a more appropriate level for you.

If you are good enough, you need to think about not just which colleges offer scholarships, but also which ones are a good fit for you academically. Many colleges in Division 1 of the NCAA, for example, are also very strong academically, and you need to be able to cope with doing a degree whilst also playing sport all the time. As Rob says, “Coaches can choose student athletes from all over the world, so we strongly recommend that you have an open mind in order to maximise your opportunities and to make sure you get the right academic and sporting balance.”

2)    Being a recruited athlete, but without a sports scholarship

It’s also possible for a college team to offer you a place, but not offer you money. This is the case for NCAA Division 3 colleges, for example. But this isn’t just an option for wealthy athletes: it’s possible to get other forms of finance and academic scholarships as a result of being admitted to the college.

For example, NYU is a Division 3 college, so doesn’t offer sports scholarships. But if the coach really wants you on their team, that will have a strong influence on whether the college admits you, and then you might be in line for some financial aid.

Remember, though, that this means you still have to prove that you’re academic enough for the college itself – although you might get a little leeway (especially if the coach really wants you) it’s not going to be enough that you can skip your exams!

Contacting Coaches

If you’re going for a scholarship, or just want to be on the team, you need to contact coaches, because they are the people who will make the initial decision. You can’t just go emailing every coach in America, however, which is why many people will use a consultant who can contact the right coaches on your behalf (and hopefully tell you what the most likely outcomes are!) This is especially true of team sports, where you’ll have to produce a video and other evidence.

If you are going it alone, Sarah Borwell of TennisSmart has this advice: “Once you have a group of good-fit colleges, send a simple, concise email to the coach. Address them as coach, use the correct college name, and offer clear information regarding your level on sports and academics. Try not to say ‘I should be higher’ or ‘I’ve come close against better players’. Simply state the facts and show enthusiasm for their team.”

College websites often have expression of interest forms on their sports pages, so use that where possible!

3)    Mentioning sports to add value to your application

If you’re someone for whom sport is an important part of your life and background, but you don’t want to be recruited for the university’s team, that’s great too! The US application process is designed to tease out those parts of your background that describe who you really are, and sports can be a big part of this.

Sports say lots about you: you’re committed and passionate about something; you’re able to challenge yourself and carry on even when things are hard; you understand how to interact with other people in teams and in competition; you’re able to manage your time and conflicting priorities. These are things that colleges care about, and mentioning your involvement with sport in your activity list and essays can add value to your application.

Whichever route you take, sports are something that will stand you in good stead in life, not just at college. Even if you don’t turn pro, you’ll still benefit from an amazing college experience.

Holly sums it up: “Whether you turn professional, make the Olympics or simply improve yourself as an athlete, the collegiate system leaves no stone unturned. All the while you’re studying towards gaining a degree that will set you up for life after sport, sometimes in the most exclusive colleges in the world.”

Back To Blog »
Site Map | Terms | Safety | Privacy | Covid-19Web Design By Toolkit Websites