If you are a talented student athlete, then a sports scholarship can be your ticket to study and play in the United States. Depending on your sport and level, you may have numerous scholarship opportunities open to you. Yes, the entire process can be confusing and overwhelming, which is why we have broken it down into these steps for you.
1. Start Early!
Don’t wait until your senior year of high school has begun to start looking for scholarship opportunities. By then, many college coaches have already signed players to their teams. The earlier you get started, the better your chances are of winning a spot. You will also have more time to fix issues which could hinder your chances of getting a scholarship, such as your grades or athletic weaknesses.
2. Get a Professional Assessment
Your local coach is a valuable resource and he/she can tell you a lot about your ability. But, ultimately, your coach isn’t the best person to assess you. Your coach may not have a lot of experience with college-level athletes, and his/her opinion may also be biased after working with you for so long. You are much better off spending the money to have a professional sports assessment. During the assessment, you can learn valuable information such as:
- What type and division of scholarship you should aim for
- What your chances are of getting a scholarship
- What your strengths and weaknesses are
- What you need to work on now if you want to land a scholarship
3. Research Eligibility Rules
There are 3 main organizations which give out sports scholarships in the United States: the NCAA, NAIA and NJCAA. Each organization has its own rules about eligibility. For example, you are required to take certain types of classes in order to be eligible to play with the NCAA. You wouldn’t want to get halfway through your senior year only to realize you are missing vital classes! There are also rules about your grades, so you may need to improve your grades in order to be eligible for a scholarship.
4. Make a Recruiting Packet
Contrary to what many young athletes think, it isn’t enough to be good at your sport if you want to land a sports scholarship in the USA. It is up to you to reach out to coaches and show them why you’d be a valuable asset to their team. To do this, you need to make a recruiting packet.
The recruiting packet contains:
- A cover letter (adapted to each coach you contact)
- Your CV
- Your unofficial transcript
- Your highlights video
Of these 4 things, the highlights video is probably the most difficult for students to do on their own. If you have a friend who has a good HD video camera and is savvy with editing, then you might be able to do it this way. Otherwise, you will likely need to hire a service which puts together recruiting highlight videos for student athletes.
5. Make a List of Schools You Want to Attend
There are thousands of colleges and universities in the United States which give out sports scholarships. You can’t apply to them all. Once you have an idea of what division you should be aiming for, find out what schools offer your sport in this division. This can be done easily by going to the NCAA, NAIA or NJCAA websites, clicking on your division, and then the area for “participating schools.”
Remember that you will first be a student, and then an athlete. When choosing a school, you will need to look at factors like:
- Where the school is located
- The costs of the school (don’t count on a full ride scholarship during your first year!)
- Whether they offer your major
- Average SAT or ACT scores of students (more about SATs and ACTs here)
Note that, even if the coach offers you a sports scholarship, it is still up to the school to decide whether to admit you or not. If your grades are poor, for example, then you might not get accepted. This is why it is also important to look at the academic scores of students going to the school and see how you compare. If you aren’t the best student, don’t expect to get into Harvard – even if you are a great athlete!
6. Contact Coaches
Once you have your list of schools that you are interested in, it is time to start contacting coaches. You can find the contact info for the coaches at the school website. Send your recruiting packet to them, making sure to personalize the cover letter so you emphasize why you want to go to that particular school, and why you’d be a good fit for that particular team. Do not send the exact same cover letter to every single coach!
There are some strict rules about when coaches are allowed to contact student athletes, and they usually can’t contact you until your senior year. However, there is a loophole in the rules: coaches can contact you through your local coach or a scholarship recruiting agency. So, be sure to include the contact info for your coach or the agency you are using!