There are over 1,000 NCAA institutions and they give out about $1 billion in sports scholarships each year. With so many sports scholarships available, you might think your chances of getting one are pretty good. But consider that only 2% of American high school athletes and even fewer international athletes get an NCAA scholarship. You can increase your chances of getting an athletic scholarship by making sure you know how to apply. Here is what you need to know to make sure you get the sports scholarship you deserve.
Don’t Sit Around Waiting to Get Recruited!
The biggest mistake that student athletes make is sitting around hoping that they will get noticed. College coaches don’t have the time or budget to visit every single town and country in search of talent. Yes, talent is important – but that talent must be brought to the attention of coaches!
It is up to you to make sure that coaches know who you are and what an asset you can be to the team. Expect to put a lot of work into representing yourself properly and contacting coaches directly.
Know the Requirements
No matter how good you are at your sport, you won’t be able to get a scholarship if you don’t meet the NCAA requirements. This includes requirements for age as well as academics.
Did you know that you are even required to take certain courses in high school, such as 4 years of English, 3 years of math, and 2 years of social science? Ideally, you enter high school with these courses in mind so you can shape your curriculum to meet the NCAA requirements. If you are already into your high school career, then be sure to fill in any gaps that you may be missing.
Here are some resources to make sure you know and meet NCAA requirements:
- NCAA Eligibility Center (you will need to register with them!)
- NCAA Guide for the College Bound Student Athlete (eBook download that costs $11)
Also note that you must be accepted to the college. For example, a college coach may promise you a scholarship, but this is contingent on you getting into the college. Some schools have very high academic standards, so make sure you research the schools’ admission rates and the average GPA and SAT scores of accepted students.
Get Your PR Pack in Order
Again, we must emphasize that it isn’t enough to be talented. If you want a sports scholarship in the USA, you’ve got to bring this talent to the attention of college coaches. How do you do this? By creating a PR pack to represent yourself as a student athlete. Here is what you will need for your PR pack:
- CV: This will include information like your team, position, achievements, experience, and personal stats. Your coach or recruitment specialist can help you make your CV.
- Sports highlight video: This is a professionally-made HD video which showcases your skills
- Academic records and test results: Yes, academics do matter for getting sports scholarships. It isn’t enough to meet the minimum NCAA requirements. You’ve also got to make sure your grades are good enough to get into the college.
- Letters of recommendation: Such as from your coach or coaches at camps you’ve attended
- Personal Statement: You will need to write a personal statement for applying to the college
Learn Recruitment and Signing Dates
Did you know that the NCAA has very strict rules about when college coaches are allowed to contact and sign up student athletes? The rules change frequently, so make sure you know them. Otherwise, you might miss a window of opportunity for getting a scholarship.
There are two calendars you need to know: Recruitment calendars and National Letter of Intent signing dates.
NCAA Recruitment Calendar:
Look at the NCAA Recruitment Calendar to learn about the rules. In general, the NCAA prohibits college coaches from contacting high school students before September 1st of the athlete’s Junior year. This doesn’t mean you can’t reach out to coaches before then though!
National Letter of Intent (NLI) Signing Dates:
College coaches can give verbal promises to student athletes, but these don’t mean anything. What really matters is signing the National Letter of Intent (NLI). This is a formal agreement between the prospective student and the institution which states:
- A prospective student-athlete agrees to attend the institution full-time for one academic year
- The institution agrees to provide athletics financial aid for one academic year
Once you sign a National Letter of Intent with a college, you have committed yourself to that school. You cannot withdraw from the NLI and sign with another school. There is an early signing date (usually in November of the Junior year), and a regular signing period in April of the Senior year. Go to the National Letter of Intent website to learn more.
Just because college coaches are not officially allowed to sign up student athletes before a certain date (typically November of the Junior year), that doesn’t mean you should wait until then to get coaches’ attention. Many top Division 1 coaches have already filled many slots during the NLI early signing period. If you wait until the regular signing period, there might not be many slots left.
Here is a timeline what you should be doing to secure yourself a college sports scholarship:
- Freshman Year: Familiarize yourself with NCAA eligibility rules, especially if you are an international student and may need to meet certain academic course requirements.
- Sophomore Year: This is when you should get really serious about finding an athletic scholarship. Get your PR pack in order and send it to coaches at schools you are interested in along with a letter of introduction. You can work on improving your visibility in other ways too, like attending soccer camps in the USA which are attended by coaches of top schools.
- Junior Year: This is the most important year for getting a sports scholarship in the USA. Update your PR pack and send it to coaches with a letter about your achievements since you last wrote them. Visit colleges and meet the coaches. Don’t be passive and by the end of your Junior year, you should start getting contacted by coaches.
College coaches can’t contact you during the NCAA “Dead” and “Silent” periods, but you can contact them. Just make sure to include your coach’s contact info (or the contact info of the scholarship recruiting agency you are using). This is a loophole to the rules: the coach can’t respond to you directly, but can communicate with you through your coach or the scholarship recruiter.