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My favourite memory has to be my first college soccer game, I was so privileged and excited to represent the university and surrounding community. ...
Meet Jordan Ladbrooke
at Northeastern State University
There are many opportunities to play sports at universities in the US. University sports programmes are offered at the varsity (organised competition between universities) and the intramural or club (participation-oriented, less competitive) level. While no scholarships are offered for participation in sports at the intramural or club levels, some universities offer sport scholarships at the varsity level to students who are academically-qualified for admission and very gifted in a particular sport.
Below, please find an overview of sports scholarships, as well as information on athletic associations, eligibility requirements and the recruitment process. For comprehensive information on sports scholarships, as well as more detailed information on recruitment, please download Fulbright's Sports Scholarships handout or have a look at this Sports Scholarship powerpoint.
The process by which a student athlete is considered for a sport scholarship can be a lengthy and unfamiliar one for international students. Unlike academic scholarships whereby one simply submits an application indicating an interest in receiving funding to study at a university, students must engage in a highly-regulated recruitment process.
Sport scholarships are granted by the university athletic department. Athletic directors and coaches play a central role in award decision-making. Scholarships are generally awarded for the following sports: baseball, basketball, crew (rowing), cross-country, fencing, football (American), golf, gymnastics, ice hockey, indoor track, lacrosse, skiing, soccer, softball, swimming and diving, tennis, track and field, volleyball, water polo, women’s field hockey and wrestling.
Scholarships are provided on a yearly basis, generally renewable for four years, the normal time required to complete a US undergraduate degree. Award amounts vary and can be anywhere from a few thousand dollars to full funding.
Importantly, while playing for a college team on scholarship can pay for the cost of earning an undergraduate degree, you do not attend university solely to play your sport. Students with sports scholarships must be working toward an undergraduate degree (in any field offered by the university). There are no degrees in sports themselves, but students whose main interest is in sports can often take a degree in exercise science, physical therapy or a related field.
Athletic associations govern college sports and set rules regarding scholarships and athletic recruitment. There are a number of associations that colleges or universities can join, most notably:
Students hoping to be considered for a sports scholarship must meet normal university/college admissions requirements and continue to obtain satisfactory grades at university in order to receive and retain their scholarships. The athletic associations set their own minimum academic requirements, including minimum admissions test scores, for competing students:
National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA)
National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA)
National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA)
High school student athletes in the US are somewhat at an advantage to international students hoping to obtain a sport scholarship. They will likely have had some level of exposure to college and university coaches at local, regional and national competitions before the recruitment process begins. Their US-based coaches may have contacts within university programmes and university scouts may be tracking their progress in the news or at competitions. Therefore, engaging in the recruitment process to pursue their sport at the collegiate level can be somewhat more straightforward and will certainly start earlier than for an international athlete.
That said, every year talented international students are successful in receiving scholarships in a variety of sports at a wide range of US universities every year. The important thing to remember, whichever avenue you choose to take to engage in the recruitment process, is that the earlier you start and the more time you put in, the more likely you are to achieve your goal.
International student athletes have a few options available to them once they decide that they would like to be considered for a sport scholarship to study in the US:
For a list of sport scholarship agencies in the US, you may wish to do a Google search or consult one of the organisations listed on our Resources page or a relevant exhibitor at our annual USA College Day event.
"College Day proved imperative for me in securing my place at Northeastern. I built an invaluable link with an international admissions officer and later the soccer coaches which led to me being recruited as a student-athlete. Without College Day these links would not have been made, and I most probably would not be heading to Northeastern this August!" - Sam, Northeastern University
For comprehensive information on sports scholarships, as well as more detailed information on recruitment, please see our Sports Scholarships handout.