3 December 2021
5  min.

Many high school athletes want to pursue their hobbies and careers while attending U.S. colleges. Others who have never been involved in sports before are planning to start doing sports and playing for university teams. It is not surprising that many applicants entering U.S. HEIs ask questions on sport’s potential effect on their study, life, and even financial state of affairs. It is a big topic for discussion but let’s answer the ten most common and hot ones.

Is it worth going in for sports during your study in U.S. HEIs when the workload is high and so little free time?
To go in for sports or not depends on the capabilities, preferences, interests of each person. Academic achievement is a priority, and sport can positively impact learning. First of all, it helps to improve health and well-being and may have a beneficial effect on emotional state, mental health, relieve stress. Athletes take an active part in the life of the university and society and communicate with friends. Finally, sport brings students together and teaches them to manage their time and develop leadership skills.

What are sport scholarships? What are their sizes?
Sports scholarship is a merit-based scholarship established on students’ sport potential, talent, and achievements. A single sports scholarship depends upon which sport student plays and may range from a few thousand dollars to the cost of study for one academic year. There are so-called headcount sports where you will likely get a full scholarship or a “full-ride”, including the following six sports: football, men’s basketball, women’s basketball, women’s gymnastics, volleyball, and tennis. In equivalency sports, the coach tends to divide a set number of scholarships among several athletes. Students are more likely to get partial funding if they are in baseball, crew (rowing), cross-country, fencing, golf, gymnastics, indoor track, lacrosse, skiing, soccer, softball, swimming and diving, track, water polo, women’s field hockey, and wrestling, (although there may be exceptions).

What is the difference between intramural, extramural, varsity, and intercollegiate sports?
Intramural sports are recreational sports organized within a particular educational institution. The purpose of Intramural sports is to provide an opportunity for all students, faculty, staff members at a college or university to participate in some sports activity as their time, interest, ability permit. It is unlikely that students involved in intramural sport can earn substantial sports financial awards, but micro-scholarships ($1,000 – $12,000) are available at some schools. Extramural, intercollegiate, or varsity sports are the ones where players represent their school in competition with other colleges/universities at the highest level. Students involved in these types of activities have the biggest chances of receiving significant athletic financial aid.

What is the role of coaches and admission offices in students’ enrollment?
The coach plays a tremendous role in the decision-making process in students’ scholarships. Students will need to contact admission office staff to learn more about the admission requirements for your particular school. They will also have to check the rules (SAT scores, GPA, a list of courses taken at a high school) set by the athletic association that your school is a member of. The athletic director and other athletic department employees may help applicants clarify any questions related to the conditions of getting and maintaining sports scholarships.

Does an academic performance matter at all while a student studying in a U.S. university with an athletic scholarship?
It is hard balancing sports and studying, but it is the student’s responsibility to maintain an acceptable academic performance (GPA, courses, etc.) to maintain a scholarship. Students are to work towards a certain academic undergraduate degree. Theoretically, a student can choose any field of study offered by a school, but sports activities (up to 40 hours per week) might limit students’ choice of majors and push them towards less difficult ones. Students should also be aware that there is no bachelor of science in sports degree, but sports-related fields, such as exercise science, physical therapy, etc.

What are other organizations involved in sport regulating sports scholarships?
The United States has a long history of non-profit associations intended to regulate sports scholarships and supervise college athletes and throughout the country. They vary in terms of their size, structure, goals, and funds. Students’ chances of getting scholarships depend on which association the school of interest is a member of. There are three main associations students-athletes should need to know:

The National College Athletic Association (NCAA) – https://www.ncaa.org is a non-profit organization that regulates athletes of 1,100 colleges and universities.

National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) – https://www.naia.org is a governing body of athletics programs offered by most small private colleges. It has about 249 member organizations offering fewer sports but fewer recruitment restrictions compared to NCAA schools.

National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) https://www.njcaa.org is another governing organization including two-year schools, which are junior and community colleges. It includes 525 schools in 24 regions.

What is the difference between the three divisions of those organizations in terms of getting sports scholarships?
U.S. colleges and universities decide on their own which associations and divisions they wish to become a member of based on the resources available and objectives they pursue. One school may be affiliated with Division I in one sport while being a member of a different division in another sport. Divisions are determined by the size of the student body, athletic budget, number of sporting teams and fans, etc. Divisions I and II give sports scholarships. The teams of Division I are the most prestigious and the richest in high qualified students-athletes, and sports scholarships. Division II has perhaps fewer sports scholarships and fewer sports teams than Division I schools. Division III schools do not provide sports scholarships but are very generous in the distribution of any other types of financial aid (need-based, merit-based) to qualified athletes’ students. More information on the differences between divisions is available on the pages of the respective associations and schools.

What are Eligibility Centers?
NCAA, NAIA, and NJCAA regulate sports scholarships and set requirements for student-athletes to meet to apply and get scholarships. Eligibility Centers are part of respective organizations that certify whether prospective college athletes are eligible to play sports at Division I or II institutions. All student-athletes wishing to participate in Division I and II have to register, meet requirements, and get certified by the Eligibility Centers of respective associations. Read NCAA Eligibility Center guide http://fs.ncaa.org/Docs/eligibility_center/Student_Resources/CBSA.pdf and https://www.njcaa.org/eligibility/2020-21/index to learn about the registration process, sports included in specific divisions, documents, standards, and many other terms one needs to know when applying for sports scholarships.

What are steps towards getting sports scholarships students should do?
The application process for sports scholarships is long, multifaced, and complex. Below are some basic steps students need to complete on their ways towards the goal.

Step 1: Self-assessment. The students should take some time to evaluate their sporting talents and academic performance to identify strengths and weaknesses and be honest with themselves.

Step 2: Research options available. After defining specific priorities, students can look at the search tools on the CollegeBoard or CollegeView websites to make a preliminary list of colleges and universities that meet their requirements and offer scholarships for their sports. The next step is to search for further information on each school’s athletic department’s web page to learn more about their financial aid, recruiting policy, coach contact information, information on the sporting association they belongs to.

Step 3: Preparing applications. Students should produce a one-page athletic resume that includes a summary of their sporting accomplishments and information regarding academic performance. Getting reference letters from current and previous coaches and posting a video on YouTube showcasing students’ performance and skills is an essential part of the process.

Step 4: Finding a coach. Exploring the websites of individual schools to learn about their admission requirements is crucial. Students should write letters to coaches showing their interest in a particular sport, team, and the university programs they want to apply to. It is crucial to regularly check emails and answer quickly if a coach asks to provide additional information.

Step 5: Getting to know the rules. The student should carefully read the information regarding eligibility rules, restrictions, as well as all of the procedures related to applying for sports awards available for international students. The rule varies from association to association and depends upon the division (I or II or III) students wish to join. All associations publish guides explaining their policies and publish additional information clarifying their rules to international students.

Can students apply for sports scholarships on their own or use the recruiting agencies’ services?
Students may find the application process for sports scholarships to be vague, overwhelming, and confusing. Students will have to spend a lot of time corresponding with U.S. schools, reading hundreds of pages of related information, and working hard preparing application documents. Some students prefer to do that on their own and complete the process successfully while others may accept the service of recruiting organizations. Such organizations usually consist of former coaches and athletes and charge for their services. EducationUSA Russia cannot give any recommendations in terms of agencies for ethical reasons.

Start your journey to gain admission to U.S. colleges and universities with EducationUSA Russia — an official and reliable source of information on U.S. higher education.
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Contact us at adviser@educationusarussia.org if you have any questions on the topic discussed today or any other higher education opportunities in the U.S.