Athletic Scholarships: Everything You Need to Know

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First, it is important to understand what an athletic scholarship is. An athletic scholarship is financial aid awarded to a student-athlete by the university’s athletic department. These scholarships are awarded based on a student’s athletic ability and how he or she can contribute to a specific college or university’s team. It is usually the coach of the team in question who decides who will receive the scholarships and how many scholarships will be awarded.

Athletic scholarships can cover all or part of the tuition (full or partial scholarships) and even include a stipend, as being a student-athlete is often a full-time job with a rigorous schedule of studies, training, and competition.

How to get an athletic scholarship?

Students interested in an athletic scholarship abroad should not wait for their dream school to find them (like in a movie, you know?). Instead, it is important to be proactive and research universities to understand which ones you want to study at and which teams you would like to join.

First and foremost, it’s important to understand that, just as merit-based scholarships only select the best students, athletic scholarships look for high-achieving athletes. It is not enough to simply “be good” at a sport. You must be able to demonstrate an official practice record.

In addition to athletic performance, colleges are interested in your academic record. Do you have consistent grades? Do you attend classes properly? Are you as serious about school as you are about sports? This aspect is also critical, as the selected scholar-athlete must maintain an adequate GPA in academic studies to be able to renew the athletic scholarship during graduation abroad.

1. Scholar athletes tend to start early in their athletic careers

Generally speaking, high school is the time to hone and focus on the sport of your choice; that’s what you can excel at. Still, some students start playing a sport at a very early age. The earlier, the better. That’s the truth because the longer you have, the more practice and experience you get.

Playing the sport in high school exposes you to the possibility of being seen by college scouts as you advance in your athletic career. College recruiters routinely scour high schools around the world to recruit new talent.

If you join a specialty school or an official team participating in regional or national tournaments, you will have even more opportunities to demonstrate your skills to a recruiter.

2. Familiarize yourself with the rules of the country

One of the most challenging parts of the recruiting process is understanding how the country’s college divisions and competitions work. In the United States, the study destination that values sports the most and offers the most athletic scholarships, you still need to understand which division is best for you: National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) I or II. Division I is only for some; only a select few athletes compete at this level. Therefore, you need to do thorough research and understand how the system works to apply it more safely and assertively.

Although it is more common to use the United States as an example for athletic scholarships, other countries, such as the United Kingdom, offer this type of selection. 

3. Gather all the necessary documents

  1. Put together your sports resume before you start contacting colleges:
  2. Any competitions or practice videos that highlight your skills.
  3. Athletic statistics for your sport at the regional or national level, if applicable
  4. School records.
  5. Letters of recommendation written by coaches, teachers and trainers.
  6. Certificates of participation in tournaments and competitions.
  7. Your cover letter. Use the help of essay service authors to check your grammar if needed.

Once you have developed your athletic resume, now is the time to research and compile contacts for coaches, assistant coaches, and recruiting coordinators at the colleges you are interested in. During this phase of your recruiting process, check all your social media accounts to ensure you don’t have inappropriate content – coaches will scan all of your media as well!

4. Even with a scholarship, you must still be admitted to college

Regardless of your athletic ability, even if you have a verbal offer from a coach, you still need to complete college applications and go through the admissions process.

So pay attention to all academic requirements, application deadlines, and standardized tests. It also means that you will likely need an ACT or SAT score and an English proficiency test if these are part of the college selection process.

In some countries, such as the United States, in addition to college admission, college athletes who want to play NCAA Division I or Division II sports must register with the NCAA Eligibility Center. This process serves as a test of their athletic and academic standards.

5. Are you prepared to train A LOT?

Once admitted on an athletic scholarship, student-athletes balance their academic schedule with training, fitness, and competition, among other commitments intrinsic to the scholarship. For NCAA Division I athletes in the United States, that can add up to nine hours a day!

Maintaining a balanced schedule requires time management, commitment, discipline, and accountability. For example, you won’t be able to get a part-time job, and you’ll need to avoid partying the night before a game.

Examples of universities that offer sports scholarships:

  • University of Liverpool, UK.
  • University of Kent, UK
  • Trinity College Dublin, Ireland
  • Boston University, United States
  • Charles Sturt University, Australia

Where to find sports scholarships abroad?

The best source will always be the official one. Go directly to the websites of country governments and universities to find reliable information and contact details of recruiters. Australia, for example, has a page on the Australian Institute of Sport that brings together various sports scholarship opportunities offered by Australian universities.

The Education USA website, a network of counseling centers for international students interested in studying in the United States, suggests visiting the be Recruited and Athletic Scholarships website to search for your athletic scholarship at a U.S. university.

In the United Kingdom, your sport must be recognized by the Athletic Union and/or British Universities and Colleges Sport (BUCS). The athletic scholarship is offered directly by the British university or through a government program such as the Talented Athlete Scholarship Scheme (TASS) in England and Winning Students in Scotland.

Another important thing to check is whether the scholarship program accepts applications from international students or only from native speakers.

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