Athletic scholarships

Athletics are an important aspect of American campus life. Many universities offer a variety of athletic scholarships to talented undergraduate students who excel academically as well as athletically. The requirements for these scholarships are complex and tied to many rules and regulations. It can take up to a year and a half to prepare for these funding opportunities. The following tips may be helpful during this process:

  • There are several Dutch for-profit intermediary organizations that can help you find a spot and an athletic scholarship at an American university. You can get the same results through meticulous research, but if you still prefer the assistance of an intermediary organization, always make sure to look into the organization’s results in your particular sport. Are they able to connect you with an athlete who has previously found a scholarship and placement? How many offers did this athlete receive? How much funding did they receive, and which costs remained? Also remember to inquire about the rewards system. Do you pay a fee to the organization, and how much? Or does the university cover the fees? And if so, what are the effects on your freedom of choice?
  • All athletic scholarships are awarded for the duration of one academic year. Coaches can nominate candidates for an extension, but there is no guarantee that you will receive funding for four years.

Athletic associations

Universities can join athletic associations. These athletic associations set the rules regarding scholarships and athletic recruitment. Universities cannot be a member of more than one association and division per sport, but are free to join different associations for different sports. Each athletic association will have its own eligibility criteria for international students. Below you can find more information on these criteria. You will have to register with the correct athletic association as well as applying to the university as a regular student. You will still need to meet the university’s admission criteria. The largest athletics association is the NCAA. There are several smaller associations.


National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA)

This important athletics association knows three divisions:


NCAA Division 1

Larger state universities and private universities with significant basketball or American football programs are members of this division. Universities need to meet several requirements in order to participate in this division, the most important one being that the university offers at least six sports, of which two are played at the highest possible level. These matches need to be regional or national. American students usually don’t need to search for scholarships in this division but will be nominated by coaches who search for athletic achievements of high school students in electronic databases.


NCAA Division II

Smaller state universities are often a member of the second division. They offer a smaller selection of sports and need to offer at least four sports in which teams play matches against other university teams. There are fewer scholarships available for American football players available in this division, but for other sports, the differences between division I and II are minimal. Coaches working in this division also actively search for new members for their teams, but usually don’t consult electronic databases. Coaches usually visit American high schools and community colleges to discover potential new talent.


NCAA Division III

Smaller, competitive colleges are members of this division. Schools looking to join division III need to offer at least four team sports that play matches against other universities. There are no large athletic scholarships awarded within this division. Some universities that are part of this division offer financial support to athletes through other financial sources. Athletic talent is usually not considered when awarding scholarships to these students. Coaches in this division also actively search for talented players, although on a much smaller scale.


National Association of Inter-collegiate Athletics (NAIA)

All four-year universities are eligible to join this association, which currently has about 250 members. Smaller colleges and universities often join this association. The NAIA is divided into districts. Most matches are played within these districts, although the association also hosts matches at a national level. Most members have excellent athletic programs and offer athletic scholarships.

The NCAA uses the most complex set of rules when awarding scholarships. Other associations have less complicated guidelines, although their scholarships rarely cover a full ride. The NAIA system is very similar to the NCAA’s equivalency system (see below).


Other athletic associations

National Junior College Athletic Association

Colleges offering two year associate degree programs can join this association.

National Christian College Athletic Association

United States Collegiate Athletic Association (USCAA)

Members of these two associations are usually small institutions.


Different types of athletic scholarships

The NCAA decides how much money will be available for scholarships per sport, and how many scholarships are awarded. Every sport is limited to only a few full scholarships – or full grant-in-aid, and several equivalency scholarships, A full scholarship will cover your tuition fee, room and board, and study materials. An equivalency scholarship can cover everything or a select amount of costs. If one sport has 18 equivalency scholarships to divide among prospective students, a coach can decide to grant 18 full scholarships or 36 partial scholarships, or even 10 full scholarships and 16 partial ones, and so on.

Most athletic scholarships within the NCAA division I and II are divided according to the equivalency principle. Men’s football, women’s baseball, women’s tennis women’s volleyball and women’s gymnastics are an exception. Scholarships for these sports, called headcount-sports, are divided according to 1:1. If the NCAA has decided to divide its 11 scholarships up among tennis players, no more than 11 scholarships can be awarded. The coach can decide whether these will be full or partial scholarships. Your chances of receiving a full ride are much larger for players of these sports than for players of equivalency sports.

Not all NCAA Division I institutions offer athletic funding. 18 out of around 300 institutions that are part of Division I – mainly Ivy League and Patriot League schools – only offer need-based scholarships.

Ivy League universities are: Brown University, Columbia University, Cornell University, Dartmouth University, Harvard University, Princeton University, University of Pennsylvania, Yale University. Patriot League universities are: Bucknell University, Colgate University, College of the Holy Cross, Fordham University, Lafayette College, Lehigh University, The United States Military Academy, The United States Naval Academy.


Being awarded an athletics scholarship

Being awarded a (partial) athletics scholarship is no easy task, although it’s not quite impossible either. Some American sports coaches visit other countries to find new members for their team. Other athletes from other countries are ‘discovered’ during international tournaments. In most cases, however, you will have to actively search for a scholarship, and convince a coach of your skills. Athletic scholarships are usually only awarded to Dutch students who play at a national level, or students who play a sport that the Netherlands excels in.


Step 1: Research your options

Start your research at least a year and a half in advance.


  • Find out which universities have university teams in your sport and see what kind of sports facilities they offer. Also make sure to check of which division your school is a member. The higher the Division, the harder it will be to obtain an athletics scholarship as an international student, although the level at which you play also determines your chances. Before approaching your university, you should check the requirements for playing at a certain division. The NCAA published all requirements in a handy guide.


  • Find out how many scholarships are available for your sport, and what kind of scholarships these are (full or partial, waived tuition fees). Keep in mind that you will probably not be eligible for a need-based scholarship unless you’re an American citizen.


  • Research the universities’ admission requirements and see what kind of test scores and prior education levels are required for admission. Prospective students with an athletics scholarship usually still need to meet these same requirements.


  • The athletics associations have admission requirements as well. Make sure you’re familiar with these rules and register at the NCAA Eligibility Center or NAIA Eligibility Center to stay up to date on the requirements, deadlines, etc.


Step 2: Acquire all necessary documents

Before approaching your coaches, make sure you have list of all documents you will need for your application, such as:


  • Your grade transcripts.
  • TOEFL and ACT or SAT exam results.
  • An athletics resume. Don’t only list your academic achievements, however: make sure the resume reflects you as a person. What are your interests, your educational achievements, and your hobbies? A coach will want to see what kind of qualities you have outside of athletics and wants to know if you perform well in a team, and display endurance, dedication and discipline. All these qualities are important factors in your coach’s decision so make sure you offer a full overview of you and your personality.
  • Physical information that could be relevant in your sport.
  • Visual material, such as a highlights video of all your matches and skills.
  • Possibly a recommendation letter written by your coach.
  • Your coach’s and assistant-coach’s contact details.
  • Some coaches check the social media accounts of their potential athletes. The Princeton Review offers several tips.
Step 3: Make connections
  • Contact the coaches at the universities you’re considering. Don’t send out one mass email, but approach them all individually and explain why you’re interested in that particular university.
  • Share your school results, admission exam results, potential recommendation letters written by your coach in the Netherlands, physical information that is relevant for your sport, and if possible, visual materials. Mention your recent achievements, the amount of matches you’ve won, the level at which you play, your training schedule, etc.
  • Make yourself (and your coach) available to coaches in America. Be proactive and keep reaching out. Coaches have to stick to some pretty rigid guidelines and are only allowed to contact potential athletes at certain points throughout the year. They are always allowed to reply to questions, however.


Step 4: Accept

Maybe one institution will show interested, or maybe several will. Consult with your coach before accepting an offer, just so you know what to expect. The NCAA has listed several questions that may be helpful during this process.