EF Academy Blog
Stories from our international boarding schools
MenuVisit EF Academy

University scholarships: What, why and how – part two

University scholarships: What, why and how – part two

Athletic scholarships in the US

With the price tag that comes with a university education, particularly in the US, it’s no wonder that scholarships are in high demand. Being aware of what is available, why universities offer scholarships and how you can maximize your chances of receiving one will help you navigate this area of the university application and acceptance process.

In this three-part blog post series, we’re breaking down academic merit scholarships and athletic scholarships in the US and UK. Read part one and part three here.

What are athletic scholarships?

Similar to academic merit scholarships, athletic scholarships from universities and colleges in the US are offered to students who are deemed deserving because of their academic standing and in this case, their strengths and abilities in a particular sport. Keep in mind that a student’s GPA and test scores are just as important for an athletic scholarship as for an academic merit scholarship.

Universities with athletic programs are part of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), which organizes the schools into three divisions known simply as Divisions 1, 2 and 3. Division 1 schools are typically the largest universities, attract top athletes and receive the most media attention. Division 2 schools are smaller than D1 schools and generally, offer partial athletic scholarships. Division 3 schools are the smallest NCAA institutes and tend to be liberal arts colleges. D3 and Ivy League schools do not offer athletic scholarships and any financial aid D3 schools provide is need-based.

How does the process work for an athletic scholarship in the US?

The athletic scholarship process begins with recruitment. In most cases, a good candidate is identified by a university coach at a game, competition, or tournament. The coach would then reach out to the student’s high school to see if the student is academically qualified.

From there, the coach would reach out to the student and possibly invite them to visit the university for a tour and to meet the other athletes on the team. A coach might recruit one student but may also be recruiting other students in the process. It’s important to bear in mind that just because a student is being recruited doesn’t mean that they’re the only one being considered for the scholarship.

July 1st of the student’s junior year is the official recruiting start date but students might choose to reach out to coaches before then and those coaches can observe them at any time. In addition to being a stand-out athlete with great potential, a student will also need to demonstrate exceptional English skills and have an impressive academic record to attend college in the US.

Athletic scholarships range from a partial amount of the tuition to full coverage of the tuition. However, the level of ability will certainly help determine the amount. A particularly gifted athlete could be offered a full scholarship, but in most sports, a college coach tries to distribute these offers over the whole team. The NCAA limits the number of scholarships that can be given, so a coach may offer a scholarship for about 25 percent of the tuition.

What if I’m not an American?

There is no incentive for an American university to give a scholarship to a domestic student over an international student because athletic scholarships come from the school’s own funds. This means that the fact that a student is international is neither an advantage nor a disadvantage.

On the other hand, if a coach would like to increase the diversity in their program, having a player from outside the US could very well be something they consider during the recruitment process. Along with a strong GPA and notable exam scores, the only things that truly matter to college coaches is finding a player that’s found success with a team. Whether it’s been as a valuable player or even a captain.


Great IGCSE, IB and A-Level results in class and on exams are an important part of a strong university application. Our teachers and university guidance counselors use their vast experience and knowledge to help you succeed and meet your goals at our private high school, and beyond.