College guidance

Pursuing sports in US colleges

Tips from a Cialfo Unplugged session featuring Paul Yap, Careers & Universities Counselor at Bangkok Patana School

Cialfo Community
May 14, 2021
12 min read
Pursuing sports in US colleges
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Pursuing sports in US colleges

Sports in US Colleges

  • Why pursue sports in a US college?
  • NCAA system and its divisions
  • Applying for a scholarship
  • Participating in the NCAA
  • Getting recruited as a student athlete

Why pursue sports in a US college?

Featuring world-renowned sports leagues such as the MLB, NBA and NFL, with athletes from all over the world, the US provides a diverse competitive atmosphere not found anywhere else. This, coupled with the fact that it is the home to some of the world’s most prestigious colleges, makes the US the premier location for student athletes worldwide. With that in mind, what are some intricacies student athletes must keep in mind when applying to the US?

NCAA System

Understanding college sports in the US must first begin with learning about the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) system. The NCAA is the organization in charge of regulating student athletes and organizing college athletic programmes in the US. It currently has 1268 institutions as members of the association and helps nearly 500,000 students across 24 sports. 

The NCAA is split into three divisions as follows:


Division I schools tend to have the most students, the largest athletic budgets, and the most number of athletic programmes and scholarships. These schools have a maximum of 20 hours of training a week. A GPA of 2.3 or higher is recommended to be eligible for these schools.


Division II schools provide growth opportunities through academic achievement, while still providing a high level of competition. These schools have a maximum of 20 hours of training a week during championship seasons and a maximum of 15 hours of training a  week during non-championship seasons. A GPA requirement for eligibility is 2.2 for core courses. 


Division III schools provide an integrated environment focusing on academic success while also offering a competitive athletics environment.

As can be seen, the different divisions provide student athletes with a range of educational and sports opportunities depending on their personal aptitudes and goals. It is up to the student to find a school that fits their particular needs, with the right balance of sports and academics.

Applying for a scholarship

Once a student has found the type of school they wish to enter, the next logical step would be to apply for a scholarship. This is a process that may be confusing for many students, with many intricacies that need to be understood. As such, this section aims to dispel some common misconceptions students have.

Myth 1: Everyone on an athletic scholarship gets a full ride

Athletic scholarships are split into those for head-count sports and those for equivalency sports.

  • Head-count sports are those that bring the most revenue to the college, and scholarships are limited to a set number of players with each player receiving a full-ride scholarship.
  • Equivalency sports do not have a limit to the number of athletes, but scholarship numbers are still limited. Many schools instead choose to split the scholarships amongst all the athletes, such that each athlete receives a partial scholarship.

MYTH 2: Athletic scholarships are only available for sports like football, basketball and baseball

Scholarships are available to a wide variety of sports, even for those that may be less popular.

MYTH 3: You must play at a Division I level to get a sports scholarship

Division II schools provide athletic scholarships. However, Division III schools do not provide athletic scholarships, but may give out merit-based aid instead.

MYTH 4: Good grades are not needed to obtain an athletic scholarship

Students must hit a grade requirement to be eligible for athletic scholarships (information regarding grade requirements to play in the NCAA can be found below).

MYTH 5: College coaches will make the first contact with athletes they wish to recruit

While college coaches will usually contact prospective athletes, it is highly recommended for students to be proactive and email the coach or admissions team to express interest.

Participating in the NCAA

To be eligible to compete in the NCAA, there are three basic rules students need to adhere to. They are the academic requirements, testing requirements, and amateurism.

1. Academic requirements

  • Students need to take four core courses each year from grades 9 to 12. Approved core courses can be found on the NCAA website.
  • Courses not listed on the website need to have accreditation submitted to the NCAA for approval (note that IGCSE and IB courses do not require accreditation).

2. Testing requirements

  • Testing requirements operate on a sliding scale, meaning the higher the GPA of the student, the lower the SAT score requirements (i.e. 3.55 GPA with 400 SAT score, 3.52 GPA with 410 SAT score). This sliding scale can be found on the NCAA website.

3. Amateurism

  • The student cannot be sponsored by a private company to compete.
  • Prize money for tournaments (e.g. the PGA tour for golf) is acceptable.
  • It is considered acceptable if the entire school team is sponsored by a private company.

Getting recruited as a student athlete

In order to stand out from the competition and increase their chances of recruitment, students need to be proactive and take steps towards presenting themselves to colleges. This can be done through creating profiles, registering with the NCAA Eligibility Center, and going to camps.

Creating profiles

College recruitment pages are generally found on the athletic page of a college website. Students can fill in the information on the website, adding themselves to the college’s admissions database, while coaches can use the submitted information to find and contact prospective athletes.

Students are encouraged to make videos highlighting their skills, mechanics and gameplay. Videos should be between 5 to 10 minutes long, focusing on the essentials

An athletic resume should include a full brief of the student’s achievements in the sport (e.g. awards received, participation in local and international competitions). Try and include statistics (i.e. goals scored, batting average).

NCAA Eligibility Center

Students can create either a free or paid account. The paid profile allows colleges to contact students. They can also ask the NCAA for student information from counselors to find out more about prospective students.


Camps provide an opportunity for students to showcase their talents to recruitment coaches who are scouting for athletes. Students can also ask these recruiters questions about their college. Dates for these camps can generally be found on the college’s website.

A big thank you to Paul Yap, Careers and Universities Counselor, Bangkok Patana School, for his invaluable insights and expert advice that made this webinar and article possible.

Image credits: Jeffrey Lin and Logan Weaver

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