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Every American high school movie worth its salt is guaranteed to have at least one ‘jock’ in a starring role.

These mini-gods of the athletic field are invariably blessed with the best-looking cheerleader as their girlfriend, the adulation of their peers, and perfect floppy hair. 

Uni rowboat

British athletes may have missed out on this high school experience, but American university offers them a second chance. Those of you with enough sporting talent may still have the opportunity to capture some of this limelight while also earning sizeable help with the application process and subsequent tuition fees. 

Always wanted to be a jock? Here's how...

American universities (even the smaller and more academic ones) consider sport to be one of the most important ingredients in their curriculum. While it is unlikely a Brit is going to land the quarterback position on the UMichigan American football team, there are many sporting areas in which we do excel (or at least rival Americans).

Crew (rowing) teams are always on the lookout for international talent and it is not unusual for the top teams to be powered entirely by British, Canadian and Australian students recruited especially for their skills on water.

Soccer (football) is developing on American shores and good British players are in demand.

Cricketers might find themselves out on something of a limb but most standard sports (tennis, golf, lacrosse) will be represented on campus, and they are all crying out for talent. 

Tracking you down...

It may well be that the recruiters will find you first. If you are the World No. 1 in a particular area, or have consistently played for a British junior team, then you should definitely consider viewing your sporting prowess as a potential admissions passport.

As all admission forms repeat ad nauseam, American colleges are looking for diverse individuals who will allow the school to excel in all fields. Sporting events are huge dates in every school calendar and coaches travel the world to attract the best players.

If you are chasing the ultimate jock dream, you should take note of a few things. Athletes at the top universities are treated royally, but they get away with much less than those in the big public schools. They are expected to maintain high academic levels - and coaches rarely intervene to sort out their schedules.

Playing any sport at university level is hard work and juggling this with tough classes can prove difficult. Less rigorous schools place more emphasis on sport, and a star football player is treated as a hero all over campus. But elite colleges have their share of sports groupies as well, and both male and female athletes will find that a little bit of lycra or that letterman sweater can take them a long way. 

And then there are the financial benefits…

The US offers great opportunities for talented athletes, and even a cost-free education. The fount of all knowledge is EducationUSA, part of the Fulbright Commission; run to them for their literature. In summary, what it says is:

Athletic scholarships are awarded for baseball, basketball, crew (rowing), cross-country, fencing, football (American), golf, gymnastics, ice hockey, indoor track, lacrosse, skiing, soccer, softball, swimming and diving, tennis, track and field, volleyball, water polo, women’s field hockey and wrestling.

Archery, badminton, bowling, equestrian sports and squash have been designated as 'emerging sports' and scholarships in these sports are available to women only in an effort to achieve equality between men's and women's scholarships.

Some universities offer martial arts, riflery, rodeo, rugby and sailing, but very few of those will offer these sports on a scholarship basis.

Athletic directors and coaches play a central role in award decision-making, so it is important to establish contact with these individuals early in your application process.

Awards vary from a few thousand dollars to nearly $30,000 per academic year. American football, men's and women's basketball, women's tennis, women's gymnastics and women's volleyball awards almost always cover the full cost.

Scholarships are awarded for a year at a time – so going off the rails once you get there is not recommended. To get one, you must have recognizable achievements in your sport – check the websites of the universities you are interested in for results of matches or events to see how your ability compares.

Different universities set different levels, with those in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) being the highest. (See www.ncaa.org and www.naia.org.) 

Selection criteria - more than a sporting chance

Students with an athletic scholarship must ‘meet normal university/college entrance requirements and continue to obtain satisfactory grades in order to receive their scholarships’. These academic requirements are generally nothing to worry about, and you often get extra time to complete your degree, but just be aware that you can’t let the academic ball drop altogether. 

Help & advice

To search for scholarships on the internet, use one of the links in the References & Links section, and search for the sport you wish to obtain more information about.

Occasionally, coaches visit Europe or see non‑US students at international events. Even if a coach invites you to play for their team, you must still apply to the university through the regular academic application process. Make sure the college will meet your academic as well as your sporting needs.

Never go by a verbal agreement on a scholarship, or even by a letter from the coach. Details of the scholarship offer must be written into a contract. A coach can offer an award for one year in the first instance, with renewal based on recommendation by the athletics department, which must be approved by the financial aid office. Scholarships are sometimes announced in national and international sporting magazines.

Some students choose to use a placement service instead. Be aware that these services charge a fee, and make sure they have good contacts with US colleges and universities. UK services are listed in the Reference Section.

You can make a direct approach to your sport’s coach at individual colleges and universities. You will need to put a sport CV together, and the coach may ask for a video demonstrating your abilities. The Fulbright EducationUSA library can help with this, too.

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  • Recommendations (references)

    Most universities will ask you for at least one reference, written by a careers advisor, headteacher, housemaster, etc. This reference is similar to UCAS, although it should not focus on a particular course, but rather suitability in general for higher education. It is ‘all about’ you and should address academic performance, extra-curricular activities and personal qualities.

  • Deadlines & early decision

    You must meet your deadlines! US universities will not accept late applications unless they have ‘rolling admissions’, meaning they accept students on a first-come, first-served basis.

  • Financial statement

    Most universities will require you to complete a financial statement. Do this carefully as it will be used to determine your eligibility for financial assistance.

  • Interviews

    Although interviews are rarely mandatory for admission into any American university, they are often recommended and are an excellent way of finding out about the place in which you are planning to spend the next four years. Interviews for international students can function in two ways...

  • Help!

    I need help: find a University Consultant!, How can a consultant help me?, About our university consultants, This just in! UU in the news and Student uni fairs: don't miss...


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