Have you ever thought about becoming a college athlete in the USA but have no idea how it works? To solve all your doubts, we brought here a guide explaining everything that involves the sports universe of North American universities, which will help you decide if you really fit this profile!
Guide to becoming a college athlete in the USA
What, after all, is a college athlete in the USA?
When you participate in a competitive sport organized at an American college or university, you are considered a university athlete. This means, among other things, having to balance your academic and social life with about 40-50 hours of training per week. Occasionally, it is also necessary to travel to games or competitions.
One of the main advantages of being a college athlete in the USA is the chance to get a scholarship that covers tuition fees, in whole or in part. In the United States, there are more than 150,000 student-athletes, receiving $ 2.7 billion in scholarships from colleges and universities that are members of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), according to its own statistics.
What is the NCAA?
The National Collegiate Athletic Association is the largest supervisory body for college athletes in the USA. In all, the NCAA works with approximately 450,000 students from more than 1,200 schools, institutions, conferences and associations. The organization also regulates many games and finances 90 championships.
The institutions belonging to the NCAA are divided into three levels: Divisions I, II and III. The first two divisions are the most demanding from an athletic point of view and are the ones that offer scholarships to athletes. Division III schools can also award scholarships, but they must be based solely on academic performance.
Large public universities generally belong to Division I or II, such as College of Charleston, whose teams are called Cougars and play in Division I. Smaller private colleges are more likely to belong to Division III. An example of this is Dean College in Franklin, Massachusetts, whose Bulldogs compete in Division III.
Division I schools tend to focus on “important” sports, such as basketball, football and ice hockey. Division II institutions can compete in sports such as tennis, water polo and golf. Division III schools, in turn, offer all types of sports.
Are there alternatives to NCAA?
Yes! In addition to the NCAA, there are some smaller organizations that govern college sports. One is NAIA, which stands for National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics . It includes about 250 schools, mostly smaller colleges, and has two divisions, I and II.
The athletic level of NAIA Division II is comparable to that of NCAA Division I. Sports scholarships are a little easier to obtain via NAIA compared to the NCAA, so NAIA schools are a good option for exchange students.
Another organization that governs college sports is the NJCAA ( National Junior College Athletic Association ). NJCAA, in turn, includes about 500 community colleges (or junior colleges), divided into three divisions.
Like NCAA schools, NJCAA Division I colleges offer full scholarships for athletes, while Division II schools offer only partial scholarships.
Although NJCAA schools are not as prestigious as the others, many international students use them as a stepping stone to the United States’ college sports world.
Why should you become a college athlete in the USA?
There are several reasons why it is a good idea to become a college athlete in the USA. For example, you can obtain full or partial scholarships to help pay for your studies in the country; there is an entire support network available for you to be successful in sports and academic terms, and you will have access to special training facilities.
In addition, playing sports makes it easy to join a group of friends in college, whether they are other athletes or teammates. You will also have many networking opportunities , as student-athletes can participate in many events and games outside the state.
Who can become a college athlete in the USA?
You may have the impression that becoming a college athlete in the USA is only possible if you are super talented in sports. But that is not true! All players, from the elite level to the recreational level, can play college sports, since athletic levels in college are very diverse.
The academic criteria you need to meet as a college athlete in the USA vary slightly depending on the division of the school you intend to play for. For Divisions I and II of the NCAA, there is an age requirement: you must apply immediately after high school or, at most, one year after graduating. There are no age requirements for Division III schools. In the case of foreign students, generally, in addition to the high school diploma in the country of origin, it is also necessary to pass the SAT / ACT and TOEFL / IELTS tests.