A guide on how to apply for a sports scholarship to study at a US university

Here's a step-by-step guide from starting your application to sealing the deal

Kelly Ho |

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Your talent for sports could earn you a spot in a top university in the US.

If you are a student athlete, chances are you already know about some of the sports scholarship programmes offered by Hong Kong universities. But there are many opportunities for you to study abroad, too. In fact, your sporting talent could earn you a spot in a top university in the US.

Many US universities have tailor-made programmes which allow student athletes to pursue sports and academics at the same time, and some offer lower entry levels to student athletes.

However, the application procedure is complicated, and can be quite overwhelming for students outside of the country. Young Post has created a step-by-step guide to help you along the way, from starting your application to sealing the deal. 

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Step 1: Know the rules of the game

Before you think about applying to any US universities, you need to know what’s on offer. US universities are split into three divisions, based on their size, history of sports excellence, and the number of scholarships available. D1 universities offer the most sports scholarships, followed by D2, while D3 universities don’t offer any.

Next, you need to find out whether you’re eligible to apply. The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) is an organisation which oversees sports programmes at more than 1,200 US schools.

The minimum Grade Point Average (GPA) requirement for students enrolling in these programmes is 2.3, but most schools tend to ask for a GPA of 3.0. Your results from standardised tests like the SATs will be taken into account too. Universities use a sliding scale for your SAT/ACT scores and GPA, so if you get a lower score on your test, you’ll need a higher GPA, and vice versa. 

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Step 2: Get your application under way 

Most students start applying for universities  at the beginning of Secondary Six, but students athletes will need to begin the process as early as Secondary Four. It’s around this time that you’ll start contacting college coaches, as they will be the ones reviewing your application. 

But before approaching anyone, you should first make a list of the universities you are interested in and rank them based on how likely you are to get a place at them. It’s a good idea to have three groups: “reach”, “fit” and “safety”.

Then, you can start building up the materials you’ll need to show these schools, including a sports resume, cover letter, recruiting video, and recommendation letters from your current coach and secondary school. 

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Step 3: Take the standardised tests

To get into university, secondary school students in the US need to take standardised tests, such as SAT or ACT – and you will, too. Since you may already be taking other public exams in Hong Kong, and have sporting events to train for, you should pick your SAT/ ACT exam dates wisely, to ensure you have sufficient time to prepare for the test.

While preparing for the exams, you’ll also need to meet the NCAA Eligibility Centre requirements by sending your academic transcripts and filling out every form on the NCAA Eligibility website.

Step 4: Build a relationship with college coaches

As we said, college coaches play a major role in your admission, so making connections with them is perhaps the most important and yet most challenging part of the application.

You may begin by sending them all the marketing materials you’ve prepared, but bear in mind the NCAA doesn’t allow any electronic communication between a college coach and a recruit before the recruit begins Secondary Five. This means that recruits can still send messages to the coaches, but the most a coach can do is acknowledge that they have received the email.

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Instead of waiting aimlessly, look out for sporting tournaments being held in the US, so that you can meet a few coaches in person and express your interest in playing for their school. There are also some showcases held in Hong Kong where coaches from overseas universities are invited to scout talents.

After meeting coaches, it’s important to build and maintain a relationship with them, sending them updates on your achievements every two months or so. Once you enter Secondary Five, you can request a phone call or a video conference call with the coach, and try to schedule an “unofficial visit” to meet them on their campus again.

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Step 5: Sealing the deal 

If the coach finally decides to offer you a sports scholarship, you will receive an informal “verbal commitment” in Secondary Five, while the official offer will come around the beginning of Secondary Six.

Depending on which type of university you are admitted to, there are multiple ways to formally accept your scholarship. For those admitted to D1 and D2 schools in NCAA, students will have to sign a National Letter of Intent in middle of November (the early period) or in middle of April (the regular period).

For Ivy League universities, once the student has met the academic requirements, the school will issue a “likely letter” before November 1, which is the early decision deadline for most applications.

Lastly, at NCAA D3 schools, students simply follow the standard method of applying, and coaches will support their application, rather than make the final decision.

Edited by Charlotte Ames-Ettridge