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How To: Get an Athletic Scholarship

Advice from Boston College Coach on How to Get an Athletic Scholarship

Even if your child does not appear to be the next Tiger Woods, Mia Hamm or other athletic superstar doesn’t mean that athletic ability won’t have any bearing during the college admission process.  If you can follow these tips and tricks and particularly the dos and don’ts, you will be ahead of the game!  As the parent, you will have a backseat, no doubt, during this arduous process of getting your child into his or her dream school, but knowledge is everything.  My mom friend neighbor, who is a Varsity Coach with 14 scholarships, advised me that s/he who prepares early for this process can change the admissions outcome.  It’s a game like any other.  So read on.  This a game changer!

First of all, realize that there are NCAA rules regulating communication between coaches and prospective athletes.  A Division I coach is not allowed to call an athlete until July 1 prior to Senior year.  But note:email is allowed! Division III coaches play by different rules.  They do not have athletic scholarships, but they can go to bat for your child at the Admission pow wow to try to get your child into the school and on their team.  Note that Ivy League schools are Division III.  Division III coaches ARE allowed to call athletes starting in Freshman year of high school.  So…don’t be put off if your star athlete is being bombarded with calls from Harvard and Yale as a Junior but is bummed out that Boston College, his or her first choice hasn’t called.

But enough about the coaches, there’s a lot of work that has to be done on the athlete’s side.  Here’s the list.

Freshman Year

  • Research schools and make a list of schools you are interested in
  • Keep your grades up
  • Get the PSAT schedule and sign up for a session next year

Sophomore Year

  • Visit the schools you are interested in.
  • Take PSATs
  • Meet with your school counselor to review the schools of interest and understand their requirements.  SATs versus ACTs.  8th and 9th grade grades?
  • Send a detailed letter of interest along with your resume.
  • Get the email address of each coach
  • Discuss your schools of interest with your coach and get their feedback
  • See if any of your schools of interest offers a summer camp or coaches at a summer camp.
  • Visit schools of interest while attending tournaments, showcases or league games

Junior Year

  • Send a follow up letter to each coach.  Include information an any upcoming tournament activity
  • Take SATs and ACTs
  • Set up UNOFFICIAL visit with your top schools and watch their team play
  • Email coaches; Note that coaches can NOT call until July 1st before your Senior year but can send emails
  • Ask references to make a call for you; line them up for a letter when you apply
  • At the end of Junior year, register with the NCAA clearinghouse (if going after Division I schools)
  • Attend camp of selected schools

Senior Year

  • Focus on those schools that fit and on those who have shown an interest
  • Take the SAT or ACT over again if necessary
  • Send out follow-up letters with updated sports information.  Include updated resume.
  • Know where you want to take your 5 official visits
  • Apply to schools in SEPTEMBER after weighing Early Admission versus Regular Admission process

What to Include on Your Resume

  • Contact information including email
  • Birthday
  • High School Graduation Date
  • Height and Weight
  • Athletic Experience:  Premier Teams, Tournaments, awards
  • Academic Information:  class rank, GPA, PSAT/SAT scores, Honors and AP classes, academic awards
  • Extracurricular Activities
  • Athletic reference information:  name, title, school, background.  Have 3 references.

Cover Letter

  • This is your chance to sell yourself and why you want to attend this school.  Set yourself apart by your writing skills and persuasive arguments on why this is your top choice.
  • Write a different cover letter to each school.  You never know if they compare letters, right?  Don’t take that risk.
  • What should your cover letter say?  Here’s some guidelines.  First paragraph:  state the purpose of your letter.  For example, you are interested in playing x position for xx college team.  Second paragraph:  explain why you are choosing this school and/or team.  Use specific examples.  Mention the number of visits, sleepovers, camps you participated, games you watched, etc.  Make the coach realize that this is not a canned letter.  You REALLY do want to play for this school!  Third paragraph:  go over your qualifications.  Be specific.  Cover your athletic qualifications and your academic achievements.    Last paragraph:  lay out your next steps and be specific.  Are YOU going to contact the coach?  For what purpose?  Do you want to invite the coach to come to a game?  I have deliberately left out a sample cover letter so that you are forced to customize your letter.  Please follow cover letter conventions with formatting and including your name, address, etc.    Finally, this process of custom cover letter, resume and targeting coaches is EXACTLY the same process that you will do again when you graduate and look for a job.  Learn this  and do it well and it will serve you the rest of your life.

Recruiting Don’ts ( a.k.a. How to NOT get an Athletic Scholarship because you have pissed off the coach!)

  • Don’t have a parent call to boast of your skill
  • Don’t call and leave a message asking for a call back.  You take the intiative to call back.  Coaches are busy people!
  • Don’t send a letter to a coach with the wrong name or the wrong school or with misspellings.  What, are you a rookie?
  • Don’t do a mass mailing.  Customize your communication to the schools that interest you.
  • Do not use a scholarship offer from another school to bargain one school against the other.  Very Bad Form.
  • Do not tell a coach the school is at the top of your list if it is not true.  This can hurt others from your school that follow.
  • Don’t over-estimate your abilities
  • Don’t show negative traits in attitude or temperament, etc.  Be positive and confident.
  • Don’t ask a coach for an official visit if they  have not shown an interest by phone.
  • Do not be afraid to ask, after a school has shown interest, if the school has any financial assistance they can offer.

Recruiting Do’s

  • Get a binder to keep all your recruiting information (by school with tabs)
  • Make a list of those schools that have the academic and athletic program that best suits you
  • Send coaches an updated tournament schedule and results
  • Have a list of credible references
  • Go to as many college games as possible.  Reference those games when talking or communicating to coaches.
  • Have a reference make a call on your behalf
  • Be personable in conversation.  Character is critical!
  • Speak positively about other programs, coaches and/or players.  It’s a small world and everyone knows each other! Be gracious!
  • Make yourself known.  One letter is not going to do it.
  • Stay on top of your academics.  It shows your work habits, time management and commitment to achievement.  These are all characteristics that colleges look for.
  • Send thank you notes (the old-fashioned kind on card stock) when a coach has taken time to talk to you  or meet with you.  This is a good habit to get into for the rest of your life!

When my Mom Division I Varsity Coach talks about her players, it’s not usually about how talented her players are on the field.  She’s really impressed by kindness, empathy, humility and willingness to give back.  Being recruited can be an exciting and ego-gratifying experience to your child.  Let your years of good parenting shine through with a grounded child who shows graciousness and gratitude for all these exciting opportunities.  And, at the end of day, it’s going to be all about fit:  the right school matched to the right child.  And it will work out.  It always does!

Finally, I include a book that I used when I applied to college a million years ago.  What I like about it is that it shows you how high the bar is for college application essays.  This is the newest edition.  I still remember the most haunting essay from the edition I read.  It was from an inner city boy who wrote about his school, P.S.  XXX.  He described it as a school with literally no windows, but as he wrote about how school opened up the world of literature to him, his school really did have windows after all.  It was the best essay I had ever read and I realized that since I could not write such a moving essay for college applications, I had better be funny!  I read this book more recently when I bought this book for my niece and thought the essays were strangely abstract.  Nevertheless, these essays helped get these kids into Harvard.  My few words of advice:  don’t brag or take yourself too seriously.  Remember, the admissions folks spend 5 minutes TOPS on your entire application.  Two of them read it and if you get a thumbs up, another person will read your application more carefully.  You can also get a definitive thumbs down  at this point and you will then receive the thin rejection letter.  If you can’t grab their attention with your first paragraph, you are forgotten.  Make them laugh or cry.  Move them.  They are reading PILES of applications and you need to stand out in some way.

Q and A from my Mom Friend Varsity Coach at Boston College…

Q:  Does my child need a tape made to present to coaches?

A:  It depends really on the level and expectations for the recruit.  For instance,  lots of times Division II and III schools do not have the recruiting budget to travel and see kids far away so they will rely heavily on recruiting from a video tape.  Division I schools, especially if they are making a scholarship offer to the recruit would perhaps get interested in a recruit from a tape but definitely would need to follow-up with an in person evaluation.

Highlight tapes are tough because you don’t get a sense sometimes of the level that the recruit is pulling off these dynamic moves, goals, or saves.   You also don’t see how the play has developed.  So for a lot of coaches they like to see say a 1/2  of a game like 40 minutes or so without it be spliced or manipulated.  If a parent has a decent camera and is a capable videographer than you probably don’t need to pay a company for their video services.

p.s. Related Posts:

Best Club Soccer in Newton, MA

Why Full Ride Scholarships Are Rare

Top 10 Life Skills Kids Need Before College

How to Get Into College: Admissions Revolution

Top Art and Design Schools for Undergraduates

How To: Pay for College with Dr. Michele Borba

To purchase this book, click on image of book to buy at Amazon.

By Mia Wenjen, PragmaticMom


  1. Mom,

    That is a pragmatic approach to the recruiting process. Great advice. College Coaches Network also encourages student athletes to stay on track academically and athletically throughout the entire four years of high school. We also help athletes get collegiate exposure by hosting game film and a detailed academic profile online for hundreds of coaches to access. Thanks again for taking the time to help people out there who are new to the overwhelming recruiting world!

  2. byron

    Good information for parents and young athletes! Unfortunately, I have seen to many parents hang their kid’s college entrance hopes on them getting an athletic scholarship. However, to me, rather than discouraging a young athlete with the statistical realities of them being a big time athlete, making them aware of what they need to do both on and off the field/court allows them to continue to dream, but with a plan in place to make their dream more likely to come true!

  3. I agree with your How To: Get an Athletic Scholarship : PragmaticMom, good post.

    • To Funny Quotes,
      Thanks so much! My neighbor is a coach at Boston College and she provided much of the information. This is what she presents to high school students who would like to get a Division 1 scholarship.

  4. I agree with your How To: Get an Athletic Scholarship : PragmaticMom, great post.

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