A great number of athletes have approached me over the past year with questions in regards to college in America.
On this page, using my personal experiences and the experiences of close friends, I will provide an in depth review on how the college application process works and lend my advice to those of you who may be considering an American collegiate experience.
I have included a video presentation of my journey to America. This presentation parallels a lot of the information included below, but is certainly worth watching if you are seriously thinking about the possibility of studying abroad in America. You can watch the presentation by clicking here.
It is important for me to note that each college application may be individual to a particular institution. For this reason, the information that I will provide below may be relevant to some colleges but not all. I have provided a case study on my application to Stanford University to help you understand the various requirements of submitting an application.
The first thing to realise when you are applying for college is that there are many options to choose from. The United States of America has over 4000 degree granting institutions. If you are applying for a particular sport, my advice would be to pull up the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletics Association) "top lists" for your sport, and focus in on the schools that take your fancy.
Do not be frightened if the college names appear unfamiliar to you. Once you have a few colleges in mind, it is time to investigate.
Investigating involves pragmatically assessing the colleges that you have picked out and seeing where they fit in with your abilities, wants and opportunities.
One of the best ways to start investigating is to use Wikipedia to gather some specifics about each college. Following a wikipedia search, a visit to the college website will enhance your knowledge about the school:
Once you have a better understanding of the colleges that interest you, start to make headway into matching your qualities with what you now know of each school. The application process is a fairly strenuous task, so you want to be both realistic and sensible when assessing each of your shortlisted schools.
Some good questions to ask yourself and appraise include:
By now, you should have an idea on what schools both take your interest as well as fit your athletic and academic aptness. It is time to make contact with the coaches to express your interest in their program.
Often universities will have a direct link titled "recruitment" on their athletic website. This link will provide information regarding the universities unique recruitment process. If this link is not present or hard to find, your next best option is to contact the coaches via email. Contact information of the coaching staff are often found on the schools athletic page.
Remember- first impressions are both important and long lasting. When making contact for the first time, be sure to make a professional and formal communication of yourself and be specific on what you want the coaches to do in response.
Each university that you apply for will require slightly different documentation when it comes to submitting the application for that particular college. Commonly, you will be asked to provide:
Each college application can be found online at the schools website. Be sure to make note of the due dates for the application.
I would personally recommend applying for "Early Admission"- This is important for several reasons.
The college application usually requires a list of basic information about yourself and your family, as well as your GPA, standardised test scores, and any extracurriculars or awards that you have earned throughout high school. Over three hundred colleges and universities now accept the Common Application - a single form that you can fill out and submit to multiple schools. Using the Common Application is a great way to save time when applying to multiple schools. Be aware that schools that accept the Common Application may still have supplementary forms and requirements that you will need to fill out.
Most colleges require that you send them your High School transcript. It is important to note that the American school system is different to ours in Australia. In America, High School consists of years 9,10, 11 and 12 (often termed "Freshman, Sophomore, Junior and Senior).
The university will require all reports and grades from grade 9-12. Often, the university will only accept transcripts send from your high school with an official stamp. Be sure to allow plenty of time for the transcripts to get from the post office to America.
SAT or ACT Score Report
When you take the SAT or ACT exams, you can request that the score be directly reported to your prospective colleges. Alternatively, you can send them through yourself.
Be sure to leave ample time for the test scores to be graded.
A good thing about the American Standardised Tests is that they can be taken numerous times. For advice on the ACT's and SAT's, click here.
Letters of Recommendation
Colleges usually require 2-3 Letters of Recommendation from high school teachers and/or guidance counsellors.
When requesting a letter of recommendation, pick someone who knows you well and can attest well to your character. Remember to give your letter-writters sufficient time to get the recommendation letter done. Do not corner them into producing a letter within a week- as they will often be rushed and tardy.
Personal Statements and Essays
This is by far the most time consuming and difficult part of the college application. Each essay is usually between 300-500 words in length. Do not let the relatively 'short' word count distract you from the quality of essay needed. American student spend in excess of 12 months preparing these essays - and you are 'competing' against these students for a sport at your desired university. Each university will provide specific prompts that you will respond to in essay form.
I have provided some tips to help you with your essays- click here to access.
Your Athlete CV is an important document that will allow you to express both your athletic achievements and future outlooks. It is important to realise that college scholarships are extremely competitive; and a well-polished Athlete CV is a strong step into showing the scholarship committee and coaches that you are up for the challenge of being both a successful athlete as well as a successful student.
I emphasis the importance of the word order when referring to "student-athlete". The foremost priority is the student. Coaches and administrative staff need to have faith in your abilities and commitment to your studies. The NCAA have a GPA threshold whereby any athlete below a certain GPA is ineligible to compete for the university. In order for a university to trust that its investment, both financially and through the investment of their time and effort, it is important that you convey to them your strengths and ambitions on and off the sporting field. In your Athletic CV, do not shy away from your achievements- modesty is not needed in this part of the application.
Below are stepwise instructions to help you prepare your athlete CV. Additionally, the link at the bottom of the page is a mock CV that I have created for you to use as a template.
The college application essays are very influential and important documents of the application. The most engaging and compelling essays tell a story and have a clear focus. Your standardised scores and transcripts show the administration department where you stand in relation to other students applying- use your essays to show your personality in a sophisticated and mature manor.
I have provided an excellent video by Marcia Landesman; a member of Yale's administration department; offering advice for how to approach the application essays. I have also included some of my friends application essays from Stanford University to help show you the various styles that students use. In the end, my best advice is to write something that you truly care about. Do not write something that you think the administration departments will "expect" to see. Be unique and your passion will inspire through your writing.
Nadia Boyrer (Stanford University Class 2016)
Family matters to me more than anything else. Five years ago, my mom, my two younger brothers, and I fled from my father. The custody case was complex and unending, and it impacted me profoundly. It is a long and complicated story, and there is not enough room here, but suffice it to say that my family is notorious in legal circles as an example of how corrupt Travis County family courts have become. My youngest brother, Alexander, became a casualty of this corruption on November 30, 2007: he was taken from my mother, awarded to his abuser and taken to a place called the Rachel Foundation for "reunification and rehabilitation."
Through facing this adversity together, my other brother, Demetri, and I have become very close in the past few years. He is the bassist in my band and I can always talk to him about the amazing qualities of Mesa amplifiers, or the merits of flat-wound vs round-wound strings. I call him "Boy" and he calls me "Thing"--affectionately, of course. I dredge up long-forgotten facts about matrices or atomic orbitals to help him with his algebra II and chemistry homework.
My mom and I also have an usually close relationship. I share articles that I find with her--for example, she sent me one on the physiology of autism and I sent her one on how physics would play out in a cubic Earth. She taught me to cook chicken soup from real stock and authentic red Thai curry. She is one of the few people that understands my sense of humor.
I have promised her that once I am accepted to college, I will help fight for my brother.
If Alexander had died, I could grieve for him and then move on. But because he is still living in fear in the same town as I, yet I cannot speak to him or see him, I cannot simply put him out of my mind. This is a powerful driving force for me and has informed my aspiration to work in human rights advocacy someday. In the meantime, however, I know that my family is always with me, in spirit if not physically.
Jonathan Fisk (Stanford Class 2016)
At the tender age of 13, I was playing my ninth season of baseball, mostly pitching and catching. As the season progressed I found it increasingly difficult to catch my breath after running and my chest hurt constantly after games. My neck started swelling, to the point where I looked like an exercise junky. Because of this, my parents suspected the mumps, and my pediatrician thought I had mononucleosis. To be sure, several blood tests and various biopsies were taken, one of which included having a long, thin needle stuck into my neck and wiggled around in my swollen gland to collect cell samples while I was under no anesthetic, completely aware of the needle’s movement. After ruling out other possibilities it was discovered in May 2007 that I had Hodgkin’s Lymphoma Stage 3. I underwent chemotherapy and radiation treatment until the end of December 2007, and during my treatment I had to be home schooled by a District-provided tutor. This was tough on me because I love being in school with all of my friends but I persevered with my studies, progressing passed the curriculum of my regular classes at school. This period of independent academic learning fostered a deep personal motivation and determination within me.
This battle with cancer further motivated me to pursue my life-long dream of a career in medicine and medical research. During my frequent and extended hospital stays I developed friendships with fellow pediatric oncology patients. Not all my friends were as fortunate in recovery as me. My cancer is currently in remission, but some of the other patients succumbed to their disease. One particular roommate of mine was a wonderful five-year-old boy named Diego. Sadly, his cancer did not respond to treatment, and he died in his mother’s arms on Christmas Eve. I attended his funeral and felt deep grief not only because I lost a dear friend, but I felt frustrated knowing that more deaths like his are inevitable until more effective treatments are discovered. Diego’s death has reinforced my desire to pursue a career in medicine.
My ultimate dream is to become the head of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a position that has considerable worldwide impact on disease treatment and prevention. As a senior level member of the CDC, access would be granted to the most current information in biomedical subjects, leading to medical discoveries that could save families from experiencing the same pain and loss as Diego’s family. While my dream of leading the CDC is highly ambitious, I also know it isn’t an unattainable goal. By conquering cancer, I demonstrated to myself as well as others that I can fight to accomplish most anything I want to in life by truly giving it my all.
A common question that comes across my email and Facebook accounts is:
I am a 48.5 400m runner from Queensland. I am thinking about coming to college in America. What do I need to do in order to get a scholarship at a good university?
The answer to this question is not as simple as may intuitively be thought. In order to help shape your thoughts about collegiate athletic scholarships, I have taken the time below to demonstrate the kind of thinking that coaches and college scholarship committees go through when evaluating an athlete.
1. What do the athletes personal bests and career achievements hint to how they will perform in the NCAA?
A lot of athletes who come to me from Australia are oblivious to the NCAA collegiate system. Australian athletes in general share the view that:
(a) They can get into any university
(b) There times will guarantee them a "full-ride"
To clear up the first misconception, many universities are extremely competitive when it comes to applications. In the most recent class at Stanford University for example, only 5.07% of applicants were admitted into the Class of 2018. I am not telling you this to scare you out of applying for prestigious schools such as Stanford, but rather to educate you on the competitive nature of American Universities. Some colleges may accept you on your athletic merit alone, but many will require you to be admitted as a normal student before you can be considered as an athlete on their varsity teams.
Secondly, many athletes are unaware of the athletic talent within the USA collegiate system. Often, it takes times well better then the Olympic A qualifying standard to make the final at an NCAA meet. Below I have provided the times needed to make the Mens and Women Final at the 2012 NCAA D1 Track and Field meet:
When a college looks to admit an athlete, they look for a few things.
Each of these questions can lend different results, which individually and collaboratively can influence a coaches decision to offer a scholarship or not to offer a scholarship.
One college may offer a 47.00sec 400m runner a 25% scholarship, while another might offer a 80% scholarship. This difference is due to many confounding factors. Is the team in need of a 400m runner? How much money is left in the budget? Are there other areas of the track and field program at the university that could benefit greater by the addition of a scholarship athlete to their event group?
For example, college A might have a strong sprints program but is lacking depth in their throws department. Because of this, they are loosing out on lots of points at conference and championships meets. As a result, college A will be inclined to offer a scholarship to a 'average' thrower over a 'good' sprinter, because the opportunity to strengthen a weak area of their program makes more sense then to add to an established part of the program.
College B on the other hand is looking to put together a formidable 4x400m team. They have 3 individuals already on the roster but are in need of a forth. In this situation, the college will likely offer a higher percentage scholarship to a 400m runner then college A would.
The example above happens commonly amongst colleges and is part of the art in 'recruitment'. As an athlete applying for college, it is important to realize this reality and act accordingly. The best way to prepare for this is by applying to numerous schools and seeing what offers come from each.
I have included a video presentation of my journey to America. This presentation parallels a lot of the information included above, but is certainly worth watching if you are seriously thinking about the possibility of studying abroad in America. Please enjoy the presentation and I hope that it helps you with your thinking strategies behind your College Application.
I would appreciate any feedback from the presentation sent to firstname.lastname@example.org