Hoping to be involved in sports while studying in the States? Here’s how.

Many international students would like to continue their involvement in athletics and sports throughout their undergraduate college years, but don’t know how college sports are organized in the United States. A common question: “how can I combine my interests in academics and in sports while studying in the United States?”

These paragraphs are meant to be a starting point for you in making informed choices about applying to American colleges and universities.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association (the NCAA – http://www.ncaa.org/) is the primary athletics association for colleges and universities, the one to which most colleges and universities in the States belong. Monmouth College is a member of the NCAA.

The NCAA is made up of three membership classifications, Divisions I, II and III. All of the NCAA divisions exist to protect student athletes and promote ethical practices in collegiate athletics on and off the field. Each division has its own rules about coaching staff, recruitment of student athletes, financial aid, and playing and practice seasons.

Conferences and leagues are different from the NCAA. They are associations of colleges or universities (usually in a particular region of the country) that establish annual schedules of competitions with one another in particular sports, usually with a playoff or championship series at the end of the season, leading to larger competitions between conferences or leagues and concluding in national championship games. Monmouth College belongs to the Midwest Conference (http://www.midwestconference.org/). We have been in the playoffs for the national championship in (American) football, Division III, in three of the past four years.

The differences between the divisions are primarily about differences in the size of the athletic programs:  so, the large public universities and some large and wealthy private universities are, in general, Division I schools, with huge coaching staffs and highly competitive recruitment programs. Very few students at any given university, on a percentage basis, participate in Division I sports.  The students recruited into Division I programs are exceptionally gifted and ambitious young athletes, a few of whom will go  on to play professionally.  Division II universities also have fairly large sports programs (regional universities, both public and private, make up the majority of the Division II membership).

Most private, residential liberal arts colleges belong to NCAA Division III, which promotes the “scholar-athlete” model of sports involvement. Monmouth is a Division III school.  Outstanding young athletes who don’t want to sit on the bench until their senior year, waiting for their turn to compete, watch closely for opportunities to become involved in the prestigious, academically nationally-ranked, selective Division III schools. At colleges like Monmouth, student-athletes don’t have to put academic engagement aside in order to pursue the sports they love. Division III colleges enable students to find a good balance between their athletic interests and their academic commitments.

Very few international students participate in Division I athletics. Scouting begins at the junior-high and high-school level, with university representatives following the early school careers of promising young athletes in order to make offers tempting them to sign on to a particular sports program. Division II recruitment is almost as intense.

If you have a love for a particular sport, or if you are athletically gifted and interested in participating in an American sport, your very best chance for genuine involvement is to apply to a Division III college. Often, you’ll be practicing and playing even as a first-year student. The opportunities for competition and for leadership are outstanding.

How can you indicate your interest in participation in sports at your chosen American college? Contact the head coach or the Athletic Director about your desire to become involved. Be sure to make your interest known to the admissions staff with whom you are corresponding as you complete your international-student application.

Liberal Arts colleges usually want you to submit a personal essay as part of your application portfolio.  This essay offers an excellent opportunity for you to share a bit about who you are with the admissions staff who review your application. If you are interested in participating in sports in college – say so! Weave your passion into your essay. Write about your involvement in sports and about how much athletics means to you (and in what ways it has enabled you to grow, or has helped you to clarify your values). You might even ask your secondary-school coach to write one of your letters of recommendation, if she or he can comment on your academic potential and character as well as your athletic abilities. Let us know what you are interested in!

At Monmouth College, we will help you make connections that expand your undergraduate academic experience and open new doors.

One of the ways you can connect with U.S. coaches is to make use FirstPoint USA, which connects interested student-athletes with college coaches (see http://www.firstpointusa.com/).

And don’t listen just to me!  Here is a powerful, short statement about athletics at Monmouth College from our Women’s *Soccer Coach, Barry McNamara (mcnamara@monmouthcollege.edu):

At Monmouth College, we believe we provide our women’s soccer recruits a unique opportunity — a chance to play college soccer at a very competitive level at a first-class facility, combined with an environment that encourages our student-athletes to get involved in activities outside the team. Do you want to play right away as a freshman and compete with and against talented players? The women’s soccer team offers that. But we also allow our players enough time away from the sport to work hard on their studies and also enjoy many of the college’s extensive extracurricular opportunities, including sororities, the fine and performing arts, student government and service organizations.

One of our recent players might have said it best when summarizing her experience of playing soccer at Monmouth: “I always looked forward to soccer season for many different reasons; I love the sport, the girls are great, good coaches, great memories, hotel away trips, and last but not least, the best soccer field in the conference! Years from now when I look back at my college experience, the one thing that will always stick out in my mind will be my memories of soccer. I couldn’t have asked for a better four years.”

*i.e., Football, to the rest of the world 🙂