NCSA: Recruiting tips for international athletes

NCSA: Recruiting tips for international athletes

High School Sports

NCSA: Recruiting tips for international athletes


USA TODAY High School Sports has a weekly column on the college recruiting process. Here, you’ll find practical tips and real-world advice on becoming a better recruit to maximize your opportunities and play at the college level. Jason Smith is a former NCAA DIII athlete and college coach at all three division levels. Jason is just one of many former college and professional athletes, college coaches and parents who are part of the Next College Student Athlete team. Their knowledge, experience and dedication, along with NCSA’s history of digital innovation and long-standing relationship with the college coaching community, have made NCSA the largest and most successful athletic recruiting network in the country.

There are thousands of international athletes competing in college sports in the USA and there are no signs that will change anytime soon. The NCAA puts the number at about 17,000, which is about 3.5 percent of its student-athletes (Division I, II and III). And while that may not seem like a huge percentage at first glance, this number could potentially go up if international recruits become better educated about the recruiting process and take the right steps to get noticed. Continue reading to find out how.

Note which sports recruit internationally

Some sports recruit international athletes more often than others. According to, sports with the highest rates of international athletes include tennis, ice hockey, skiing, squash, golf, field hockey, soccer, water polo and basketball. On the flip side, wrestling, football, sailing, baseball, softball and equestrian have the lowest rates. What can an international recruit take away from this?

If you’re an elite football or wrestling talent, coaches will still likely be interested in you. However, with international recruit rates so low for those sports, you may have to fight an uphill battle throughout the recruiting process, and recruits without elite talent may get lost in the shuffle. For sports like tennis, ice hockey and skiing, things should be a lot easier for international recruits since college coaches are already open to recruiting internationally and keep an eye out for those recruits.

Understand what “grad year” means

When college coaches and administrators in the United States talk about a grad year, they are referring to the year that you will be graduating high school. So, if a coach says that a recruit’s grad year or class is 2024, this means that they will be a freshman (first-year student) in 2020–21, a sophomore in 2021–22, a junior in 2022–23 and a senior in 2023–24 when they will be part of the graduating class of 2024. Your grad year is also the year you want to start college in the United States.

Colleges begin classes in the fall, go through winter and eventually wrap up in the spring before taking a break over summer. Some international athletes, like those from the Southern Hemisphere, may have several months between their graduation and the start of the college school year in the USA. It’s important to check college academic schedules to get specific dates.

Do your research

You’ll have to learn what the different division levels mean. Within the NCAA, there are three division levels: Division I, Division II and Division III, with D1 being the most competitive. There is also the NAIA, which compares to Division II teams in many cases, and junior colleges. Each division level offers a unique college experience and can potentially be the right fit for an international student-athlete.

Learn about what it’s like to live on different college campuses. There are many factors that contribute to the college experience, including local weather, campus diversity, facilities and campus location.

Additionally, you should become familiar with the types of scholarships that are available. Factors such as division level, sport and athletic talent determine whether athletes receive a full or partial scholarship. Some schools that do not offer athletic scholarships can help connect families with other types of scholarships or financial aid instead. Read up on the different types of offers.

Start the recruiting process early and be proactive

Coaches in the United States start filling their roster spots as soon as they can to avoid losing top recruits, so it’s important to be proactive about reaching out to coaches early on. To start contacting coaches, write emails that are unique to each program. Coaches receive a lot of emails and are quick to discard generic ones. Also, international students need to make an impression without meeting the coach in person. Potential recruits can grab a coach’s attention by explaining exactly why they’re interested in the program.

Don’t bring up scholarship money at first. Coaches first want to get to know the recruit. Once the recruit has developed a relationship with the coach over a period of time, they can ask about the coach’s interest in them and if they have scholarship money available.

Always include the newest version of your recruiting video. For international recruits, the recruiting video is likely the only way a coach can see them play. Make sure the video really showcases athletic talent and skills.

Review your academic eligibility requirements

The NCAA and NAIA have specific documentation requirements for international student-athletes to be academically eligible to compete in college sports. If you’re interested in NCAA Division I or Division II sports, review their academic requirements. Here are a few highlights to get started:

  • Provide academic records for years nine and up in English and applicant’s native language
  • Provide proof of graduation, including certificates, diplomas and final exams
  • Take the ACT or SAT standardized test and send scores to the NCAA
  • Find out about country-specific requirements and documentation
  • NCAA schools issue Form I-20 visas, not the NCAA. Work with an interested school to secure a visa and note that an F1 student visa has specific requirements for eligibility.

It will also be important to learn about different requirements for NAIA schools. Here are some steps to take:

  • Register with the NAIA Eligibility Center at least two months before beginning classes at a NAIA school
  • Take the ACT or SAT standardized test and send test scores to the NAIA using code 9876
  • Have the athlete’s secondary, high school, post-secondary and/or university send records to the NAIA
  • Translate all records to English
  • Read the NAIA’s international resources document and send questions to

The college recruiting process can initially seem daunting for international athletes, but it’s a lot easier to navigate with the help of NCSA resources and our experienced team. To see how we can help, join NCSA today.


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