Applying to College as a Student Athlete: Advice from a Recent Grad

February 18th, 2020 | by addedsport

Jo Ee is a Mentor at AddedSport. Prior to earning a golf scholarship to attend UC Berkeley, Jo Ee played for the Singapore National Team and won multiple local and international tournaments since picking up the sport competitively at age 10.

It was already in late 11th grade when Jo Ee first started planning for college.

While considering her options, she realized that she definitely wanted to continue playing golf after high school. She loved playing competitively – it was the thrill of winning, and also the local and international friendships she forged along the way. It was a big part of her life.

At the same time, she wanted to choose a college that was academically reputed.

Colleges in the US are known for providing opportunities for students to balance both academics and sports, so she explored that option.

Along the way Jo Ee recognized that golf differentiated her from the other applicants. She could leverage her success on the golf course to gain admission into top US universities that are very competitive to get into through a purely academic route. However, she also learnt that the athletic route poses its own challenges.

Here is Jo Ee’s greatest mistake, challenge and reward, drawn from her experience of applying to colleges in the US as a student athlete.

Mistake: Starting Late

“I started my recruitment process too late. I started sending out emails to coaches 1.5 years (late 11th grade) before my first year of college. Many universities responded saying that they had already given out verbal offers and solidified their lineup for Fall 2011.”

The NCAA strictly governs contact with coaches. Students can send emails or call to show interest as early as 8th grade, but coaches can only reciprocate the communication once the student begins 11th grade (except for NCAA Division III and NAIA where there is no restriction on the coaches).

It is recommended to establish communication early and frequently, to put yourself on the coaches’ radars.

Challenge: Contacting Coaches

“The biggest challenge I faced was getting visibility among college coaches. When I sent my resume, many of them were unable to evaluate my standard of play for my Asian tournaments. The coaches preferred to focus their recruiting efforts on American players as they had a better grasp of their talent.”

Asian athletes are relatively new to American coaches. The coaches do not have complete information on various tournaments, and thus cannot judge these athletes as thoroughly as their American peers. It’s been 5 years since Jo Ee applied, and coaches are better informed, but the problem still persists. This makes it even more important to start early and create a rapport with coaches.

Further, coaches are busy and cannot contact you until much later. The gaps in communication can be frustrating, but they’re a part of the process.

Reward: Guaranteed Admission

“For Fall 2011 enrollment, I received a verbal offer from the coach at Berkeley in September 2010. So when I was filling out my UC application in November 2010, I knew that I was guaranteed admission. Plus scholarship!”

Students taking the academic route apply to multiple schools and have to wait for decisions. Athletes in contrast, already know where they’re going before they formally apply, and only apply to the one school.

Jo Ee faced the same challenges as many other Asian athletes do. But she was also rewarded with the joy of being at a top school and representing the school team.

She recommends sifting through the information available on the Internet, or approaching an admissions counselor, to stay informed.

Her advice to aspiring student athletes: “Start early, be persistent, be patient.”


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