Winning An Athletic Scholarship

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“When I learned how much going to college in the U.S. could cost, I was a little discouraged,” says Ade Otegbeye, of Nigeria, an engineering student at Indiana University. “Then I realized that even if you’re not a superstar, you can still get an athletic scholarship in many cases.”  With good grades and better-than-average athletic skills, Ade Otegbeye* got a full scholarship as a member of the school’s soccer team. The team provided an instant group of friends, and the scholarship allowed him to pursue his lifelong dream of becoming an engineer.

More than 125,000 college scholarships are awarded to athletes every year. While 1% of these scholarships go to superstars, the majority – the remaining 99% — go to athletes who are good, but not great. Follow these tips and you can cash in on more than $376 million in athletic scholarships available to men and women every year.

According to college coaches, a student doesn’t need to be an all-star to earn a scholarship. Other qualities, including motivation and persistence, are more important. A student-athlete should be willing to try hard, to give 100% in their sport. A good athlete needs to be willing to work hard in the classroom as well as on the playing field. He or she should be a team player, and be open to suggestions and criticism from coaches. Often, these qualities combined are more valuable to a coach than athletic ability alone.

First, you need to establish your goals. Is competing at the college level the next step in your athletic career? Or is college the next step in your career plan, and athletics a way to accomplish that?

Be honest with yourself about your abilities. Are you currently setting records for your country? Are you among the top 10 athletes in the sport, in your age group? If so, you are what’s known as a “blue chip” athlete. Within the U.S., these athletes are courted by top universities who offer them full scholarships that include tuition, room and board, and books. If you’re a superstar, and you contact U.S. coaches early, there’s a good chance you’ll receive several competitive offers. If your next step is becoming a professional athlete or competing in the Olympics, you’ll want to compete at the highest level at a Division I school.

What if you’re a good athlete, but not the best in the world?

You still have an excellent chance of winning an athletic scholarship. Even the most competitive schools only sign one or two “superstars” each year. The remaining scholarships, more than 120,000 every year, go to athletes who are talented but not phenomenal.  Don’t be afraid to apply to the top tier universities. Different coaches look for different qualities in players, to round out the team. Your teamwork, speed or ball-handling skills may be exactly what that coach is looking for. Coaches respond to dedication in students. Competing on the college level requires a commitment in time and effort. Many international students are highly dedicated, on and off the field.

No matter what your level of ability, apply at smaller schools as well as the more famous universities. Virtually every school has a college athletic program and scholarships. A number of smaller schools have athletic scholarships that go unused, every year. By contacting smaller schools and community colleges, even an average athlete may easily land a full scholarship. A strong work ethic and a positive attitude are usually important to every coach. Many students with scholarships to community college are awarded full scholarships to four-year schools after two years.

Be proactive. No matter how good you are, you need to make the first contact. Even the biggest U.S. colleges with the most competitive programs can’t scout every school in the U.S., much less international schools. You need to take the initiative to contact coaches. One thing that all successful student-athletes have in common: they captured the coach’s attention. Athletes who contact coaches several times have a better chance of succeeding.

Consider changing sports. Many athletes have been successful in winning a scholarship by switching sports. At Washington State University, the women’s rowing crew has more than 60 team members. Just six of them were in rowing prior to college. All of the others were high school athletes, in other sports ranging from volleyball to swimming. As an athlete, you probably have skills that will work in a number of sports. If you’re fast, consider transferring from soccer to track. If you’re a great kicker, consider American football.

Don’t ignore your grades. In the past, the stereotype of a student-athlete was someone who was a big, dumb idiot – always male – who was failing all his classes. If that picture was ever true, it’s not any longer. Student-athletes are expected to have good grades, just to get into a competitive college. When a coach sees that a high school student has poor grades, they question the athlete’s commitment and ability to manage their time.

By the way, the stereotype of the male athlete has also changed. Since 1972, by law, every American college that receives any type of federal funding must offer as many scholarships for female athletes as for men. That means that every school that has $1 million in football scholarships, also has at least $1 million in scholarships for female athletes.

Don’t turn down a partial scholarship. Often, other loans and grants are available to international students who win a partial athletic scholarship. If your athletic scholarship covers 50% of your education, another program may cover the rest. Many schools offer special scholarships for international students. You may receive an academic scholarship or grant based on your grades.

Ade Otegbeye plans to return to his native Africa after he graduates in May. “I’m really grateful that I had this opportunity to attend college in the U.S., and help my people,” he says. “I would recommend an athletic scholarship to anyone. “


*Student names have been changed to protect their identities.


How Much Will a U.S. College Cost?

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How much money will you need to make your dream of attending a U.S. college come true? The answer depends on several factors. Where will you go to school? Do you prefer to begin your education at a community college or a four-year school? Are you interested in attending an elite private university? Will you qualify for scholarships or other financial assistance?

Many students in Africa dream of attending a U.S. college.  Too often, when they find out how expensive it can be, they abandon their dream. Don’t be discouraged! It’s true that students from wealthy families may spend a lot of money earning a degree in the U.S. But, it’s also possible to get a quality education for a lot less. Be sure to check out “Paying for Your U.S. Education” for ideas on how to finance for your U.S. college education.

Remember that the costs we’re going to discuss are averages. The U.S. college that you attend may charge more or less – sometimes much less. For example, the average cost of tuition at a U.S. community college is $2,191. This means that for every school that charges $500 more per year ($2,691), there is one where the tuition is $500 less per year, or $1,591 per year.

Also, keep in mind that there are a number of ways to reduce the cost of your U.S. education. At many four-year schools, for example, you may qualify as an RA or Resident Assistant after the first year. RAs provide supervision for other students in the dorm. In return for a few hours of work during the week, RAs receive their living expenses, including room and meals, free. Depending upon the school, they may also receive a small monthly stipend for spending money.

Many African students will qualify for full or partial scholarships to pay for tuition and books. Scholarships are available for students who excel in a number of areas, from athletics to academics. Special scholarships are often given to students from a particular country, or in a particular field of study, such as teaching or physics. Whatever your talent, from horseback riding to modern dance, from painting to storytelling, there is a scholarship for it.

Many international students are confused about the difference between a college and a university. In the U.S., college and university mean the same thing. They both provide a similar high-quality education. This is not true in Canada and the UK, where a college usually provides a shorter course of professional education, perhaps for bookkeepers or secretaries. In the U.S., this would be called a trade or vocational school.  In Canada and the UK, the brightest students earn academic degrees at university or “uni.” In the U.S., both colleges and universities offer similar courses for bright students.  Technically, a  U.S. college is a smaller school or a division of a large university. In practice, a U.S. student is much more likely to refer to his or her “college” or “school” rather than “university.”

Studying in the U.S. can be expensive, but it’s an investment that pays off. First, let’s look at some average figures compiled from the U.S. State Department for full-time students. The total cost of your college education will depend on the type of school you choose. The average tuition at a public community college in 2006 was $2,191 per year for a full-time student. For a public four-year college, the average cost was $5,491. And for a four-year private college or university, the average cost is $21,235. And that’s just for tuition alone.

I know you’re thinking, “Wow, that’s a huge difference!” According to these figures, the average four-year private school costs almost ten times as much as the average community college. The quality of education that you receive isn’t necessarily better at a more expensive school. Why? And, more important, which one is right for you?

Here are the average costs when living expenses and meals are included. These numbers also include transportation to and from your classes, and a modest amount of spending money.

The total cost of a year at a U.S. college also depends on where you live, while you’re attending school. The cheapest option is still the public community college. Most community colleges don’t have dorms, so students live nearby in an apartment or private home.

Many U.S. students attend community college while living at home with their parents. Other students rent a room from a local family, or share a house or apartment with other students. The total cost of studies and living expenses at community colleges for students who commute between home and school each day is $11,692 per year.

Most students and parents are surprised to learn that at a four-year school, living in a dorm room on campus can be the cheapest option. Dorm life is also less complicated for international students. Meals are usually provided, and there are nearby facilities for laundry. Students don’t have to worry about negotiating a lease or grocery shopping. In most cases, living on campus means the student doesn’t need a car. For four-year public colleges, the average cost of tuition plus living expenses is $23,239 per year. For four-year private colleges, the average cost is $31,916.

If you choose to live off-campus, your living expenses will be slightly higher in many areas. You may need a car to go back and forth to classes. Even in an area where public transportation is available, it’s an additional expense. The average budget for a commuter student at a four-year private college is $32,070.

Paying For Your U.S. Education

Many famous Africans attended college in the U.S.  Nobel Peace Prize Winner Wangari Maathai studied at the University of Pittsburgh. Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali studied in the United States. So did U. N. diplomats Boutros Boutros-Ghali and Kofi Annan.  Some of these famous people came from wealthy families that could afford an expensive school, but others were from humble villages. Yet, they all found ways to fund their education. You can, too.

There are many ways to pay for your U.S. college education, including scholarships and financial aid. You will often encounter the words “scholarship” and “financial aid” used interchangeably.  What’s the difference?  Technically, a scholarship is a competition with a prize of money for education, while financial aid is given to students with the greatest need.

A scholarship may have one or several winners, and the amount can vary from $500 to $50,000 or more. Usually, a scholarship is awarded based on achievement. This may be athletic skills, academic excellence, or a talent such as acting. Some scholarships are for students who have shown leadership skills or who have a history of community service. Other scholarships are for the best students in a particular field, such as teaching or science. In general, you win a scholarship in a competition with other students. Sometimes financial need is considered, but it is only a minor part of the competition.

Financial aid, on the other hand, is a grant based on need. Colleges look at how much money a student and his parents have. They examine records of family income and savings. The students with the least money normally receive these grants. This kind of award generally goes to everyone with the same financial need. Depending on a school’s financial status, they may award many financial aid grants, or just a few. Some of the most expensive private universities offer the most financial aid.

The first source of money for your education is funds from your home country. Many African students are entitled to money for education from the local or national government in their home country. Others receive funding from corporations or foundations in their native country. Not every country offers money for college, but it’s a great place to start.

You might be surprised to learn that the second source of money for higher education is U.S. colleges and universities themselves. Nearly half of the schools in the U.S. set aside funds for international students. Often, this money is entirely separate from aid provided for U.S. students. It’s only for the use of international students.

The best way to find college funds earmarked for international students is to visit or email a college advisor at the University of your choice. Be sure to tell him or her that you are an international student, and what country you come from. They will give you all the information on special funds that are available for non-U.S. students. Private universities are more likely to offer financial aid to African students than public universities. More financial aid is offered by private liberal arts colleges, which offer courses in arts and sciences. Less financial aid is available at universities that offer professional courses like engineering, business administration, and medicine.

Often, special aid for African students includes grants, scholarships and occasionally loans or part-time work at the school. A grant is a gift from the school to the student. Usually, the school just “forgives” a certain amount of tuition. Your U.S. college may charge $12,000 in tuition, and give you a grant of $11,000 per year. You will end up paying $1,000 per year. The school may supply a loan, a scholarship or a part-time job to provide that $1,000.

During your first year of study, you can legally work only part-time, and the job must be on campus. Often, a school will include a “work-study” job as part of your financial aid. Normally, you’ll work in the school library, at the university cafeteria, in the bookstore, or health club. Some jobs might include working with a professor or in the administrative office.

When you’re deciding which colleges to apply for, it’s smart to compare the number of students who receive financial aid. Two colleges may cost about the same amount to attend, but College A, a wealthy private school, gives financial aid to 35 % of the international students. College B, a public school, gives financial aid to just 5% of international students. Your chance of receiving financial aid is much better if you apply to College A instead of College B.

It’s worth the effort to check into international awards. These awards are made by companies and non-profit organizations, as well as by the U.S. government. Some of these funds are reserved for graduate students to earn advanced degrees.

In some cases, you may be offered a loan through the university to help pay for your education. Usually, you will need a U.S. citizen to guarantee payment of the loan. Fewer loans are available for first-year students.  Before accepting a loan, be sure you’ll be able to repay it when your education is completed. Most U.S. students finance their education with loans at special low rates that are guaranteed by the U.S. government. Unfortunately, that program is not available unless you’re a U.S. citizen.

One great way to earn money for school is to become a resident assistant (RA) in a dormitory, after your first year. RAs help students with problems or questions. They receive free living quarters and often free meals or a modest cash payment.

Beginning your second year on a student visa, you can apply for permission to work at any job, up to 20 hours per week. This request isn’t always granted, but it can be a big help for some students.  If you’re on a J-1 (exchange student) visa and bring your spouse along, he or she can work while you’re in the U.S.


Education Quote

“True education makes you humble and gives you power.”

Debasish Mridha


Student Visas 101 – USA Admissions


Once you’ve been accepted by a U.S. college, you still need to secure a student visa in order to legally enter the country. While this isn’t usually difficult, it can be a long, drawn-out process. The best way to speed up the process is to make sure that you have all the required documents. Continue reading

U.S. College Admissions Checklist

As an international student, you will want to start planning for your education at a U.S. College early. It’s good to find financing for your education early. The U.S. State Department suggests that international students have financing in place one year before beginning college. Many experts recommend that international students take required college admissions tests like the ACT or SAT in their next-to-last year of secondary school. This allows you to focus on the application process, writing your college essay, and your grades, in your final year in secondary school.

Depending upon the part of Africa that you call home, you may attend secondary school for 2 to 5 years. We’ve adjusted this checklist so it applies to students from all African nations.

4 Years Before College

  • Research colleges in the U.S. in books and online
  • Send away for brochures from different colleges
  • Collect information about different U.S. regions and choose one or two
  • Begin studying for the TOEFL if needed
  • Network with other international students in person or online
  • Begin activities that will demonstrate your leadership, academic abilities and unique talents
  • Remember to keep your grades high

This is the perfect time to begin researching U.S. colleges. Most students develop a list of two or three “dream schools” that they would love to get into. They also choose 4 to 7 other schools, including 1 or 2 “fallback schools” A fallback school is usually one accepts lower test scores, so students feel confident that even if they aren’t accepted anywhere else, they can attend their fallback school. Research the schools’ websites online, and send for brochures. Talk to other students who have studied in the U.S. and ask their opinions. If you don’t know any international students, visit student forums online to network.

If English is not your first language, many schools will require that you take a TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) for admission. Now is the perfect time to begin studying English intensively with a tutor or friends. You can find information on the TOEFL scores that different schools require online. You can also learn what ACT or SAT scores they prefer.

Admissions officers like to see students who demonstrate leadership, academic achievement and talent. Think about what activities you can become involved in now, to demonstrate those qualities. Can you tutor younger students? Enter a competition? Work in your community? It all helps.

The admission process is long and time-consuming. Don’t let it distract you from your studies! Your grades in secondary school are the most important factor that U.S. schools will consider.

3 Years Before College

  • Learn about financial aid from your home country, including loans, scholarships and sponsorship
  • Research U.S. scholarships, including athletic, academic and special interest
  • Identify 3 to 10 U.S. colleges that you will apply to
  • Continue to study for the TOEFL
  • Start Studying for the ACT or SAT admissions test

If English is not your first language, you may find that studying for the TOEFL is the most difficult part of getting into a U.S. College. Consider getting a private tutor or forming a study group with friends. Be sure to practice speaking English as well as reading and writing it. This is also the ideal time to begin studying for your entrance exam.

By narrowing your college choices down early, you can focus your attention on the testing and application processes later. Start studying for the SAT or ACT test. There are many online test prep (short for “preparation”) materials and books that you can use. As an international student, it’s great to have the extra study time.

Now is the best time to explore funding for your U.S. college education so it will be in place well before your university career begins.

2 Years Before College

  • Begin applying for scholarships
  • Check requirements for a student visa in your country
  • Consider taking the PSAT
  • Continue studying for the TOEFL
  • Consider taking the ACT or SAT early
  • Visit a few U.S. colleges, if possible
  • Send for updated brochures and applications for your favorite schools
  • Start writing admissions essays

Some scholarships will accept applications as early as 2 years before you start school. By beginning early, you will be able to apply to every scholarship you’re interested in, on time. Every scholarship has its own deadline. Apply online or by email if possible. If you’re mailing information, be sure to allow enough time for it to arrive before the deadline. Apply for every scholarship that you think you might qualify for. Sometimes scholarships go unclaimed, just because no one applies.

Consider taking tests like the ACT or SAT towards the end of the school year. Test scores are just one factor that admissions officers consider. If you score poorly on these tests, you can always take them again. Focusing on tests this year leaves you free to focus on applications next year. The PSAT or “Pre-SAT” is a good way to practice taking a real exam.

Consider visiting the U.S. during the summer. It’s great to actually walk around a few colleges and meet some of the students. Contact the office for international students. They will arrange for someone to give you a tour, and help you meet other students.

1 Year Before College

  • Continue applying for scholarships
  • Take (or retake, if necessary) the SAT or ACT
  • Take the TOEFL
  • Take the GED if required by schools you’re applying for
  • Organize your applications
  • Put all the due dates for applications on a calendar
  • Complete your essays
  • Mail applications early—be sure to allow enough time for them to arrive
  • Early admissions applications must be received in November
  • Most other applications are due in January
  • Begin receiving admissions letters in March and April
  • Apply for a student visa as soon as you are accepted
  • Compare financial offers from different schools
  • Talk with your parents and advisors
  • Choose a school
  • Inform all the schools of your decision by May 1
  • Put any housing or financial deadlines on your calendar
  • When the school term ends, have a final transcript sent to the college of your choice
  • Complete a student visa interview, if required
  • Make tentative travel plans
  • Receive your student visa 30 to 120 days before school starts
  • Make final travel plans

This is a busy year! Now you see why we recommend testing early, if possible. If you took the SAT or ACT last year, but think you can score better, retake the test.

Early in the school year, create a calendar with all the admission deadlines for each school on it. Use online, emailed or faxed application forms whenever possible. If that’s not an option, remember to add extra time for your applications to be delivered by mail. Be sure to request letters from community leaders and teachers 4 to 6 weeks before you actually need them.