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How To Find A Full-Ride Scholarship As An International Student-Athlete

Updated: May 2, 2023

Finding a full-ride scholarship as an international student-athlete may not be as complicated as you think. In the United States, university athletics is a huge industry!


There are more than 1,000 universities and colleges that offer scholarships to talented students to play for their teams, and many offer scholarships.


Finding a full-ride scholarship as an international student-athlete means contacting coaches directly, sending them statistics about your athletic performance, sharing videos of you playing a sport, and completing the regular university application process like you normally would as an international student.


The good news is that you can start looking for scholarships as a student-athlete by contacting coaches directly. If a coach is able to confirm they would like you to join the university team and that you will receive a scholarship, then you can begin the official application process.


Samory Fraga, a former international student from Brazil, received a full-ride scholarship to Kent State University in Kent, Ohio, as a long jumper. He shared his experience and advice in an episode of Let’s Meet For Coffee: Conversations for International Students.


Finding a Full-Ride Scholarship As An International Student-Athlete: Samory’s Story

Samory started track when he was eight years old, growing up in Brazil. His parents knew that there were athletic scholarships available in the United States, so Samory started taking English classes when he was ten years old. In 2013, after placing third in the World U-18 Championship for the long jump, this confirmed he should keep following his passion.


After graduating high school, Samory began looking for athletic scholarships for the long jump.

Samory Fraga international student athlete

Samory Fraga during the 52nd Tennessee Relays, Friday, April 12, 2019, in Knoxville, Tenn. (Wade Payne/www.wadepaynephoto.com)

Samory reached out to about 10 different coaches at universities in the United States about opportunities for athletic scholarships because it was easy to find their email addresses on the university websites. It was the coach from Kent State University who offered Samory a full-ride scholarship.


A full-ride scholarship means that the university covered Samory’s tuition, dorm, meal plan, and any athletic-related expenses (such as uniforms, travel to track meets, etc.).


After receiving the scholarship confirmation, Samory then started the official application process to Kent State. He still needed to complete the TOEFL, ACT, university application, visa application, etc. just like any other international student.


Samory found great success at Kent State as a long jumper. He broke three records! In 2018, he broke the 13-year-old long-jump indoor record and the 32-year-old long-jump outdoor record.


Then in 2019, he broke his own indoor long jump record that he had set the previous year.

Samory is now back in Brazil as a professional athlete and training to make the Brazilian Olympic team.


Do I Need To Be A Record-Breaking Student-Athlete To Get A Scholarship?

The short answer is NO. You do NOT need to be a record-breaking athlete to get an athletic scholarship.


To better explain, you need to understand a little more about university athletics in the United States.


What is the NCAA?

The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) is a non-profit organization in the United States that sets rules that universities and colleges must follow when it comes to athletics. Members of the NCAA include university/college presidents, coaches, athletic directors, faculty representatives, health and safety personnel, and many others.


It’s the NCAA that oversees the well-being of more than 500,000 student-athletes who play for nearly 20,000 teams in the USA!


In 1973, the NCAA created 3 divisions of universities/colleges when it comes to sports: Division I, Division II, and Division III.


Universities/colleges are assigned to one of these divisions based on the school size and budget. This helps ensure that universities/colleges fairly compete against other similar universities/colleges.

In other words, Division I schools only compete against other Division I schools. Division II only competes against Division II. And Division III only competes against Division III.

  1. Divisions I and II schools are usually larger schools and can offer scholarships to student-athletes

  2. Division III schools are usually smaller, and are NOT allowed to offer scholarships to student-athletes

How to find a full-ride scholarship as an international student-athlete: Percentage of student-athletes in NCAA divisions.

Student-athlete percentage in Division I, Division II, and Division III. Image courtesy of ncaa.org

Typically, student-athletes consider Division I universities/colleges more desirable because they offer better scholarships and many are known to have winning teams. So the absolute best athletes usually attend Division I schools. In Samory’s case, Kent State University is considered a Division I school.


However, being an athlete at a Division II school is also a great choice! A Division II school is allowed to offer athletic scholarships and these schools also have great teams.


You can always try to receive a scholarship from a Division I school, however, you can also look for scholarships at a Division II school. Since all the “record-breaking” athletes tend to go to Division I schools, try for Division II.


You can stay at a Division II school and play for the team until graduation. Or perhaps attend a Division II school for a year and try to transfer to a Division I school.


Either way, if you think you’re pretty good at a sport and want to see if you can get a scholarship, try for both Division I and Division II schools.



Another option can be playing for a team at a junior college. The NJAA is the governing association that oversees athletics at community colleges and junior colleges. Playing for a junior college can land you a scholarship, as well as be a place to start and then transfer to a university (Division I or Division II).


What Kind Of Scholarships Are Available For Student-Athletes?

The short answer: it depends.


Some Division I and Division II schools offer full-ride scholarships (like Samory’s case). That means the university covers your tuition, dorm, and meal plan (food). Some may offer to cover only your tuition, or only part of your tuition.


Any kind of scholarship is better than no scholarship!


So if a coach offers you a scholarship, be sure you understand what is included.


Grades Still Matter As An Athlete

Remember the NCAA? Well, as a student-athlete you have to follow their rules and one rule is maintaining good grades while playing for a university/college team.


You actually have to first meet initial grade eligibility requirements before becoming a student-athlete in the USA and then make sure you maintain a certain grade point average (GPA) during your studies. You can learn more here, but a coach can also walk you through the eligibility requirements for international students.


4 Steps To Begin Your Search For International Student Athletic Scholarships

We have summarized the steps to help you begin your search for international student athletic scholarships:

  1. Start gathering any videos and statistics regarding your athletic performance

  2. Look for some possible Division I and Division II schools in the USA and create a list

  3. Search for the email addresses of the team coaches. A simple Google search should do the trick.

  4. Email the coaches. Introduce yourself, what sport you’re interested in, highlights of your athletic performance, and do they have any spots open on their team. You can also ask if they have scholarships available. They can also help you understand eligibility requirements, like grades, ACT/SAT score, etc.


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