How to: Earn an athletic scholarship

Three female runners poised at the starting blocks

What’s the best way to land an athletic scholarship? One pro athlete offers some guidance.

Track and field athlete Lauryn Williams always knew what it was like to train, compete, and excel as an athlete — but she also knew how to translate her hard work on the track to achieving big success in academic and professional settings.

Williams shattered high school records in the 100 meter, 200 meter, and 4×100 meter track and field events. Her stellar athletic performance attracted the attention of several universities, especially around her hometown just outside of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

“I was recruited by a lot of schools in my region, and had a few out-of-state schools contact me,” says Williams. “I visited the University of California Berkeley, Rice, Tulane, and the University of Miami.”

Eventually, Williams chose the University of Miami. She continued to excel there, competing in the 2003 Pan American Games and winning the gold medal for the 100 meter event. She graduated in 2004, and made her Olympic debut in the same year — where she again medaled in the 100 meter, claiming silver.

Keep your divisional options open

While Williams obviously competed at an elite level in high school, which helped her attract the attention of many universities, she says getting an athletic scholarship doesn’t hinge on whether you’re a future Olympian.

“There are a lot of schools in this country,” she says. For those hoping to get an athletic scholarship to one of them, she suggests being honest about how big of a role competing in a college sport will play in your life as a whole. Even if you’re unsure about playing a sport beyond college, getting an athletic scholarship can be a great way to defray college costs.

“If you’re not being recruited by your Division I dream school, that does not mean give up,” she says. “There are scholarships on every level. An athletic scholarship is a great way to avoid student loans that are weighing down so many other college graduates.”

How to earn an athletic scholarship

So how do you earn an athletic scholarship when there are limited ones available, especially when it comes to elite schools? Williams emphasizes staying focused on the goal and putting in the work and effort required to excel. That goes for both in the classroom and in the game.

“Beating the odds is less about talent and luck and more about determination, discipline, and teamwork,” she believes. In addition, you can take the following steps to increase your chances of success:

  • Be proactive about communicating with coaches. Reach out via email to introduce yourself and express interest in their program. If a coach reaches out to you first, make sure to follow up promptly.
  • Create a highlight video showcasing your skills and abilities. Make your video accessible online so coaches can view it easily.
  • Have your paperwork ready. This includes a resume with your athletic accomplishments, along with your transcripts and records of your GPA readily available to share with coaches and recruitment teams.
  • Make a list of schools you’re interested in, and take advantage of any visits you can make. While you’re there, ask questions and get familiar with their programs and what they offer for student athletes.

Just like the actual sport you play, getting recruited and securing an athletic scholarship is a competitive process. Bring the same focus and work ethic to this that you bring when you step into the game.

How to keep your scholarship

Williams says it’s important not to take your scholarship opportunity for granted. It’s on you to follow through on the recruitment process and then retain a scholarship once you’re offered it. Remember, most scholarships aren’t locked in for four years from the beginning — many are up for renewal each year.

“It’s a gift to have a free education and to represent your university on the field of play,” she says. “Humble yourself and respect everyone on your team. Practice with passion and compete with gratitude.”

And remember, it’s important to prioritize the education you’re getting at college, because you may not be able to make a career out of your athletic pursuits. Post college, Williams channels the same energy, honesty, and integrity that helped her succeed as a top athlete to helping clients with their personal finances. She founded her own financial planning firm, Worth Winning, with the intention of being the financial coach she wished she’d had during her athletic career.

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