Learning to swim at an early age can have many more advantages than just mastering necessary water survival skills.

It could, for example, lead to a longer-term swimming career which will affect the swimmer's life even if he or she does not plan on it.

Sure, not everyone will be in the Olympic ranks with Ryan Lochte, Alexander Popov, Ian Thorpe or Michael Phelps, however, if some swimming dedication is present in a person, it is not unreachable to pursue swimming at a collegiate level.

There are many collegiate swimming levels and therefore many opportunities for swimmers of all abilities to take part in this wonderfully competitive sport.

In order to understand where you'd fit in and where to start, you first need to understand the American collegiate system.

There are a few divisions (leagues) of college swimming in the US, each of them with its specifics.

Below is a very high-level overview of what is out there:

NCAA Division I (National Collegiate Athletic Association) (DI) is for the toughest swimmers out there.

To get good scholarship money, you will need to be at least on the European Championship level with your swimming. However, if the school has a slower swimming program, the threshold for scholarships is of course lower.

NCAA Division II (DII) is a little slower, but the competition is still good.

DII also offers scholarships.

NCAA Division III (DIII), if you want to receive a scholarship for swimming, stay away from that division, cause they do not provide athletic aid.

However, they do have pretty good academic packages most of the time.

More info is on the official NCAA website

NAIA (National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics) is mostly composed of small private schools.

The top swimmers on the national level would do really well in DII, but the depth of competition is lacking.

That said if you are not one of the best, but you still would like to try the American scholarship route, this would be the division for you.

More info is on the official NAIA website

NJCAA (National Junior College Athletic Association)  -  a 2-year college program that has one of the best swimming out there.

However, it is slowly falling behind in the number of schools participating.

After completing 2 years at this NJCAA, you will need to transfer to another 4-year college where you will finish your last 2 years (an extra hassle).

The best example here is the Indian River State College.

More info is on the official NJCAA website

University of Hawaii Swimming Pool
Nice pool setting at the University of Hawaii

The American University Search

Well, this is probably the toughest part.

You should ask yourself, where do I fit in?

That is where you will have to do some research.

The best place to start is on the NCSAA.org website.

There you can find the list of colleges and believe me, there is a lot of them.

Make sure to visit the college's site and check out the swim team records, best times, rosters, also do not forget about the academic major you'd like to study (e.g. Biology, Computer Science).

Your Introduction And First Contact

Once you have a few of these schools picked out, it is time to write a letter to the coach or figure out some other way to contact him or her.

Here are a few things you should be ready to talk about:

  • introducing yourself  
  • your best times  
  • accomplishments  
  • why are you interested  
  • why would you be a good fit for the team
  • what would you like to study  

Remember, do not be pushy. It is a two-way street.

First, get to know the coach. Learn something about the coaches and the team, so you can easily carry a conversation.

After your initial contact, you might get a feel if there is a possibility to receive a scholarship.

Be unique.

You wouldn't believe how many recruiting letters do some of the coaches get.

It is insane and some of them even start with something like  'Coach, I'd like to earn a scholarship at your school'.

That is nice, but not what catches the eye.

Now that I think about it, maybe scratch the letter and do a video right away or just give them a call.

It is the first impression you will make on the coach.

In a way, you should think about it as applying for your first job.

Improve your swimming skills at university
Improve your swimming skills at an American university

Admission Tests

If you have ongoing communication with a coach and there is a possibility of a scholarship, it is time to think of the university admission process.

What tests to take, when is the deadline, etc.? 

Usually, US universities require TOEFL (if you are not a native English speaker), SAT or ACT (sometime both).

Also, probably translations of your transcripts and other school documents.

After you are admitted, it is just the question of how to pay for the school.

Hopefully, by now you have had a promised amount from the coach, so you should know how much to expect to pay.

If you do have to pay a few bucks, remember, there is always an opportunity to earn some extra cash on campus, but it is usually not much.

Final words of wisdom, if you look hard enough, you will find the school that will financially support you in your swimming endeavors.

It is hard work to get to the point where you are all set, bags pack and ready to move overseas to start your new swimming life.

The good news is that you can get professional help from recruiters.

Below is a guest post from Craig Bradford from United Sports USA who is an expert on British swimmer scholarships in the American university athletic system.

With Michael Phelps domination at the Olympics and the World Championships since he burst onto the scene at the Pan Pacific Championships in 2003, there is little wonder that many young British and other European Swimmers have been looking at the opportunities to improve their swimming and higher education simultaneously in an American University environment.

Unfortunately, swimmers from every country in the world are also waking up to this possibility, so the competition for the best places, especially for boys, is intense.

A male swimmer hoping to get to a Top 30 swimming college will need one (and preferably more) of the following:

1) Nationally ranked within the UK

2) International experience in a national team

4) Have the ability to swim multi-events and, even then there is no guarantee that a full scholarship (tuition, fees, housing, food, books, and all swimming-related expenses) will be offered.

This is because all universities are limited to a maximum dollar-equivalent of about 10 scholarships and the average squad is 25-30 players.

Girls are in a much better position.

Girls teams are allowed 14 full scholarships, so girls swimming at top county level or one event specialists can often get excellent funding.

There are universities and colleges that will look beyond your current swimming ability and base your awards on development potential, academic achievements and desire to attend that institution.

Swimming Pool at the Olympic Training Center, Colorado
Swimming Pool at the Olympic Training Center, Colorado

Academic quality in America.

Students, parents, and teachers frequently ask about the value of an American degree.

In America, you will achieve a Bachelors's Degree just like you would in the UK and will have to complete an internship in your field of study to enable you to graduate.

This will give you the opportunity to gain valuable experience in your field of study whilst still at university helping you prepare for working life upon graduation.

There are 2000+, 4-year, degree-granting colleges and universities in America (as against around 150 in the UK).

There are 100 American colleges that would equate academically with the Top 10 from Britain and, then, there would be the next 100 and then the next 100 after that right down to schools that will take just about anyone with the absolute minimum, just as in Britain.

If you have good GCSE s and A-levels or Standard Grades and Highers and a good score on the American entrance exam, the SAT (Scholastic Assessment Test), then you should be able to gain entrance to colleges in the USA that would be on a par with the ones you would normally choose here.

Academic requirements

British students are technically eligible upon completion of GCSE s or Scottish Standard grades.

However, most students will not attend until the following year giving them the opportunity to develop fully and mature.

It is recommended by University and college admissions that students who are capable of doing A-levels and Highers, take this option.

You may get degree-level credit for your work and most people are much better equipped to be several thousand miles from home competing against 18-24-year-olds if they are that little bit older.

The table below sets out the minimum NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) requirements and for more information regarding the three sports governing bodies, the NCAA, the NAIA (National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics) and the NJCAA (National Junior College Athletic Association) please visit: Swimming Scholarships

NCAA swimming
NCAA swimming


A swimming scholarship is firstly an academic pursuit.

Therefore the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) has the following minimum core requirements:

1) C or 3 grade average in a minimum of five GCSE's or Scottish standard grades, including the four mandatory subjects:

  • Mathematics  
  • English  
  • Social Studies (geography, religious education, psychology, sociology, economics, history, integrated humanities, Spanish, etc.)
  • Science (chemistry, biology, physics, anatomy, and physiology)  
  • Any elective subject (a second subject from any of the above, computer science, or a foreign language, but not drama or PE which the Americans consider vocational. The BTEC National is considered a transfer qualification, but a GNVQ is not accepted.

2) A/S, A-levels, and Highers are not necessary but will satisfy the above requirements and you can have your A-levels assessed for degree level credit.

3) Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT).

This The SAT is a globally recognized college admission test that lets you show colleges what you know and how well you can apply that knowledge.

It tests your knowledge of reading, writing, and math. The test is offered six times per year at various testing centres across the UK.

![NAIA Swimming Logo](naia-swimming-diving.jpg"NAIA division men's and women's swimming"){.img-center .caption}

Why should American colleges want British Swimmers?

Due to the competitive nature of recruiting swimmers from within the USA, some colleges and Universities will cast their net further afield in order to find talented swimmers to boost a program and raise their University profile internationally.

Coaches are paid to recruit athletes, organise schedules, arrange practice sessions and develop your technique.

The coach faces losing their job if their team continually performs poorly in their leagues (conferences).

Most coaches have found that athletes from the UK find it easier to settle in the USA and are generally more committed to their academics and swimming than students from the USA.

How good do I need to be?

To gain scholarship funding you need to be at least swimming at the county level and competing nationally.

You must also meet the minimum academic requirements to be considered as a coach wants athletes who will be able to adjust to life inside the classroom as well.

There is also an opportunity to gain academic scholarship funding meaning that the coach does not need to use as much swimming funding and may be able to make you a larger scholarship offer.

Lots of swimmers who go out on partial scholarships and then do well can get more money after a year or two when some of the older players graduate and free up money from the budget.

National Junior College Athletics Association
Swimming at NJCAA is very fast

How much does it cost?

American universities divide fairly equally between public and private institutions.

Public (state-funded) universities are usually cheaper and cost between $18,000 and $25,000 per year for tuition, fees, housing, food, and books.

Private sector schools do not have access to state and federal grants and are, on average, $5,000 to $15,000 more expensive each year.

Most of the top academic universities such as Princeton and Harvard are private colleges and would require academics equivalent to that of Oxbridge or Cambridge for admission.

How to get a scholarship?

You will not get a scholarship if coaches do not know about you.

Some high profile athletes are headhunted by the US coaches over here to scout the main junior events, tournaments, and meets.

Other swimmers need to proactively contact coaches directly by sending their own CVs.

This can sometimes work, but if you are going to go down this route, you need good advice, extensive research, and some good luck to make sure that the college you choose offers the academics, swimming and the ambiance that will make you happy over the next four years of your life.

Many coaches will not communicate with athletes who send them their CVs as they often believe that these swimmers embellish certain details in order to catch their eye.

They also struggle to understand the level of competition or what you have achieved and how it translates to the USA.

Alternatively, you can use the services of United Sports USA.

They are the British based sports-marketing company and help to generate scholarship funding for qualified student-athletes with appropriate universities/colleges.

They advise about academic requirements, entrance exams, Clearing House procedures, immigration documentation, and visas, as well as giving in-depth information about each college and help to negotiate scholarship offers on your behalf.

United Sports USA are committed to putting the client's needs first and through a tailor-made and personal service have helped countless young athletes realise their dream of studying and competing in the USA.

Time is precious, so don't waste another minute just thinking about moving to America, try your luck now.

Swim Advice Topics

How To Get A Swimming Scholarship In USA? (Higher Education And Top Swimming Combined) is part of the following categories: Misc, Guest Post and is meant for swimmers in: Level 3 - Intermediate, Level 4 - Advanced

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Comments (2)

swimmers log said...
My sister got a full ride to the University of Florida (we are Canadian). She said that it was the best thing she could have done for her swimming-- the level of competition and the number of swimmers dwarfs the local scene here. Even if it is only to a Div 2 school, getting your education paid for and being able to swim is a blessing.
Swimsuits said...
It is literally good to take part in college swimming team. Those who are health concious they must get the benefit from it in the future days of their life.The physical ability here groomed by the college trainer, must help every one to be benefited.

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