A student-athlete prepares for a race.

Play a College Sport as an International Student

Initiate contact with coaches early at your short list of U.S. universities to play a college sport. 

A student-athlete prepares for a race.

Most American universities host athletic camps during the summer where athletes of all levels and backgrounds can meet coaches and receive guidance.

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When I got to my office Monday morning and scrolled through my email, I was surprised to see an inquiry that exactly coincided with what I wanted to blog about this month. At the top of my inbox was a message from an international student in Munich, Germany, who wanted to play golf for St. Edward's University.

He had attached his impressive academic transcript. He had included a detailed golf biography. And he had sent links to several YouTube videos that showed his skills on the course.

The road to playing competitive college sports – and earning an athletic scholarship – at an American university is complicated. But this particular student is well on his way. Here's how you can follow his lead.

1. Get familiar with the rules: The National Collegiate Athletic Association – usually called the “N C Double A” and written NCAA – governs all college sports in the United States. There are lots of rules, from GPA requirements to what documents a coach can mail prospective athletes.

There are so many rules, in fact, that most universities have a staff member (or members) whose sole job is to make sure the university is following them! It's a good idea for you to be familiar with the NCAA rules that apply to you, too. Bookmark and browse the NCAA Eligibility Center and download the guide for college-bound student-athletes.

[Get more tips for international student-athletes.]

2. Register with the NCAA: Once you're familiar with the requirements for student-athletes, you'll want to register with the NCAA. You can do this by creating an account through the NCAA Eligibility Center.

There is one primary benefit to registering, even if you're unsure whether you can or want to play at the college level. Once you are officially listed in the NCAA system, coaches can offer you athletic scholarships. Not to mention, coaches will appreciate you taking the initiative.

[Discover how to get financial aid as in international student.]

3. Market yourself: One of the hardest parts about being an international student-athlete is that American coaches rarely get to see you in action. Very few have the budget to scout in other countries.

That means you have to market yourself. Have your coach or parent record video clips of you at your best and then upload them to YouTube. Put together a list of your athletic accomplishments.

Update your academic resume, including your grades, SAT or ACT scores and any awards or honors. Then, narrow down your list of potential colleges and email everything to the coaches you would like to play for – and be persistent. NCAA rules limit the amount of contact coaches can initiate with potential players, but you may contact coaches without penalty.

[Learn how to research U.S. colleges from abroad.]

4. Attend a camp: Most American universities host athletic camps during the summer. Athletes of all levels and backgrounds hone their skills and get guidance from experts in intense weeklong sessions.

These camps are a great opportunity for a college coach to see what you can do – and you will get invaluable, unbiased guidance about your ability level compared with other student-athletes, which level of play might be the best fit for you and what your scholarship chances might be.

Check university websites beginning in February or March for information on camp dates, costs and applications.

5. Start early – even earlier than you think: Most American student-athletes know at least a year in advance where they will be playing – and what their athletic scholarship will be. Coaches in some sports begin scouting players as early as their sophomore year of high school.

To give yourself the best chance at a spot on the team – and the financial aid to support you – plan ahead. Work hard on the pitch and off.

Establish relationships with coaches early. If you can, make arrangements to practice with the team or at least come for a visit.

Even though it's harder to meet the NCAA requirements for international students, coaches often don't mind doing the extra work. Why? Because international student-athletes who attend American colleges on scholarships generally perform better in their sport and in the classroom. Coaches love them – and they're likely to love you, too.