Cross Country Colleges
Several of the world’s best cross country runners participate in the sport at the collegiate level in the United States and Canada. Many of the top runners head to prestigious cross country colleges such as BYU, Northern Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Oregon and Arkansas, all of which have claimed NCAA cross country championships in either men’s or women’s cross country over the past few years. However, creating a list of the best cross country colleges is a personal endeavor as so many factors go into it beyond simply who the best teams are in the NCAA cross country rankings.
One of the most useful tools that high school cross country runners utilize is NCSA’s ranking of the top colleges for cross country teams for both men and women. It not only considers the quality of the squads but also factors such as academic rankings, graduation rates, cost of attendance and how many peers are interested in them.
The same three schools are at the top of both of those sets of rankings:
- 1 - North Carolina
- 2 - Stanford
- 3 - UCLA
Also included in the top 10 of these rankings are:
- Princeton (4 – men’s, 5 – women’s)
- Harvard (4 – women’s, 9 – men’s)
- Florida (5 – men’s, 7 – women’s)
- Yale (6 – women’s, 10 – men’s)
- Michigan (6 – men’s, 8 – women’s)
- Virginia (7 – men’s, 10 – women’s)
- California (8 – men’s, 9 – women’s)
Most cross country colleges do offer cross country scholarships but take note of cross country vs track differences. In NCAA cross country, schools are limited to 12.6 men’s and 18 women’s scholarships for cross country and track and field athletes combined. Those cross country colleges that are not track and field colleges as well are limited to five men’s and six women’s cross country scholarships, respectively. In any case, do also consider that NCAA Division 3 cross country programs and NCAA Division 1 Ivy League cross country teams do not award any athletics scholarships whatsoever. However, they do offer a considerable amount of financial aid to their general student bodies.
Also note that just because a school is allowed to offer a certain number of scholarships, it may not provide that maximum figure. As you proceed along your recruiting path towards a spot on a team, make sure that you understand clearly the specifics of scholarship offers or promises of future scholarships.
Colleges - Cross country
- NCAA Division 1 Cross Country – 319 men's teams, 349 women's teams
- NCAA Division 2 Cross Country – 284 men's teams, 307 women's teams
- NCAA Division 3 Cross Country – 407 men's teams, 426 women's teams
- NAIA Cross Country – 217 men’s teams, 225 women’s teams
Both the NCAA and NAIA administer college athletics. These associations organize national championships and pass the rules that each of their member institutions must follow to be eligible to participate in intercollegiate athletics and to compete for regional and national championships. The top athletics departments compete in NCAA Division 1 cross country and other sports while NCAA Division 2 cross country and NCAA Division 3 cross country are roughly on par with NAIA cross country as far as the quality of teams go.
Additionally, the NJCAA sponsors junior college xc for both men and women. This is a great option for runners who are either not academically eligible to participate at a four-year institution, want to develop more as an athlete before moving on to one, plan to just earn an associate degree or whose financial situation make this the best financial option for them. Do note that junior colleges offer cross country scholarships too.
NCAA cross country rankings
As you engage in the cross country recruiting process, it’s important to keep yourself informed on who the best NCAA cross country teams are. This will help you see where you might best fit from an athletic standpoint. The USTFCCCA provides the best junior college, NAIA and NCAA cross country rankings resource. These were the top five NCAA Division 1 cross country teams in the final 2019 rankings on the men’s side:
- 1 – BYU
- 2 – Northern Arizona
- 3 – Colorado
- 4 – Iowa State
- 5 – Tulsa
And these were the five best cross country colleges on the women’s side, according to these rankings:
- 1 – Arkansas
- 2 – BYU
- 3 – Stanford
- 4 – New Mexico
- 5 – North Carolina State
These rankings of the best cross country colleges are released every week or two during the season.
Cross country resources
Also take the time to consult these cross-country resources:
- USA Track & Field’s Cross-Country Page
- Athletic.net’s High School Cross Country Page
- Athletic.net’s Page for College Associations
- Athletic.net’s NCAA Division 2 Cross Country Page
- MileSplit.com’s Page for Cross Country and Track & Field News
NCAA cross country results
The best resource for finding results of cross country meets is the official athletics departments websites for colleges in cross country that you’re considering. On the cross country schedule page, you can generally click on “Results” and “Recap” links to see how cross country runners and teams performed as compared to their competition. You can also see on this page when cross country meets are scheduled. In some cases, these can be followed in real time.
Cross country runners generally start competing at meets around Labor Day, and the best ones continue doing so until just before Thanksgiving.
Cross country colleges: postseason
Those running in college always have an eye towards the postseason, and all of the season’s cross country meets lead up to that. Men’s and women’s cross country teams that are in a conference open postseason action with conference championship meets. The vast majority of NCAA schools will then engage in cross country training for regional meets although there are no regional meets for NAIA cross country colleges.
Only a select few will take part in the national championship meet. For cross country colleges that compete at the NCAA Division 1 level, those that finish in the top two in their regional will qualify. So will 13 at-large squads, which will be decided upon by the NCAA D1 Cross Country Subcommittee. Cross country runners who are not on one of those teams but placed in the top four of the rest of the field while concurrently being in the top 25 of the overall field will move on. An additional two at-large runners are selected to complete the field.
Arkansas has won the most men’s championships with 11 while the Razorbacks also claimed the 2019 women’s crown, that team’s first title. Villanova has the most women’s championships with nine. BYU won the men’s championship for the first time in 2019.
Colleges - cross country terms: Prospects, recruits and commits
As you go through the cross country recruiting process, it’s important to understand terms that are being used to describe you. The most common ones are prospects, recruits and commits. Most who participate in boys and girls cross country are prospects. This means that they’re eligible to participate at the college level. However, this doesn’t mean that any coaches have shown any interest. Once that occurs, you’re a recruit. The last step in the cross country recruiting process is becoming a commit. That’s when you accept an offer to join a team.
Cross country colleges: Recruiting
You should also consider what cross country colleges are looking for in those who would be making the transition from high school cross country to the next level. Your cross country training will become more demanding, and coaches want to ensure that you’ll be able to regularly cover the college cross country distance at a competitive speed. In addition, cross country colleges want to ensure that you’ll be able to succeed in the “student” part of the term, “student-athlete.”
If you’re speaking with a coach at one of the cross country colleges that sponsors a track & field team too, your ability to contribute to that sport as well will likely be considered. Of course, the 5,000- and 10,000-meter races on the track are seamless transitions for most xc runners, but perhaps you also have skills in shorter hurdles races or a field event such as the long jump. The more value that you can bring to both sports, the more apt you are to be offered spots on the teams and a scholarship.
Your demeanor, how you carry yourself, is also something that is looked at as it tends to have a noticeable impact on your ability to perform well in the classroom and on the roads and paths. This includes how you interact with them as how you communicate is being analyzed as well.
As you educate yourself, it’s helpful to know the rules that cross country colleges must follow. For example, coaches at cross country colleges are only allowed to contact you at specific times and in specific ways. By doing so, you’ll know a possible reason for why a cross country running coach suddenly stopped reaching out to you.
Cross country camps
One of the best ways to combine improving your knowledge of xc with getting in front of colleges for cross country coaches is by taking advantage of cross country camps. These are great for interacting with a variety of coaches at cross country colleges and taking in all of that coaching knowledge. As a result of cross country camps, you can improve your xc ability throughout the rest of your time competing in boys and girls cross country in high school as well as during your time at one of the cross country colleges that you’re considering.
Next College Student Athlete is an organization that has helped cross country runners and other athletes navigate the sometimes overwhelming path through the recruiting process. It’s been doing so since it was founded in 2000 by Chris Krause. He did not have access to an organization such as NCSA when he was a high school football player in the 1980s. Although he ultimately found his fit at Vanderbilt University, he wanted to ensure that those who followed in his footsteps would have assistance available.
One way that NCSA did that was by becoming the first company to incorporate digital technology into a recruiting world that had been dependent on paper. It also provided a means for student-athletes to upload highlights videos so that coaches could see them in action a year before YouTube was created. Another feature that helps student-athletes and coaches both find good fits is its recruit match system. This focus on finding that fit also has so much to do with why 35,000 coaches are a part of the NCSA network.
As a result of everything that NCSA has done for those involved with college athletics, it’s received top reviews, including a Google Reviews score of 4.9 out of 5.0 stars. Many of those reviewers are amongst the 150,000 student-athletes who utilized NCSA’s services en route to committing to a college team. If you’re looking to join them, fill out your free profile today. If you have any questions about it or what NCSA can offer you, call 866 495-5172.