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International Athletes: Your Guide to Athletic Recruiting in the U.S.

Recruiting international athletes

There are thousands of international athletes competing in college sports in the U.S., with more than 20,000 NCAA international students currently enrolled and competing at one of the three NCAA division levels. 

If you’re an international athlete wondering how to get recruited at a U.S. college or university, we have some great news–there are plenty of opportunities for international students to pursue their sport while getting a college education. However, in order to compete at a U.S. school, all international recruits must also go through the college recruiting process. 

Keep reading to learn: 


Which sports recruit international athletes?

While there are dozens of sports to choose from, some sports recruit international athletes more than others. 

Sports with the highest rates of international athletes include tennis, track and field, ice hockey, golf, field hockey, soccer, water polo and basketball. This means college coaches may be more familiar with recruiting international athletes or more likely to offer international students a chance at an open roster spot.

Sports with the lowest rates of international athletes include football, baseball, softball and wrestling. This means college coaches may be less familiar with recruiting international athletes. This doesn’t mean you don’t have a chance at getting recruited if you play one of these sports, but it may make your recruiting process more difficult unless you’re an elite recruit. 

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When should international athletes start the recruiting process?

It’s never too early to start the recruiting process, especially as an international student-athlete. While college coaches are interested in recruiting the best players they can, worldwide, international recruits should also understand that they’ll need to put extra time, energy and effort into an already time-consuming and complex process. 

Many international athletes delay the process because they don’t feel ready to connect with college coaches, or they assume a coach will reach out to them first. While it’s true that some recruiting rules do prohibit coaches from contacting athletes, athletes are allowed to reach out to a coach or ask for college admissions or athletic materials at any time. Rather than wait for a coach to (maybe) notice you, be proactive and take the first step–coaches will appreciate the effort. 

Even though college recruiting timelines are different depending on the sport, division level and program, athletes should follow a general recruiting timeline that breaks down what they should be doing, and when. Learn more about college sports recruiting timelines

College recruiting services like NCSA can also help break down what high school athletes need to do every academic year and sport season by providing the recruiting education families need to feel more confident and prepared throughout their athlete’s recruiting journey. 

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What do international student-athletes need to know before starting the recruiting process?

International athletes need to be prepared to do plenty of research ahead of and throughout their recruiting journey. There’s a lot that goes into this process, and it can get confusing even for U.S. athletes. 

Watch NCSA recruiting expert–and former D1 and D3 college coach–Danny Koenig break down what international athletes need to know about the recruiting process.


If you’re serious about becoming a college athlete in the U.S., we recommend:

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Why international student-athletes need to have a recruiting video

International athletes need to ensure that their recruiting video stands out and shows off their athletic ability and sport-specific skills to get–and stay–on a coach’s radar. Since it is unlikely that a college coach will be able to see you play in-person, they’ll want to see a recruiting video to evaluate you and see if you’d made a good fit for their team. 

Depending on your sport, coaches typically want to see a highlight or skills video:

To learn more about highlight and skills videos, including when (and how!) to get footage, how to put it together and when to send it to coaches, check out our highlight and skills video guide

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Contacting college coaches as an international student-athlete

International athletes shouldn’t wait to get noticed by a college coach or for a coach to reach out to them first. Instead, focus on being proactive and contacting a coach first to ensure that you get their attention. 

International Athlete Tip: Make sure you’re paying attention to time zones when you connect with a college coach. While they’re more likely to understand a late-night email, they may be less forgiving if you give them a call while they’re asleep!

Click here to learn more about how to contact college coaches by email, text, social media DMs and phone calls, including what to say–and what topics to avoid–when communicating with coaches. 

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Are international athletes eligible for scholarships and financial aid?

International athletes are eligible to receive athletic and academic scholarships, and even some types of financial aid. However, it’s always a good idea to check with the admissions and financial aid departments, or even ask the college coach if international athletes are eligible or ineligible for certain scholarships and financial aid opportunities.

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NCAA academic eligibility requirements for international athletes

The NCAA Eligibility Center is responsible for ensuring student-athletes are academically eligible to compete at its member schools. Keep in mind that the NCAA Eligibility Center does not help or show athletes how to become eligible or how to maintain their eligibility. It’s the athlete’s responsibility to register for the NCAA Eligibility Center, keep track of their academic and amateurism requirements and ensure they’re on track to meet those requirements. 

To compete at a NCAA program, international students must submit the following information:

NCAA academic eligibility requirements for international athletes

International students need to meet the following academic and amateurism requirements:

International Athlete Tip: The NCAA Eligibility Center extended its COVID-19 initial eligibility policies for student-athletes who initially enroll full-time during the 2021-22 or 2022-23 academic years.Students who intend to play D1 or D2 sports won’t be required to take the ACT or SAT by the NCAA. International student-athletes enrolling in a D1 or D2 program will be academically eligible if they earn at least a 2.3 GPA (D1) or a 2.2. GPA in 16 core-course units (D2). 

Learn more about the NCAA Eligibility Center, including country-specific information and GPA conversions for your country using the NCAA Guide to International Academic Standards for Athletics Eligibility

Click here to register with the NCAA Eligibility Center. 

Questions about the NCAA Eligibility Center? International students can contact the NCAA Eligibility Center using the NCAA Eligibility Center International Contact Form

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NAIA academic eligibility requirements for international athletes

The NAIA Eligibility Center is responsible for ensuring student-athletes are academically eligible to compete at its member schools. Like the NCAA Eligibility Center, they are not responsible for making sure athletes meet eligibility requirements–it is the athlete’s responsibility to register for the NAIA Eligibility Center and to keep track of their grades, test scores and graduating class rank. 

To compete at a NAIA program, any student-athlete from a high school outside of the U.S. or its territories, even if they are a U.S. citizen, must meet two of the three criteria after graduating high school:

NAIA academic eligibility requirements for international athletes

Click here to learn more about NAIA eligibility requirements for international students.

International Athlete Tip: As of January 15, 2021, the NAIA also requires international students to purchase an InCred evaluation for eligibility decisions. International transcripts that are sent directly to the eligibility center will be sent directly to InCred, and only records sent to and verified by InCred, as well as the official InCred credential evaluation, will be used to apply NAIA eligibility rules.

Learn more about the NAIA Eligibility Center using the NAIA Guide for the International Student-Athlete
International athletes can register for the NAIA Eligibility Center at Play.MyNAIA.org

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