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Women’s College Swimming Scholarships

When a women’s high school swimmer makes the conscious decision to swim collegiately, what usually follows are thoughts of being rewarded with a college swimming scholarship. Desire may be the beginning of the scholarship quest, but there are many obstacles to pass to become a women’s college swimming team member. 

In NCAA Division 1 and Division 2 and NAIA, women’s swimming scholarships fall into the equivalency type category. Let’s use the NCAA D1 women’s swimming scholarship rules to explain. Each team in D1 is allotted the equivalent of 14 full scholarships for women’s swimming. Coaches can divide scholarship awards in any manner – from one women’s swimming recruit getting a full scholarship, to paying partial tuition, room and board, or the price of lab fees and books. The coach can do any combination for any number of swimmers, as long as the total doesn’t exceed the equivalent of 14 full scholarships. Should I go to a Day swim camp or overnight swim camp?

Women’s swimming recruits may also consider swimming for a junior college team for a variety of reasons. The NJCAA and CCCAA teams offer scholarships, and many four-year colleges will provide greater scholarship amounts to junior college swimmers transferring to an NCAA D1 or D2 or NAIA school after two years. By starting off at a junior college, swimmers have the opportunity to prove success with managing both college academics and athletic obligations and transfer up to the next level. 

NCAA Division 3 women’s swimming teams are not permitted to offer athletic scholarships. However, there are several ways for institutions to offer academic grants to help cut the total cost of attending a university. 

Keep reading for a comprehensive overview of swimming scholarships.

Can I get a scholarship for women’s swimming?

The competition among those trying to receive a women’s swimming scholarship should not be a deterrent for any high school swimmer wanting to continue the sport at the collegiate level.

To earn a scholarship for swimming, planning is essential. This includes contacting potential colleges as soon as the athlete makes the decision to become a competitive swimmer at the next level. Swimmers should do research to find programs where their individual strengths could best contribute to the team’s overall success. Coaches look for student-athletes who can help the team earn points at the conference and national levels. 

The combination of being proactive, planning, improving in the pool and getting standardized test scores up will increase the likelihood of success in terms of earning women’s swimming scholarships. 

How many women’s swimming scholarships are there?

It is difficult to pinpoint the actual number of women’s swimming scholarships available throughout all the levels of collegiate competition. As it is an ‘equivalency’ sport, coaches can dissect the allotted total number of scholarships in any manner. There are few college swimmers with a full scholarship. 

There are multiple graphs and figures available which detail the likelihood of obtaining a swimming scholarship, but many of them are based on incorrect assessments. Correlating the percentage of swimmers competing in the sport at the college level by using the total number of swimmers in high school swimming is a bit misleading. Not all high school swimmers want to swim in college, and not all high school swimmers from the data are graduating high school seniors. Of course, the pathway to a women’s college swimming scholarship still isn’t without its difficulties, but swimming recruits shouldn’t rely on incorrect statistics to keep them from their collegiate dreams.

DivisionNumber of TeamsTotal AthletesAverage Team SizeScholarship Limit Per Team
NCAA D12005,5002814
NCAA D2772,00198.1
NCAA D32425,10020n/a

The NCAA D1 Council adopted legislation that loosened regulation regarding need-based aid and academic scholarships that are not tied to athletic ability. Effective August 1, 2020, teams in equivalency sports like swimming will not have any athletes’ need- and academic-based aid be counted against a team’s maximum athletic scholarship limit. Prior to this rule change, student-athletes had to meet certain criteria for their additional aid to not be counted against a team’s athletic scholarship limit.

Swimming teams will still have a maximum athletic scholarship cap, but student-athletes can seek to stack need-based aid and academic scholarships on top of their athletic scholarships. With school and family budgets being impacted by the coronavirus, this rule change should allow swimming programs that have the funds to extend more money to families and athletes that need it.

Division 1 swimming scholarships

Each D1 team can divide the 14 total scholarships in any manner, with the average D1 team having 28 swimmers on the roster. Another factor to be considered is if a college is fully funding the women’s swimming team (a school may provide for less scholarships than the NCAA maximum number).

To earn a scholarship at this top tier of swimming competition, swimmers should have times that match the Futures Championships standards.

Division 2 swimming scholarships

Similar to D1, swimmers aiming to compete at the D2 level are up against strong competition from other student-athletes. While D2 swim coaches may be a bit more relaxed about required swim times, overall, the division is still quite competitive. Lots of swimmers at the D2 level actually have the swim times necessary for top D1 programs but chose a D2 program because of a higher scholarship amount offered or other non-athletic factors, like majors offered at the school. 

Division 3 swimming scholarships

No athletic scholarships are permitted in D3, but there are academic-related awards for student-athletes available. Solid GPA and ACT/SAT scores, along with quality swim times, can provide athletes with opportunities to decrease their college costs. 

With nearly 250 programs, D3 offers many opportunities for potential swim recruits.

NAIA swimming scholarships

With an average roster size of 11 women’s swimming athletes and 31 schools offering swim programs, there is much competition for swimming scholarships in the NAIA. Like NCAA D1 and D2, the NAIA swim programs are under equivalency scholarship guidelines. The eight swimming scholarships per team can be divided in any way the coach likes. Similar to the NCAA, some NAIA schools may decide to less than fully fund a program, decreasing the number of scholarship availabilities.

Junior college swimming scholarships

Women’s college swimming recruits should consider the junior college route as an entry point to collegiate swimming. Many NJCAA and CCCAA schools provide full scholarships. If the women’s swimming recruit has academic difficulties, a junior college may be the only option available. The athlete must still have swim times comparable to D1 or D2 qualifying times. Many successful women’s swimmers use their junior college experience as a bridge to NCAA D1 or D2 or NAIA swim programs.

Best colleges for swimming scholarships

Some of the top tier, elite women’s swimming programs are Texas, Michigan, Stanford, California, Virginia and NC State. At the D2 level, Queens (NC), Drury, Indianapolis and UC San Diego top the list. The highest ranked NAIA programs are Keiser, SCAD, Cumberland and Lindenwood-Belleville.

While NCAA D3 programs do not offer scholarships, other financial aid is often available for athletic recruits.

We’ve compiled the full list of women’s swimming colleges at each level, which can be sorted by conference, state and college names.

How to get a swimming scholarship 

Student-athletes can increase their chances of being awarded a scholarship by finding a swimming program in which their personal strengths could help the team overall to score points. Coaches evaluate how each recruit’s abilities would contribute overall to the team’s success. Remember these factors as you start your recruiting path:

When to start your college swimming recruiting process

The college recruiting and targeting process should start as soon as a recruit aspires to swim at the collegiate level. There are those that know this early in life, while others make the decision later in high school.  

Swimming recruiting usually begins during junior year, according to this NCAA survey. But the new NCAA Division 1 and 2 rules allowing coaches to contact swimmers after June 15 following sophomore year could cause recruiting timelines to speed up

Knowing that coaches are evaluating prospects even before official communication can begin, student-athletes should start thinking about what division level may be the best fit and begin reaching out to schools of interest to get on the coach’s radar. That way, families can begin their recruiting process even before coaches can begin their outreach.

When do colleges start recruiting for women’s swimming?

The college swimming recruiting process essentially begins when a college coach discovers a potential swimming scholarship recruit. This could happen at a swim event where the coach is there to watch another recruit. From freshman year on, college coaches are catching a glimpse of swimmers attending summer camps or competing at club and high school swim meets.

Recruiting for NCAA D1 and D2 coaches officially begins after June 15 of the swimmer’s sophomore year. By 10th grade, according to a survey done by the NCAA, 19 percent of women swimmers had first contact with a coach. Waiting until junior or senior year to start being proactive about recruiting can be too late when targeting a few highly desirable schools. In the same survey, 56 percent of student-athletes reported communication with coaches beginning in junior year.

Most coaches with swimming scholarships available say during sophomore year is when potential recruits have the greatest opportunity for getting their names out there. 

How to get recruited for college swimming

The quickest way to garner college swimming scholarship interest comes from displaying talent that translates into scoring team points during conference swim meets and dual meets. Being competitive in relays and showing examples of impressive swim times will get a women’s swimming recruit on a list for potential scholarship recipients. 

Here are other steps you can take to boost your recruiting potential:

Get started: Research swim programs at all the division levels and evaluate opportunities where your event times could contribute to the team’s success. Create a list of target schools with 5-10 safety schools, 10-20 target schools and 5-10 reach schools.

Attend a skills camp: Attending a swimming camp can help student-athletes improve their fundamentals and increase their exposure to college coaches. Another key benefit of many camps is getting the opportunity to experience what a college campus is like. 

Reach out to coaches: Even though there are limitations on when coaches may contact student-athletes, swimmers can get on a coach’s radar by simply reaching out to them. Read our full guide on how to contact coaches.

Asking a club coach for help in recruiting can be very helpful, as many coaches were previously teammates with college coaches or have built rapport with them over the years. A club coach telling a college coach about an athlete’s potential can be enough for a swimmer to earn a spot on a team even if their times are lacking in some events.

Tips for making a good swimming recruiting video 

One of the benefits of living in the digital age is the ability to easily create and share a recruiting video as part of the college swimming recruiting process. College recruiters base most of the major decisions on the event times of a swimmer, but a quality video can be of some assistance.

Video can show explosiveness and other athletic features that might be absent when just looking at a swimmer’s times. The video should obviously highlight a great performance by a swimmer with a few simple video edits. Small details like an incredible relay start can help a coach to visualize how you can help them at conference championships in the future. Use a spot circle or shadow to highlight which swimmer the coach should focus on.

Read our overview of recruiting videos.

How to make a swimming skills video or diving skills video

A swimming skills video provides a great way for college coaches to evaluate potential recruits. While it can seem difficult to get new swimming footage—especially for recruits who may not have access to a pool—dryland workouts offer swimmers a great alternative to showcase their speed and stamina to coaches!

Check out our video below to see how key elements can make all the difference in a swimming skills video, from showing swimming times on screen to going full-pace even during practice laps. 

NCSA Recruiting Coach and former D3 swimmer and coach Jeff Smith also provides some great advice on how recruits can use their strength and conditioning workouts to show college coaches their athleticism, with or without a pool!

A diving skills video is a great way for potential divers to get noticed by college coaches. College coaches understand that scores can occasionally be over/underinflated, so they’re looking for recruits who can display their technique and athleticism on camera.

In the video below, former D3 diver and D2 and D3 college coach Dan Allen provides his expert advice on what diving recruits should include in their diving skills video, from a variety of dives (forward, back, reverse, inward, twisting and more), multiple angles and how to simulate approaches and takeoffs even without access to a pool.

Contacting swim coaches. When can swimmers contact college coaches?

The college swimming recruiting process has changed slightly due to the latest rules enacted for NCAA D1 and D2 women’s swimming programs. No coach may initiate any type of communication with student-athletes (or their families or current coaches) until June 15 following the completion of the swimmer’s high school sophomore year. NCAA D3, NAIA and NJCAA schools do not have these restrictions.

Even though coaches cannot contact recruits before June 15 after sophomore year, there are no rules that prevent student-athletes from reaching out to them prior to that date. In fact, many swimmers who will have the most success in the recruiting process are ones who proactively reach out to coaches. Although a coach can’t respond, they can still read emails, view swimming videos, follow standings, attend meets and even follow student-athletes on social media.

Some important milestones that create opportunities for swimmers to reach out to a coach are when they have new stats available to share, both athletic and academic, if they’re planning to visit the coach’s school, or if they’d like to make a coach aware of an upcoming meet or tournament nearby in which they’ll be competing.

Read our complete guide on how to contact college coaches