College track and field recruiting standards
Coaches set benchmarks for recruits, known as track and field scholarship standards, which represent the general baseline that student-athletes need to meet in order to obtain a track and field scholarship. Of course, there are many other factors that coaches take into consideration, such as academic standing. But as coaches make scholarship decisions; they verify the recruit can meet or exceed the scholarship standard of their program. Remember, the more points that an athlete can earn at meets, the more likely they are to earn a scholarship.
Keep in mind, though, that scholarship standards aren’t universal across divisions, and each school has its own set of standards. For example, the University of North Carolina and Harvard University are both NCAA Division 1 programs, but their benchmarks differ slightly. Take the 100-meter dash: North Carolina lists 11.75 seconds, while Harvard looks for recruits who can run it in 12.20 seconds.
Recruits should use these standards to better understand where they can make an impact and help them create their list of target schools. Coaches award scholarships to athletes who can earn points right from the get-go, so families should research scholarship standards for every school on their target list.
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Track and field walk-on standards
Walk-on standards represent the minimum times, heights or distances coaches expect an athlete to have on their teams. There are two kinds of walk-on athletes in college sports: a preferred walk-on or a non-recruited walk-on. Preferred walk-ons are recruited by the college coach and go through the recruiting process like other student-athletes. They are guaranteed a roster spot on the team, however, they don’t receive athletic aid. Non-recruited walk-ons typically try out for the team, and they also won’t receive athletic aid.
Walk-on standards vary at each program, much like the recruiting and scholarship standards. Many programs that list their recruiting standards online also include their walk-on standards and which factors go into them. For example, at the University of Alabama, walk-on standards for Alabama residents are more lenient than those for out-of-state walk-ons. Typically, the walk-on standards at high tier programs are comparable to the women’s track and field scholarship standards of a lower tier program in the division above.
Walking on to an NCAA Division 1 track and field college can be tough. There are two ways a recruit can walk-on. First, they can be recruited by the coach as a preferred walk-on. This means they are guaranteed a spot on the roster and the college coach wants the recruit them but doesn’t have a scholarship for them. On the other hand, unrecruited walk-ons are not actively recruited by the coach and instead they participate in an open tryout for a chance to make the roster. In most cases, the student-athlete qualifies for admission to the school and communicates with the coach before the tryout.
To be successful, student-athletes need to meet (and exceed) the track and field walk-on standards for that specific program. Think about it this way—the walk-on standard reflects a recruit’s worst PR. Because walk-on standards vary from program to program, it’s best to visit the school’s athletic website and see what criteria the coaches are looking for in their walk-on athletes. Walking on to a college track team could be the perfect path for someone who, more than anything, wants to attend their dream school, or see how much better they can get by competing at the highest level possible.
Athletes may consider walking on at a program because the academics and school-size better match their preference, or they want to compete at the highest level possible.
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How to get a track and field scholarship
College coaches prioritize scholarships for recruits who can make an impact right away and score points at meets. Student-athletes need to target divisions where their scores don’t just align with the standards, but where they stand out. For example, a student-athlete’s times might meet the standards of a NCAA Division 1 school, but they can potentially earn more scholarship money at the Division 2 level where they might make a bigger impact. Of course, this depends on the school’s recruiting budget. So, the best way to understand a coach’s recruiting needs is to establish a relationship with them and learn more about their recruiting standards.
Additionally, there are steps all recruits can take to secure track and field scholarships:
- Post athletic profiles online. It’s important for recruits to provide coaches with organized records of their times, statistics, academic information and track and field recruiting videos.
- Excel academically. The NCAA Eligibility Center determines the academic eligibility and amateur status for all NCAA Division 1 and Division 2 athletes.
- Be proactive. Start by sending an introductory email that includes your online profile, best times, academic information, and personal interest in the program. NCAA Division 1 and 2 coaches can’t reach out personally until June 15 after an athlete’s sophomore year, but they’re reviewing online profiles and evaluating athletes before this time.
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How do colleges use track and field scholarships?
Women’s track and field is an equivalency sport, which means coaches divide their allotted number of scholarships per team among any number of athletes. For example, Division 1 coaches can award a maximum of 18 total scholarships across their rosters each season. With the average D1 track and field team having 33 athletes on the roster, most coaches offer partial scholarships to some of their athletes. This also depends on how well-funded a program is; some coaches have less than the 18 scholarships available. View some of the best colleges for track and field scholarships.
Coaches tend to award scholarship money to athletes who hit recruiting or scholarship standards in multiple events—for instance, a sprinter who is also a hurdler—or to athletes who compete in certain events. Some schools focus on specialty athletes, such as pole vaulters, while others highly value a distance runner who can also compete on cross country. Outside of athletics, coaches will also consider whether a potential recruit can meet the academic requirements for admission and their capacity to remain academically eligible once in school and graduate within a certain time-frame.
In general, the best way to learn more about a college’s recruiting needs is to establish a relationship with the coach and study the team’s roster.
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How do college coaches decide which recruits will get a scholarship?
Coaches tend to give athletic scholarships based on a recruit’s performance in individual or multiple events:
- Sprinters who show an ability to compete and score across multiple events are often prioritized athletic aid. Coaches are willing to work on technique and form as long as a recruit is fast.
- Middle distance runners with good biomechanics and top-end speed should be comfortable trying different events at the college level, as they may be asked to run cross country.
- Distance runners will be recruited based on how well their running style will fit in with a school’s training program. These recruits are assets in both indoor/outdoor programs, in addition to running cross country.
- Throwers with good size, athleticism, and room to improve are a valuable addition to any team. Remember that college weights are heavier than in high school. Coaches look for strong shot or discus throwers who can put up high scores at meets. Also, a willingness to try out new events is a plus, as some specialty events like hammer and javelin are not as popular at the high school level.
- Jumpers who can join a team and score points right away are invaluable—coaches look for athletes who have proven they can land good marks and will undoubtedly improve with year-round training.
Athletic scholarships are available at the NCAA D1 and D2, NAIA and junior college levels. The number of scholarships at a given program depends on a few factors, including how many athletes are committed to the current roster, whether the school is fully-funded and how the coach prefers to disperse their scholarship money.
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