Pursuing a Swimming Scholarship


This brief summary is for the benefit of swimmers who feel that they would like to continue their post-Stingrays career at an American college or university. Some who graduate from our club may have swum their last competitive race; others will investigate Canadian universities, schools with good swim programs but, as of yet, no means of offering athletic scholarships. Then there are those swimmers whose ability and sense of adventure may steer them to an American program. This last option is not for everyone. U.S. universities are, in essence, swim factories run by coaches who, while they may care about your academic well-being, nevertheless, are under varying degrees of pressure to win. You will be at a full time job, with all of the pressures that accompany more conventional occupations. When you factor in the stress faced by post-secondary students who only have their studies to worry about, one begins to realize that seeking a swim scholarship in the States will be the start of a very exciting but anxious period in your life. If this sounds like it is tailor-made for you, please read on.

A final word; there is really no need to utilize any of the recruiting services that are our there waiting to help you. There is nothing mentioned below that you and your family cannot do yourselves and for far less money. An added benefit is that the universities contacted, and their coaches, will appreciate the personal contact with you rather than a faceless recruiter.


Grade 10

– Start thinking about things. Even if you are mired in a three month slump with no personal best times, if your family has considered a scholarship you need to be prepared. 

– Investigate some or all of the sources underlined below. A good book to purchase is Newsweek’s How to get Into American Universities published by Kaplan. Call 1-800- KAP-ITEM or pick up a copy at Chapters in September. It is only $10 and is filled with interesting articles and suggestions.

Grade 11

– This will be a most important and hectic period for your family. The following suggestions can be tackled over a period of several months or crammed into a few evenings. The choice is yours.

1. Visit either www.collegeboard.com or your high school Guidance Counsellor and obtain the dates when this year’s SATs will be written and the locations of the local writing centers.

2. Log onto www.ncaaclearinghouse.net and familiarize yourself with their policies and deadlines. The Clearinghouse phone number is 1-319-337-1556

3. Begin a list of schools that might interest you. The Collegeboard site and an atlas are all you need. Work your way through the College Search function on the site. Save your searches and also put them in the Favourites folder on your internet search engine. You will need the list many time in the near future.

Another helpful site is www.collegeswimming.com. It provides, among other things, meet results, rankings of universities that offer swimming and news on various programs.

4. Contact your high school principal and your Stingrays coach for a letter of recommendation. You won’t need more than two such recommendations. Some college coaches may ask for a VHS [or equivalent] film of some of your best races. Ask mom or dad to start taping some of these during the long course season. You can add some short course races in your senior year [grade 12].

5. April might be a good time to contact a service such as www.pennybissett.com. This will provide information on an annual American University Fair held in the Toronto area. This will be particularly useful in searching for academic matches that appeal to you.

6. Consider writing the SAT I or ACT in early June. This means registering in May. Some institutions such as the Ivy League schools will require you to take the SAT II [subject-based] as well. We recommend contacting Mr. Larry Bone, a local educator who teaches a course on writing the SAT. His e-mail address [email protected] and several of our swimmers have taken advantage of this service.

Don’t forget to have the SAT centre forward your score [officially] to the Clearinghouse as well as to any universities which you might select. The SAT centre phone number is 1-609-771-7600. The Clearinghouse code no. 9999. It will be helpful to know your high school code as well. This will often be required on future correspondence with various parties.

7. By May you could begin a rough draft of a letter which you will ultimately send to the schools on your list. Remember, in the vast majority of cases, American university coaches will not approach you; you need to go after them. The finished product should include your academic average, SAT mark and personal best times. Tell the schools about yourself, courses you are interested in taking, any extracurricular activities which should be highlighted and, above all, your desire for a scholarship. This letter should be mailed, or better, e-mailed, in July after grade 11 as soon as you have your marks and the results of the SAT. The sooner coaches know about you the better.

Each school’s athletic home page will also include a Potential Student-Athlete form which you should fill out and e-mail to the swim coach when you send the above introductory letter.

Even swimmers who are thinking about staying in Canada could do themselves a favour and send a letter directly to the university swim coach, in addition to applying to that school, rather than just walking on deck in September. A helpful web site for those swimmers applying, and hoping to finance an education in this country would be the following: http://www.yrdsb.ca/schools/markhamdistrict.hs/guidance/Pages/default.aspx

8. This is an excellent time to create a chart of your schools. On it keep track of such things as coaches names, their e-mail addresses, whether or not they replied to your letter, if they sent you materials, offered you a visit, requested your school transcript etc. Information tends to become confusing if it is not organized.

9. Register on-line with the Clearinghouse and record your 10 digit ID number for future reference. Remember, you are a foreign student so click on the appropriate buttons. It is also recommended that you keep an up to date record of any PIN information that schools assign to you. These PINs are essential for establishing an “account”? with a particular school, or for checking on the status of your application.

Grade 12

1. You may want, or need, to re-write the SAT or even write the SAT Subject tests. Record your registration number from the first writing. This will be needed for future registrations.

2. In conversation with some of the coaches who have contacted you, begin to plan some visits to universities. You are allowed only five official visits, but it is doubtful if you will need all of them. Keep your schools chart up to date.

3. Many American schools also retain Canadian and/or International liaisons to assist people such as yourself. Ask the swim coach or Admissions Office for this person’s name and use their services.

4. Keep in contact with your school Guidance Counsellor and make certain that you have all necessary documents for foreign students; ie. A student visa and the Foreign Student Release Form [see Clearinghouse web site].

5. Sometimes things just never work out the way they are supposed to. In December, go through the process of applying to the Canadian schools of your choice as a backup plan.

A Few Things to Keep In Mind

Choosing a School

If schools don’t immediately respond to your e-mail, don’t be shy about a brief follow up letter.

It is helpful to chart the swim records of the various schools which you are dealing with in order to rate them. You might also visit the athletic conference web page for each particular school and compare the times for each championship meet.

Study the school rosters the year before you graduate in order to determine which school is gradating seniors in your specialty strokes. This will give you a good idea of which school could use a swimmer with your particular talents.

Financial Package

You should be aware from the outset that “full ride”? scholarships in the U.S., especially in swimming, for a couple of reasons are few and far between. Colleges and universities are compelled to offer an equal number of scholarships to both genders. This reduces the amount of scholarship money that a swim coach can offer, let’s say, his prospective male recruits. Secondly, swimming is not a high profile sport in some American schools; not when compared to football or basketball. Realistically, you need to able to augment any athletic money that you may be offered with as much academic [scholarship] assistance as you can. In short, get good grades [G.P.A. 3.5 or better] in high school and your chances of receiving a lot of money are improved considerably. When discussing a potential package with a coach make certain that such items as books are included in the deal. They can be expensive and will be covered by most schools if you know to ask.


You are selling schools your skill, and some coaches will pressure you into signing early so as to avoid offering you the maximum financial deal. Don’t panic and accept a school’s offer too quickly. The later signing date may be better for you. Choose wisely. By the same token, don’t be caught unaware by the early signing deadlines of some schools such as those in the Ivy League. Try to have all necessary visits, SAT writings etc. completed in case these latter deadlines come into play.


When you have narrowed your choices to a few, make one final phone call to the coach of your favourite school to ensure that all is in order before phoning the others to say that, regretfully, you will not be attending their school. Follow up contact with any school which you ultimately turn down is not only a nice touch but it can pay dividends should you ever change your mind and end up at that school for whatever reason.

Post - decision

Once you have committed you will need to sign a National Letter of Intent. If you do not commit early, then the first opportunity to sign is usually April 1st and your school will mail the letter to you. This, not your verbal commitment, is binding. Be certain that this school is where you wish to end up.

International students, in particular, have several items which need to be dealt with prior to the first day of classes; such things as student housing, a bank’s guarantee of financial support [YOU have a scholarship!!], the establishment of an American bank account, valid medical coverage [especially hospital insurance] and course selection. Your new school’s Office of International Students will be of particular assistance with these items. If you have been dealing with a Canadian Liaison, he/she will also be able to help you. As for your visa this is NOTobtained at a US consulate in Canada. Simply take the following items to your port of entry [i.e. the border] when you go to the school for opening classes.

a. your passport

b. proof of citizenship, say your driver’s license

c. your I-20 form sent to you by your school

d. your receipt of the SEVIS-C payment

e. proof of sufficient funds to finish school

[found on your I-20 form]

f. proof of your home address, phone number and parents’ name and you will be furnished with the necessary documents.

As an athlete, you may have the option of early registration and selection of courses. Be alert to this possibility as it enables the coach to build your courses around workouts, thus eliminating conflicts and possible missed swim practices.


Don’t allow your marks to drop, enjoy the summer and good luck at your school of choice.

Contributer: Tom Ellison