Waves of Wilmington

"Interested in Swimming in College?" 

Swimmer: "Yes!"


Swimmer: "But How Do I Do It?"

"Read On To Find Out..."

Splash magazine had an article which pointed out that serious swimmers usually have two dreams: to swim in the Olympics and to swim in college. The first dream will come true for two out of every 10,000 swimmers in members of USA Swimming. The second can true for 100% of all members of USA Swimming. The key is finding a program that’s right for you, no matter what your ability. Not everyone will be able to swim for a NCAA Division I Power 5 team, but there’s no shame in swimming for a smaller Division I, II, III, NAIA, or NCJAA school. If you find one where your teammates share similar values and goals and will foster your growth as a student athlete, your experience will be a rewarding one.

There is often a misconception in the college search process that if you are not recruited or have not been offered a scholarship you must not be very good. That view is completely false. The fact is that most colleges just do not have the finances available to offer every good swimmer a scholarship. Another fact is that most colleges do not find out a student-athlete is interested in their program until that student has made "First Contact." 

Many families assume that colleges are going to call them first. The reality is that most collegiate swimming programs do not have the manpower to search for athletes. Most coaches rely on meet results from large meets such as Sectionals or High School States, prospective student questionnaires, and through professional recruiters (not sports agents) whom a student-athletes pay a fee to have them send information to schools about them. 

With the scholarship limits that are imposed by the NCAA, most college coaches are going to be looking at a student’s academic ability. The vast majority of swimming student athletes receive financial aid through academic related scholarships, grants and student loans, not through athletic scholarships. 

So What Exactly Is An Athletic Scholarship?

An athletic scholarship is a one-year contract between you and an institution. A school can reduce or cancel a scholarship if you become ineligible for competition, fraudulently misrepresent yourself, quit the team, or engage in serious misconduct. During the contract year, a coach cannot reduce or cancel your scholarship on the basis of your athletic ability, performance, or injury. An institution may choose to not renew a scholarship at the end of the academic term provided they notify you in writing and provide you an opportunity for a hearing. 

Remember a coach cannot offer you a "four year full-ride scholarship." They do not exist. Each student athlete award is reviewed annually. It is important to ask current collegiate swimmers if they are still on scholarship. Parents, it is not uncommon for a college program to offer and renew an athletic scholarship for the first 2-3 years of college and then ask the student to pay full tuition for the remainder of their college career. 

The following information is courtesy of SwimMac, KING, and Colorado Athletic Club websites with WOW edits

What Does Swimming In College Look Like?

Two Routes: Varsity (School Sponsored) or Club (Student Sponsored)


  • Team Requirements (20 hours a week)
  • Class Requirements (passing 12 credit hours)
  • Social Life and Family Life Balance
  • Four-year commitment
  • Student-Athlete resources (tutors, early class registration)
  • Vacation and Breaks may be different


  • A way to continue swimming while in college
  • Different levels of commitment and competition
  • Collegiate Club Swimming Championships

So What's The Right Fit For Me?

Division I

  • Minimums – sectional finals or above, preferably NCSA Juniors, Winter Juniors, and above
  • Mid-Major (CAA, AAC, WAC) vs. Power Five (ACC, SEC, Big 10, Big 12, Pac 12)
  • Separate National Championships, sometimes separate conference champs

Division II

  • Minimums – sectional level or above, although girls can be slightly slower
  • Can be state or private schools, and usually range dramatically in size
  • Combined National Championships, includes the 1000 free

Division III

  • Minimums – Zone level swimmers, sectional and above will get an extra look
  • Usually smaller liberal arts, academic schools with limited athletic budgets, but not always
  • Combined National Championships, with cuts usually falling near D1 B standards


  • Wide range of ability – great for the late bloomer with some State cuts
  • Looser academic requirements than the NCAA
  • Separate Eligibility Center
  • Combined championships – usually cuts around the faster Sectional standard


  • Also a great first step for late bloomers or swimmers with academic issues
  • 2 year degree program allows for easy transition into NCAA programs
  • Combined championships – relatively easy time standards for participation

Ok, I Found The Right Division Fit, But What About Picking A School?

Does the school have a swim team?

WOW wants every swimmer on the team to swim in college. The club understands the benefits of being part of a team. If the school has a team, start to show interest in the program. If the school does not, it is important to write letters to the school president and director of athletics encouraging them to start a program.

Involvement Level

Evaluate what your desire is to be involved not only in your swim team, but around campus and other activities. Will the team commitments allow you time to be involved in say Greek life or student government?

Can you get accepted?

It is very important to review the acceptance standards of any and all schools that you are interested in attending. If you are unable to meet these standards, it can make your desire to swim on that school's swim team a tougher road.

Academic Offerings

If you know your intended major, or even if you don't, it is important to review all of the academic offerings each school has. If you are undecided, do you have plenty of options to explore at the school or are your options limited?

Public vs. Private

Public schools are funded heavily by state and government monies while private institutions are funded by tuition, endowments and donations.

Public institutions normally have an "in-state" cost for those students who are residents of the state and an "out-of-state" cost for those who attended from a different state. These prices differences can make schools become more reasonably priced for your budget or put them out of reach.

Private schools most often have the same pricing for all types of students, in-state and out-of-state.


Review the different types and all options each school has in terms of scholarships and financial aid. While some schools do not offer athletic scholarships, they could have more academic offerings than others. Schools have academic based scholarships; need based scholarships and private scholarships that students must apply for.


Where is the school located? Is it located in a part of the country that experiences all four seasons and maybe you are only used to mild seasons? Are you going to want to visit your hometown often to see friends and family? If so, is this a car ride away or maybe a flight?

Additionally, does the location of this school require long travel trips for team activities? When making team trips, do you travel by bus or plane and how much time will you spend making these trips?


For some people, attending a large college is just what they are looking for. Classes with 300 people and a campus with tens of thousands. For others, a small intimate campus is more ideal.

Conference Competition:

It is possible to gauge the level of a swim team based on how they perform within their conference. Conference championships play an important part of all athletic departments. A good check for your ability to swim at a given school is to check your times against the times posted at the conference championship. Would you be able to swim and score points for your school?

Before starting a college search it may be helpful to create a list of the most important aspects to YOU of attending a college. It is important to note that any college experience is what each individual makes of it!

How Do I Become Eligible To Swim In College?

College bound student-athletes are encouraged to register for eligibility at the beginning of their junior year of high school.

Visit the NCAA Eligibility Center here

The Eligibility Center has resources for students and parents

Academic Eligibility per NCAA:

  • Graduate from high school
  • Complete a minimum of 16 core courses for Division I or 14 core courses for Division II. After August 1, 2013, student-athletes who wish to compete at Division II institutions must complete 16 core courses
  • Earn a minimum required grade-point average in core courses
  • Earn a qualifying test score on either the ACT or SAT
  • Request final amateurism certification from the NCAA Eligibility Center
  • For Division I student-athletes who will enroll in August 2015 and later, the requirements to compete in the first year will change. In addition to the above standards, prospects must
    • Earn at least a 2.3 grade-point average in core courses
    • Meet an increased sliding-scale standard (for example, an SAT score of 1,000 requires a 2.5 high school core course GPA)
    • Successfully complete 10 of the 16 total required core courses before the start of their senior year in high school. Seven of the 10 courses must be successfully completed in English, math and science

Prospects that earn between a 2.0 and 2.3 GPA and meet the current sliding scale standard (for example, an SAT score of 1,000 requires a 2.025 high school core course GPA) will be eligible for practice and athletically related financial aid but not competition.

Division III college and universities set their own admission standards. The NCAA does not set initial eligibility requirements in Division III.

How Do I Get Recruited?

NCAA member schools have adopted rules to create an equitable recruiting environment that promotes student-athlete well-being. The rules define who may be involved in the recruiting process, when recruiting may occur and the conditions under which recruiting may be conducted. Recruiting rules seek, as much as possible, to control intrusions into the lives of student-athletes.

The NCAA defines recruiting as “any solicitation of prospective student-athletes or their parents by an institutional staff member or by a representative of the institution’s athletics interests for the purpose of securing a prospective student-athlete’s enrollment and ultimate participation in the institution’s intercollegiate athletics program.” 

Recruiting Guides

Recruiting Trips

What is the difference between an official visit and an unofficial visit?

Any visit to a college campus by a college-bound student-athlete or his or her parents paid for by the college is an official visit.

Visits paid for by college-bound student-athletes or their parents are unofficial visits.

During an official visit the college can pay for transportation to and from the college for the prospect, lodging and three meals per day for both the prospect and the parent or guardian, as well as reasonable entertainment expenses including three tickets to a home sports event.

The only expenses a college-bound student-athlete may receive from a college during an unofficial visit are three tickets to a home sports event.

Behavior On Visits

It is EXTREMELY important to remember your visit to a college and meeting with the team and coach can be your one and only chance to make a good impression in person.

It is important to consider

What are you wearing? Do you look like you are truly interested in the school and are dressed to impress the coach or do you look like an unorganized, unmotivated student? [side note: DO NOT WEAR ANOTHER SCHOOLS GEAR!]

Are you organized with any materials you are presenting to the coach/school? If you sent a resume or document with your information, make sure you bring a matching or updated hard copy.

Is the student-athlete driving the conversation with the coach or are the parents? Who is more interested in learning about the program? Remember to get YOUR questions answered. Don't be passive in the experience.

Remember on a recruiting trip, coaches and teammates are doing their best to get you to their school and team. Try to remain objective about the experience. This one weekend with a coach and team may not be the best representation of what your college career will look like at that school. Think about your next four-five years there, not just a single weekend.

As much as you are judging a team, coach and campus, they are doing the same to you. They want to know if you will fit in with them. Put your best foot forward and enjoy your time getting to know the team, but know how to balance having a good time and being a responsible recruit.

I've Found The Perfect School! How Do I Commit?!?

National Letter of Intent

A National Letter of Intent is signed by a college-bound student-athlete when the student-athlete agrees to attend a Division I or II college or university for one academic year. Participating institutions agree to provide financial aid for one academic year to the student-athlete as long as the student-athlete is admitted to the school and is eligible for financial aid under NCAA rules. Other forms of financial aid do not guarantee the student-athlete financial aid.

The National Letter of Intent is voluntary and not required for a student-athlete to receive financial aid or participate in sports.

Signing a National Letter of Intent ends the recruiting process since participating schools are prohibited from recruiting student-athletes who have already signed letters with other participating schools.

A student-athlete who has signed a National Letter of Intent may request a release from his or her contract with the school. If a student-athlete signs a National Letter of Intent with one school but attends a different school, he or she will lose one full year of eligibility and must complete a full academic year at their new school before being eligible to compete.

Verbal Commitments

Verbal commitment is the phrase used to describe a college-bound student-athlete’s commitment to a school before he or she is able to sign a National Letter of Intent (“NLI”). A college-bound student athlete can announce a verbal commitment at any time. While verbal commitments have become popular, they are NOT binding on either the college-bound student-athlete or the school. Only the signing of the NLI accompanied by a financial aid agreement is binding on both parties.

As stated, verbal commitments are non-binding, but student-athletes should think about how changing a verbal commitment can make them look if they are still looking for the team they do want to join.

Walk On/Non-Scholarship Athletes

Any athlete who does not receive athletic monies is considered a "walk-on" athlete. These non-athletic scholarship athletes may receive academic monies or other grant and aid from the school or private donors.

Wait, How Am I Going To Pay For All Of This...?

There are many options out there to help students pay for college. It is important for students to look at all possible options to help them pay for college, if needed.

Visiting your high school college counselor or guidance counselor may help in the search for different types of scholarships available to you.

Each college and university has a financial aid offices or financial service offices. Take time to look into the options each school has to offer and see if you can apply for additional funds from the school.

A quick internet search of "financial aid" can turn up many different websites and pages. Take time to review each site before registering to use them as some are money-making sites and may not be as useful as others.

Per the NCAA

Individual colleges or universities award athletics grants-in-aid (often described as scholarships) on a one-year, renewable basis. They may be renewed for a maximum of five years within a six-year period of continuous college attendance. Aid can be renewed, canceled or reduced at the end of each year for many reasons. If a student-athlete’s aid will be reduced or canceled, the college or university must provide the student-athlete with an opportunity to appeal.

Financial aid is awarded in various amounts, ranging from full scholarships (including tuition, fees, room, board and books) to small awards that might provide only course-required books. Such partial awards are known as “equivalencies.” Some Division I sports (including Football Bowl Subdivision football and basketball) do not permit equivalencies.

All scholarships from any source in any amount must be reported to the college financial aid office. The total amount of financial aid a student-athlete can receive and the total amount of athletics aid a team can award may be limited. These limits can affect whether a student-athlete can accept aid from other sources.

Athletics financial aid can be a tremendous benefit to most families, but some costs are not covered (for example, travel between home and school). Also, although the benefits of athletically related financial aid are substantial, the likelihood of participating is relatively small. Any young person contemplating college attendance should use high school for legitimate academic preparation.

  • examples of financial aid include

    • Academic scholarships
    • Athletic scholarships
    • Federal work-study program
    • Grants (private and government-based)
    • Scholarships
    • Loans (Private and government-based)

Useful Links



If you have any other questions, please reach out to Coach Dave. He is more than willing to help you find the right fit!