India is the second biggest source of international students for US universities after China. As the number continues to rise, a good score is not the only criterion for college admissions. As some Indian athletes leverage their sports talent to qualify and receive scholarships as well, it is worth knowing what such opportunities entail in terms of academic options and career prospects. Here are some of the points you need to keep in mind before making a choice. Student athlete is a common phrase used in American universities. It refers to students who represent their universities in various sporting competitions and excel in academic pursuits. A sports recruit is generally a student selected by the university on the basis of his/her athletic abilities. Some athletes use this advantage to enrol in well-known schools in which they would otherwise not be able to. Golf, tennis, squash, soccer, athletics, swimming and field hockey are some of the sports played in US universities. These are games where Indian athletes have an edge.
There are many universities that recruit athletes for these sports. The National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA), which governs university sports teams, usually divides universities into Division I, II and III depending on the level of scholarship offered by each university. Ivy League universities do not provide sports scholarships but still admit athletes and if required, give financial aid depending on family incomes. Generally, athletes choose universities according to what they aspire to do after completing their education. They choose a top sporting university (according to the division they are in the NCAA — generally D1 colleges are the most superior, then come D2 and so on) if they wish to turn pros after completing the study programme. Such a university is more likely to offer a sports scholarship depending on the candidate’s sporting talent.
However, those who plan to use their degree to find a relevant job after graduating choose a university on the basis of its academic offerings. Some student athletes, with a strong academic record and national ranks in sports, can choose the best of both worlds. Madura Ranganathan and Sanam Singh are two Indian athletes who chose a professional athlete career after graduating from university. Madura was one of the top junior tennis players in the world. Due to her sport achievements, she received a full scholarship from the University of North Texas, where she completed a Bachelors in Business and Finance in June 2011. She had the opportunity to compete on the Asian and European circuits in high school before being picked to play at the university level. She chose a Division I university as it gave her maximum exposure to become a professional tennis player in future, but she was also seeking quality undergraduate education. Meanwhile, Sanam, an Asian gold medalist for India, went to the University of Virginia to study and play tennis.
While he enrolled in class XII at an open school, his level of play earned him a full scholarship at university. “Various coaches came up to me during my tournament in Europe and one even came to India to visit me,” Sanam explains. “We were trained like professional tennis players at university. Most of my teammates now play the professional circuit like me.” On the other hand, many athletes have leveraged university sports to start a career in the business world. Akshay Maliwal, previously a junior and amateur golfer from India, went to the University of California, Berkeley, on a golf scholarship. He never planned to play professional golf but did want to compete at the highest level as well as be part of a noted university.
Akshay graduated and went on to work in investment banking for a year before starting his sports management firm to help athletes in India utilise their sporting talent to gain admission to well-known universities. So, you need to decide on a particular university depending on what you plan to study, where (location), level of play, financial obligations and what you intend to do after completing your degree. Do not choose a sports scholarship route just to lighten your financial burden if it does not lead to a credential that can you help you land a suitable job later (if that is the ultimate goal). However, if you aim to turn pro later, look for the right place where you can use and hone your sporting skills and study as well.