SCORING SCHOLARSHIPS OVERSEAS
The number of Australian students pursuing sporting scholarships to attend university in the US is growing. How early should students start planning their tertiary study, and how can schools streamline this process?
THE National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) USA is a member-led organisation which awards more than $3.2 billion in athletic scholarships to more than 175,000 student athletes each year.
NCAA Eligibility Centre Assistant Director Ashley Thornburg recently visited Wesley College in Perth, WA, where she spoke about the exponential growth in the number of international student athletes studying and playing for US universities.
“We have around half a million student athletes playing at the NCAA level. Five years ago the international population was around 1 per cent; now it’s upwards of 11 per cent and growing in leaps and bounds,” Ms Thornburg said.
“It’s just a matter of providing education and outreach internationally so that student athletes in Australia are well prepared if a sports or academic scholarship presents itself.”
The US Embassy provided funding for Ms Thornburgh to travel around Australia to speak to high school students as part of a push to build partnerships between Australian athletes and the college/university pathway in the US.
Ms Thornburg is passionate about the opportunities studying in the US provides for both universities and students.
“The benefits to our colleges and universities is that on the field of play Australians are extremely talented, disciplined and perform well which is something the coaches want in order to better their teams,” she said.
Language is not a barrier, Ms Thornburg said, and the shared love of sports between two countries makes the transition easier.
“We have over 1110 colleges and universities in the NCAA so there’s a tremendous amount of opportunity,” she said.
“Division I and Division II offer sports scholarships. Division III can offer academic awards, financial aid, and oftentimes they give scholarships because someone is an international student and they want the diversity on their campus.”
“For Australian student athletes we see a lot of basketballers, soccer, golf, tennis and women’s rowing. We sponsor 24 sports and there’s probably an Australian playing in all of them,” Ms Thornburg said.
The presentations were aimed at Year 11 and 12 students planning their study beyond school, but Ms Thornburg said the NCAA encouraged students in early high school to start thinking about their subject choice and potential sporting pathways.
“I always say it’s never too late. It’s certainly never too early to start thinking about it and start the process, so we’re really excited when we see years 9 and 10 students here,” she said.
“NCAA has baseline initial eligibility requirements that we’ve put in place because research shows that if student athletes are able to meet these requirements in high school, they’re more likely to receive their four year college degree and graduate. We don’t care what they major in, we do care that they get a degree, so we hope it’s the right fit.”
The definition of scholarship can cause a few misunderstandings among parents and students, because in the US a scholarship can cover a variety of different expenses.
The US Consul General’s Educationusa offices work with the NCAA to provide information on US tertiary study for students and teachers, which includes information on requirements for the NCAA.
US Embassy Cultural Affairs officer Mike Bowerbank said the offices see many students in year 12 who want to pursue the college sport pathway who haven’t met the core course eligibility requirements, and the earlier they know the process the smoother it is.
Mr Bowerbank recommends that students, parents and teachers use the range of free online resources on the Educationusa Australia Facebook page and NCAA website, or visit the Educationusa advisors offices within the US Consulate General in their city.
“If teachers and career advisors get approached by any students interested in studying in the US, contact Educationusa – our advisors are willing and happy to come out for a session. Alternatively, send the students into the Educationusa office; there are walk in appointments on Fridays in Perth,” Mr Bowerbank said.
Each year, several students from Wesley College’s Long Term Athletic Development Program for talented and elite athletes are selected for a sports scholarship in the US.
“After the NCAA event at Wesley this year, there has certainly been a lot more interest from the boys,” Wesley College Head of Career Development Jayne Duncan said.
“Studying in the US is seen to be a real ‘value adding’ proposition for the boys and a point of difference for students entering the highly competitive job market,” she said.
U.S. Consul General in Perth Rachel Cooke, Education USA coordinator Sarah O’reilly, and NCAA Eligibility Centre Assistant Director Ashley Thornburg.