As students reach the conclusion of their high school years, it is only natural to begin contemplating what they will do with their lives after they walk away from the podium with their graduation diploma. For many, the path they decide upon involves going to a four-year college with the intention of obtaining a bachelor’s degree, and possibly advancing from there to grad school.
For student golfers, matters tend to be a little more complicated. If they intend to continue golfing after leaving high school, then they need to figure out how to balance their athletic interests with their academic pursuits.
To a large extent, teen golfers preparing for college face the same problems and challenges that their non-athletic peers do—like studying for entrance exams—but there are additional considerations that must be contended with as well. With that in mind, let us explore some of these considerations, such as selecting the right school and ensuring that one’s academic record is satisfactory for admissions purposes.
Which School Is Best?
As we have mentioned, student-athletes share many of the same concerns that all college-bound teens do, and for that reason the process of picking the “right” school is substantially similar. Students need to ask themselves some key questions:
- Where would they prefer to study? Should they stay in their home state, or are they willing to travel across country to pursue the right opportunity?
- What would they prefer to study? Not everyone will be able to play golf professionally. Student-athletes need to think about the kind of degree they will be getting after they complete their undergraduate education.
- What kind of campus environment is best? Some students love the excitement of being part of a large student body, with all the opportunities for socializing that those kinds of schools can provide. Others, though, feel lost in a crowd.
- What kind of golf program does the school have? Naturally, this is a consideration particularly relevant to student golfers. In 2015, there were 1320 schools across the nation with varsity-level golf programs.1 The availability of a good golf program can be the deciding factor in selecting a school, especially if all other factors are roughly equal. This is what we will focus on now.
Types of College Golf Programs
The crown jewel of collegiate golf is the NCAA Division I. This represents the highest level of athletics for college and university students—not just for golf, but for all sports, from basketball to water polo. Division I schools have the best-funded, most prestigious athletic programs. To qualify for inclusion in this division, a college generally must have at least seven sports programs for men and seven for women. For obvious reasons, Division I tends to be the first choice for student athletes, though, as we will see, it is not for everyone.
In 2015, there were 320 Division I schools with varsity-level golf programs. Combined, these 320 schools maintained 301 men’s and 263 women’s golf teams. 3003 male and 2203 female golfers competed at this level.
Below this level is the NCAA Division II. On average, Division II schools can be characterized by smaller enrollment and more modestly funded athletic programs. You will find a mix of relatively small public schools and private institutions here.
In 2015, there were 255 Division II schools that offered a combined total of 237 men’s and 191 women’s golf programs. In this division there were 2446 male and 1493 female golfers.
The NCAA Division III provides another option for college golfers. This division, unlike the other two, cannot by law offer athletic scholarships. However, many student-athletes have found good opportunities here to advance their athletic and scholastic interests.
In 2015, there were 312 Division III schools with golf programs. 293 men’s and 196 women’s golf teams were active at this level, with 3154 male and 1484 female golfers.
It is important to understand that the three NCAA divisions do not constitute all available opportunities to play golf at the college level. A significant number of student-athlete golfers compete in schools that are not governed by the NCAA; these institutions include small four-year colleges and two-year junior (or “community”) colleges. In fact, some golfers achieve success at an NCAA school after completing a two-year program at a junior college. It is an opportunity that many student-athletes unwisely overlook.
It is certainly no big secret that college has become expensive in recent years, and tuition will only be heading further north for the foreseeable future. Considering that unfortunate trend, many student-athletes understandably try to cut down these expenses by winning a scholarship of some kind. Luckily, student golfers have a number of scholarship opportunities available to them; let us take a look at these:
NCAA Scholarships: Schools in NCAA Divisions I & II are permitted to offer a certain number of golf scholarships during each academic year. (As mentioned previously, NCAA Division III schools cannot provide athletic scholarships.) Under NCAA rules, golf is considered an equivalency sport for scholarship purposes.
What does this mean? Schools are permitted to divide up their scholarship funds however they see fit, so long as they provide no more than the equivalent of the maximum number. For example, if there are four scholarships available, the school can elect to hand out four full scholarships or eight partial scholarships, or establish another arrangement that adds up to the equivalent of four full scholarships.
In 2015, Division I schools were allowed to provide 4.5 men’s golf scholarships and 6.0 women’s golf scholarships. Division II schools were allowed 3.6 men’s scholarships and 5.4 women’s scholarships.
Bear in mind that students must register with the NCAA Eligibility Center in order to qualify for any of these NCAA scholarships.
NAIA Scholarships: Students who cannot grab one of the above scholarships can still play for an NCAA school under a National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) scholarship. To qualify for one of these, students must (1) score at least 18 on the ACT or 860 on the SAT, as well as (2) accumulate a 2.0 GPA (on a 4.0 scale) OR graduate high school in the top half of their class.
NJCAA Scholarships: We have mentioned that junior college is a doable route for student-athlete golfers. If you are still not convinced, you may be interested to hear that even junior college golfers can qualify for full or partial scholarships. These are awarded by the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA), which has 525 member colleges across the nation.
There are a number of other scholarship opportunities that student-athletes might wish to look into, including some offered by the LPGA and the United States Collegiate Athletic Association (USCAA).
Tips on Finding the Right Program
Whether you are hoping to land a generous scholarship or simply want to get into the best school possible, you should put your best foot forward both academically and athletically. It is not all about golf—a high GPA and strong ACT/SAT scores will maximize your opportunities. You should begin preparing for college by your junior year of high school.
You should attempt to reach out to coaches at colleges where you would prefer to attend. It is important to note that NCAA rules place restrictions on coaches’ ability to contact high school prospects. They are not allowed to call you before July 1 of your senior year. This means you need to take the initiative. NCAA coaches are permitted to meet with you informally at their campus, so you should attempt to arrange a visit with them to ensure that they are aware of you and what you can offer the program.
It also gives you an opportunity to see whether your personalities mesh well. You can also send them your resume—email seems to be the preferred method these days—and some video clips showing off your skills. The resume you send should include your golf achievements, including your tournament results and USGA Handicap Index.
Contacting a college coach should not be a one-time-only deal. You should keep sending them periodic emails to make sure that they stay up to date on your progress. Start doing this no later than your junior year, and continue staying in contact throughout your senior year.
The International Junior Golf Academy (IJGA) is one of the premier resources available for students hoping to improve their skills on the course and in the classroom. With alumni that have gone on to attend programs at Dartmouth, Texas A&M, Yale, Notre Dame, UCLA, and other schools, we have an undeniable track record in preparing our students for success.