How do I get a track or cross country scholarship? - USA Athletics Scholarships

How do I get a track or cross country scholarship?


As an athlete, you will be used to targeting times, distances, etc. Want to compete at the English Schools, AAAs or Olympics then you have to fulfill specific qualifying criteria. How does it work with US colleges then? How fast do I have to be to get a track or cross country scholarship? These are some of the most common questions that we get asked, and with no set qualifying times the answer is simply that ‘it depends.’

What levels of athletic performance are coaches looking for from scholarship athletes?

Whilst track and cross country are traditionally viewed as individual sports in the UK, this is certainly not the case in the collegiate system. ‘Team’ is very much the word and coaches are judged more on how the overall team performs than individual results. Coaches are accountable to targets set by the schools athletics director and this directly effects what the coach will expect from scholarship athletes. If the team goal is to win a national championship, then you will have to be amongst the very best to earn a scholarship. Those teams with slightly more modest aspirations are likely to apply less stringent standards for scholarship athletes.


The Manchester United, Barcelona, and the Chelsea equivalents

Much like the English Football, the fact is that despite the large numbers of teams competing, the reality is that only a few can ever hope to win an NCAA team title. These are traditionally the teams in the big conferences such as the SEC, Big 12, Pac, 10, ACC, Big 10. Whilst teams from outside these conferences often produce individual national champions, it is very rare that you would see a national team title won from a school outside the typical powerhouse conferences.

Therefore, the coaches of the Manchester United, Barcelona, and Chelsea equivalents of college athletics are likely to be told by the athletic director ‘build me a team that can challenge for a national championship.’ With this in mind, the coaches will get to work on recruiting athletes that they believe have the potential to score points at the national championship meet (Only the top 8 score). To get an idea of the standards required to score at nationals either check the ranking lists or have a look at any previous NCAA championship results.  Not surprisingly the standards are pretty high. If you are one of the top athletes and are looking to be part of one of the best teams then one of these big schools is where you belong. If you are currently at or are showing strong potential to reach this level then there is a good chance that you will have coaches fighting for your signature.

The stats don’t lie

To further elaborate the point that very few schools win team titles, we had a look at the last 30 years team championships results in the 3 sports. The table lists the total number of teams who have won in each discipline in 90 championships over a 30 year period:

Men Women
Outdoor track 10 10
Indoor track 10 8
Cross Country 8 11
Combined 16/90 22/90

And for the other 99% of schools

For the overwhelming majority of schools who aren’t realistically going to win a national championship then the key word is ‘CONFERENCE.’ Coaches at schools of this standard are judged primarily on the team’s performance at the Conference Championship, and anything achieved on a national level is more of a bonus than an expectation. Recruiting will reflect this and the coaches target will be to bring in athletes who can score big points for them at the Conference Championships. The standard of conference athletics varies tremendously and whilst some are very competitive, others can be surprisingly modest.

Obviously there is nothing stopping top athletes from going to schools that won’t be challenging for team titles, and some athletes may prefer it this way. We didn’t do the stats on this one, but we can say that its far easier to name individual National Champions from smaller schools than it is do name small teams that have won team titles.


In conclusion here it’s a pretty simple situation: Coaches recruit to produce teams that are able to compete at the levels set by the schools athletics director. How you may fit into this will determine who recruits you and what level of scholarship you are offered.


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