Becoming a college gymnast is the dream goal of many young gymnasts and is often right up there with the Olympics and Elite gymnastics. You get to where your school colors in your leotard and there is such a team spirit that it can make competing all the more fun.
However, there are only around 120 or so college scholarships available every year, so this makes for a lot of competition to get them. While you can be a part of a college gymnastics team without a scholarship, getting one does make it easier when it comes to paying for college.
There are a number of different factors that go into the number of scholarships there are, and knowing a bit about these factors can help you get the bigger picture. It is also important to know just how college scholarships work for gymnastics, how you go about getting noticed, and how to approach a college yourself to convince them that you have what it takes.
How Many Colleges Have Gymnastics Scholarships?
The NCAA – the National Colligate Athletic Association – is what controls the different college sports, makes sure that the different teams follow the rules, and other such matters for not only gymnastics but the other college sports as well. There are around 23 different college sports in which nearly half a million student athletes participate in.
There are usually not quite 2,000 women gymnasts in the NCAA women’s gymnastics programs. The important thing to know is the fact that there are 3 divisions in the NCAA gymnastics. These divisions have a different number of sports that the colleges in them can have, a certain number of athletes that are supposed to be on each team, and a certain number of competitions that the teams have against other teams.
Most importantly, each of these 3 divisions has a certain number of scholarships that they can give and what kinds of scholarships they can give. Division 1 schools are allowed to have no more than 12 scholarships per school, no matter what kind of scholarship it is. This means that 12 partial scholarships still count as a school’s 12 scholarships just as 12 full scholarships would.
However, the schools are not required to have their full number if they do not have the budget for them, and often choose to go with partial scholarships in order to have the right number on their books. There is also the fact that Ivy League schools in Division 1 are not allowed to have athletic scholarships of any kind since they are academic colleges; however they can offer financial aid if it is needed.
Division 2 has some slightly different rules for the colleges under its jurisdiction. While it can offer only 6 full scholarships to each college for gymnasts, these colleges are allowed to divide them up. In other words these colleges can choose to offer either 6 full scholarships, or 12 half scholarships, or 18 scholarships that cover 1/3 of the costs, or may even combine those options in some way.
Division 3 is the last of the divisions, and does not offer any scholarships for gymnastics at all. Now then, the next fact that you need to know is the fact that there are only just over 80 colleges total across all of these three divisions. If you use the number 81 and then divide that by 3, then you end up with 27 colleges in each division.
This means that around 27 colleges do not even have the ability to offer a college scholarship for gymnastics, and only 54 can do so. Out of the 27 schools in Division 2 that can offer 6 full scholarships, this adds up to 162 scholarships, with double that amount for Division 1.
So, all told, there are around 486 college scholarships available for gymnasts. However, since college lasts for four years you have to take that number and divide it by 4 which gives you a total of 121.5 estimated scholarships that can be had every year. Some of these may be only partial scholarships, while others are full scholarships and, though the Division 1 has more schools in it, this is still a fair estimate.
When To Get Noticed For A College Scholarship
This, again, depends some on the division, but it can also vary some from college to college. No matter what, however, most recruiters start looking at young gymnasts a year or two before they reach the age where they are usually offered a scholarship.
Some colleges start looking at 7th and 8th grade gymnasts and offer scholarships to 9th and 10th grade gymnasts, and this is pretty much the norm in most cases. However, some recruiters do not start looking until around the 10th grade and do not make offers until the 11th and 12th grade. All in all, it is the grades 7-10 that are the most looked at, with grades 9-12 being ones for which you stand a chance at being offered a college scholarship.
While the very thought might be exciting enough to have you waiting at the mailbox every day, you should know that the NCAA regulates when a college is allowed to approach a gymnast with an offer or with information. NCAA coaches are not allowed to send the young gymnast or her parents any information related to recruiting until after either September 1 or June 15 – depending on the Division – of what will be the gymnast’s junior year of high school.
However, other things like informational brochures, gymnastics camps, etc may be sent to the gymnast before that date as long as it has nothing to do with recruiting. This being the case, there is no way of knowing for sure if a college is interested in you until you reach your junior year.
However, you National Letter of Intent – NLI – is not something that can be offered until that same date of your senior year of high school. Until then you will have to make do with a verbal commitment that you will accept their verbal offer of a scholarship. This must be done verbally if you are not yet a senior in high school and may not be in any form of writing, not even as an email.
At any point until the contract is actually signed either party may back out of the agreement, however this is not something that is looked well upon. Once you make your verbal commitment you should not just go on your merry way and do nothing further.
On the contrary, you should demonstrate as much as you possibly can that you are staying committed to the school of your choice. You can do this by staying in close contact with the coach by phone, email, and the occasional visit if possible. You can also show them though your videos and competitions that you are still working on improving your skills.
You can also do other things like going to a summer camp for gymnastics and anything else that you can think of to do. This will help ensure that even if they find a gymnast who might be more skilled than you that they will still want to keep you because they see how dedicated you are.
Once the NLI has been signed the commitment is official on both ends of the contract and you can know that you have made it and that all of your hard work to get there has paid off. Though you still have a ways to go and will want to keep in touch, you can do so without some of the stress that comes with uncertainty.
How To Contact The Recruiter Yourself
Before you start sending emails, making phone calls, or anything else, there are a few things that you should do first. The first thing that you should do is to have people like family members and friends video you doing various gymnastics routines and skills, a lot. Then you should upload these videos to a place like YouTube where they can be seen by a recruiter, the best of these you can make into its own video which I will tell you what you can do with a little bit later on.
Another thing that you should try to do is to check out the scoring web pages that are for any gymnastics meets that you have competed in and make sure that there are no typos in either your name or your score. Next, Google yourself to see what comes up, and also look at yourself on other things like your Facebook page.
These are some of the things that a college recruiter will be looking at to get an idea of what you are like. While you may send an NCAA gymnastics coach a friend request and they are allowed to “follow” you on places like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, they are not allowed to like or comment on your page until after you have signed the NLI agreement.
That being said, you should keep your words as professional as you can and do not go off into a rant on how you hate your coach or anything like that if you want to be considered for a college scholarship. It can be frustrating to have to wait until you reach your junior year of high school before you can know if any college is interested in you, and even more so to wait even longer before you can sign your NLI, but you can put out feelers and get yourself on their radars.
On way that you can do this is to send each school that you are interested in attending an email letting them know that you are interested in a scholarship with them and you can include that video of some of your best stuff that you made earlier.
If you are younger than the 11th grade, then you are too young for them to contact and the only thing that they are allowed to respond with is a courtesy reply telling you that they got your message. If you are the right age or older and the school is interested in you, they will give you recruiting information and tell you what to do next.
If you choose to do so you may call a college coach, though preferably after you know that they have seen your email, and a phone number for them is often fairly easy to find. However, keep in mind that this will be their office phone so you should call at a time when they might be there, and you should also know that they are not allowed to return your call should you have to leave a message.
Once you get them on the phone you can introduce yourself, tell them why you are calling, and tell them the year that you will be graduating. If you sent the email first you can ask them if they had a chance to see it, but do not expect or “dig” for any comments on it. You can, however, ask how many scholarships are available and if there are any for the year that you will be graduating.
These are questions that a coach is able to answer for you; however you should not give up even if you hear that there aren’t any scholarships open for the year that you are graduating. Life happens and sometimes a gymnast can change her mind or get injured, so there may be an opening by the time you are the right age.
The Next Step In The Recruiting Process
One of the first steps in the recruiting process that you can begin even if you are not in the 11th grade yet is to go to the NCAA Eligibility Center Quick Reference Guide that they keep updated on their site and read up on some of the different requirements and things. As soon as you reach 11th grade in school then you can also sign up at the NCAA Initial Eligibility Center and follow some instructions that you will find there that are for prospective college scholarship applicants.
One of the things that you should do during your 11th grade year is to take either an ACT test or an SAT test or both. When you get the results of your test in you should enter the results into the Eligibility Center website so that they can see what you got.
From there the next step after you have gotten some of the recruiting information is often to go and pay a visit to the college to meet the coach and team in person. There are two different kinds of on-campus visits: official and unofficial. The main difference between these two is that for an official visit all of your traveling expenses are covered, whereas with an unofficial visit they are not.
Most gymnasts who are interested in getting a scholarship make a few unofficial visits to a few different colleges if possible. While going for a visit does not guarantee that a college will offer you a scholarship, it is still something that you should do to help you decide what you think of the school.
While you are there you can talk to the coaches, and you can also talk with the gymnasts on what may end up being your team. However, all conversations can only take place on the campus grounds if a contract has not been signed yet. The school can also provide you with complimentary tickets to see the team compete.
When you go for your visit you should keep notes, especially if you will be going to more than one school. Write down the things that you liked and the things that you did not like and be sure to ask yourself if you would still love it after four years there.
Also, you should keep in mind that sometimes gymnasts do get injured and are then unable to continue training for months afterwards sometimes. So you should ask yourself if that were to happen to you if you would like the college itself. If the only thing that you like about a particular college is its gymnastics team then you might find it wise to consider looking elsewhere.
You may find that you end up with a scholarship offer for more than one college, at which point your notes will be helpful in making your final decision.
What If You Don’t Get A Scholarship?
Even if you do not get a gymnastics scholarship, you should still become part of a college gymnastics team if you can. Members of any athletic team get certain benefits that are there to help them with their studies. They can get tutoring often for free if they need it, some schools even give their student athletes their own iPads for studying.
There are other advantages as well, including the fact that during registration many schools prioritize any student-athletes, making it easier and faster to get accepted. There are often even academic advisors to help you through your four years of college, keeping track of your progress, and helping you prioritize and keep up with your grades.
For these reasons student-athletes actually tend to have a higher overall rate of graduating than do other students who are not in any of the athletic teams. In addition to training and competing many teams also do volunteer work and other things.