How to win a cross country Scholarship to a USA University

November 4, 2021

Cross country is a gruelling endurance sport in which athletes test themselves in endurance, speed, and strength in the search for glory or a personal best time. Cross country running is both a team and an individual sport, where competitors run a race on courses over natural terrain such as dirt, grass, forest trails, up and down hills, and over obstacles. Runners are judged on individual times, and teams by a points-scoring method. Many high school athletes are interested in running track and field and cross country at the college level because usually these athletes compete in both sports.Taking your high school cross-country dreams to the college level is very exciting, and is an attainable goal for most athletes. It will take hard work, determination, confidence, consistency, knowledge, and clear goal setting. Here is how to win a university cross country scholarship.

At college level in the USA the course length is typically 5-10 km (2.5–7.5 mi) long. The cross country season is in the Fall semester and can include weather conditions of rain, sleet, snow or hail, and a wide range of temperatures. These can depend on your college location - whether you're in the north, south, east, or west - and where you compete. This variety in weather means that athletes need to be prepared for everything!

Here are a few steps to Win A University Cross Country Scholarship:

1. Bridge the college gap with the right training regimen

The transition from high school to college can be big for every sport but is especially so for cross country. For men, the course distance often increases from 5km in high school to 8km -10km during the college season. For women, the distance often increases from 4km to 6km. Cross country programs in the US are known for their high mileage approach compared to other parts of the world and often put their athletes through rigorous strength training. As you prepare for your freshman year of college, the right training regimen can make all the difference. An emphasis on a “slow and steady” increase in distance and consistent strength training towards the end of high school is essential to avoid the common freshmen running injuries - and, of course, to improve as a runner.

2. Your academics are important

While a few programs are cross country only, most schools with cross country and track and field programs split the same pot of recruiting money. Most scholarship opportunities are partial, and Michael Scott, Chair of USA Track & Field Long Distance Running Division, recommends students look for ways to combine academic aid with an athletic scholarship. Cross country teams are renowned for having high academic standards and coaches take pride in this, so a higher academic ability may move you ahead of other runners in terms of scholarships. Therefore, it is important to find a school that matches up your athletic and academic interests.

Remember, a strong academic presence before and during college is important for your future. Your marks can help you win a university cross country scholarship!

3. Be persistent

If you don’t ask your coaches, you will never know! Even if the answer is no you still haven’t lost anything by finding out. Don’t wait for coaches to send you an email or give you a call - reach out to them. They might think you’re not interested because they haven’t heard from you, or they might not be focused on recruiting from your part of the world.

Even if they don’t offer you a scholarship right away, spots may open for various reasons, and you can be in a prime position to take one. 

4. Find the right fit

Every college cross country program is different. When deciding on a school, learn as much as you can about the coach’s personality and training philosophy. Then think about your likes and dislikes in training and what makes you feel fast and strong.

For example, some programs are really demanding and require high mileage, but some athletes thrive more off cross training and shorter interval training. Especially if you are an athlete with an injury history, you need to be aware of the system. We often put coaches on a pedestal but it’s important to remember coaches are human and will each have their own quirks and stubborn areas. In some cases, colleges will redshirt freshmen to give them an extra year to build strength and stamina. If you want to start running right away, then a college like that wouldn't be a great choice.

It’s so important to be communicating with college coaches so you understand their expectations and know what kind of training the team will be doing when you show up on campus.

5. Be patient

In general, distance runners take longer to find their rhythm due to the taxing nature of the sport and the variables which can play into performance. College rosters are full of men and women who weren’t star athletes in high school but kept working hard and improving their times. If your dream is to run for a top Division I program right out of high school, a walk-on opportunity or starting at a Division II program or junior college could be your path to a roster spot and a DI scholarship later in your studies.

Running is all about consistency - one foot in front of the other, day after day! Keep at it, and who knows what incredible opportunities may come your way!

Aspire Atlantic Success Story: Elyas Ayyoub

Aspire Atlantic's Elyas Ayyoub has launched his college career in spectacular fashion. Elyas, from Bishops in Cape Town, was a top cross country runner in high school, winning the Western Province School and Club championships. His success led him to Aspire Atlantic, and a desire to run and study overseas. Here is what he did to win a university cross country scholarship.

The Process

Elyas and the Aspire team put together his marketing package - video, resume, and reports - and reached out to coaches across the country. With his track record and willing personality, Elyas was immediately on the radar of many cross country programs. After talking through the opportunities, Elyas committed to Long Island University, deciding to share his talents with the Sharks. Excited at his new journey, he set off in August 2021 to start his new adventure in New York.

Rookie of the Week

Elyas got off to a flying start with the LIU Sharks, following in the footsteps of fellow Aspire alumna Charné-Lee Olkers. At the beginning of the season, after only a few weeks in the program, Elyas picked up consecutive Rookie of the Week awards from the Northeast Conference. This reflected his outstanding performances, where he had finished 5th out of 150 runners at the Iona Meet of Champions and 7th out of 340 runners at the Lehigh Paul Short Run. He also scooped the NEC Athlete of the Week after his storming run at Lehigh Paul.

Elyas continued to dominate throughout the season, and in the NEC Championships, he finished in third place. This unbelievable performance saw him win the NEC Most Outstanding Rookie Performer Award, underlining his incredible season. It is really impressive for Elyas to be competing at such a high level so early in his college career, and we look forward to seeing what heights he reaches in the years to come!

Remember, it’s always the perfect time to begin your journey towards studying at the university of your dreams. Sign up here for a free consultation with one of our recruitment experts. You could join over 300 student-athletes already placed in the USA, competing at the highest level and earning a world-class degree


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