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American Track and Field Athlete

The NCAA Explained: How Do You Join the NCAA?


Foreword by Neuff

When Charlie suggested this blog topic to us, we were intrigued. As a company, we have always strongly supported UK grassroots athletics and have a long history of developing British athletes. We work with local clubs, universities, coaching groups, governing bodies and more to help athletes in their development and strongly encourage home-grown athletes and development. We would always encourage an athlete to stay in the UK athletics development system.

However, many outstanding British athletes choose to study and train in America for various positive reasons. Those athletes must be able to make the right decision with the best possible information and also get the very best out of their experience.

This is why we are delighted that Charlie has written this blog and hope athletes and parents find it informative.

NCAA is the National Collegiate Athletics Association, encompassing all sports, not just Track & Field Athletics.


Track and Field Athlete in America

From an athlete who’s been through the entire process of application to the US from the UK, competing on a full scholarship in the NCAA, this article aims to encompass all the knowledge and experience I gained from America and ensure that you are fully informed with essential information I wish I’d have known before applying.

FULL DISCLAIMER - The accuracy of the information in this article may not be 100% as it is a complicated process and varies between universities.

Female Athlete Stretching on Athletics Track

It can be a daunting time for athletes during sixth-form/college to work out what comes next and how you might balance a degree and your career with the ambition of taking your athletics to that next level. Some universities in the UK have excellent infrastructure to support athletics with successful BUCS (British Universities & Colleges Sport) teams, elite-level facilities and coaching. You may want to consider training groups and clubs in the area at other universities, independent of the university. 

However, one thing I will put on the record from my time in the US is that in terms of funding, structure, competition, coaching and facilities, the UK has some work to do to match the NCAA. The sheer strength and depth of competition in the NCAA is unlike anything else in the world, making it a highly competitive international market for athletes worldwide looking to achieve scholarships. It may seem like the dream move to study and compete across the pond. However, I aim to impart some wisdom that the agencies and coaches won’t tell you about athletics in the USA.

American Dollars


There are three main approaches to getting scouted by a university for a scholarship as an international student:

  1. UK-based athletic recruitment agency
  2. A mutual connection to a university head coach
  3. Reaching out to universities directly

In terms of which of these is the best option for you, it really depends on a few key factors, the main ones being where you want to study, the PBs you have and if you have any connections in the US. Agencies are essentially a consultancy to help you understand the process and put you in contact with coaches in the states. A mutual relationship can provide the same service in terms of contacting coaches they know and recommending you. However, the contact information for most university coaches can be found on the university athletics team website for you to reach out to directly. Once you’re in contact with coaches, they will likely set up a meeting online and occasionally fly you out to tour their university – if you do this, you’re typically limited to 5 universities. As part of the contract, you agree to commit to at least one of the five universities you visit… so choose VERY carefully before you fly out!

Group of Athletes with American Athletics Coach


Scholarships will vary in value and can often be stacked or broken down into part academic/part sport. However, don’t expect to receive a fully funded place unless you have the PBs to make a coach seriously interested in signing you on. Strong universities may offer you partial scholarships up to the value of how much they can afford and what they feel you are worth to their team. However, there can be some flexibility with this, so don’t necessarily take their first offer unless they make it explicitly clear that it’s all they’re prepared to provide.

It is important to consider that, unlike the UK, there is no actual limit to university tuition fees in the states, so some universities can charge in the ballpark of $80,000/year. Unless you’re prepared to fork out the difference if Harvard offers you 30% off of eighty grand, you want to try and get as close to a full scholarship as possible.

Starting Lanes in Athletics Track


The NCAA has 3 divisions, namely 1, 2 and 3. These typically correspond to the size of the institution and its American football team, NOT necessarily the standard of its Track and Field athletics team or the quality of the education.

For example, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is typically academically in the top 10 universities. However, it’s actually in Division 3 for college sports. For high-quality athletics, you should primarily look at D1 and D2 colleges. The main difference between D1 and D2 is that D2 schools are typically smaller, and most larger universities are D1.

Inherently, Division 1 has the highest quality competition and the most depth. These are usually the most competitive teams to get into, with the D1 national championships being borderline world championship standard to even qualify for – the strength and depth are insane. The very best Division 2 programs would compete well with most Division 1 teams, and D2 still has a very competitive top end. A good comparison is in the indoor mile:


NCAA Indoor Qualifying Standards 2023


Agencies can bring a level of knowledge, leverage and experience that can guide you through the application process and put you in contact with some top-end schools. However, the answer to if you NEED to go through an agency is no, and many people will apply to America by contacting coaches or through other connections.

I went through an agency personally. However, I actually ended up getting a scholarship through a good friend I had on a team in America that put me in correspondence with the coach. Universities have athletic administrators that can help you through the process of signing and application if the coaches are interested in signing you on, so if you’re sure where you want to go and can contact the coach directly, they should try and help you with the application process to America. However, they are not experts on travel visas from the UK, and I feel that from my experience, if you have absolutely no idea what you’re doing and have no idea where you want to study, then I believe this is the value an agent can provide.

The agency should also support you for the duration of your studies in America, particularly with visa issues, if you want to transfer to another team, and are typically your first point of contact throughout application and any issues you have. In short, whilst I don’t feel I had a great experience with my agency and knowing what I know now, an agency is the safe bet and can provide a lot of value – you’re looking at around £1800-2600 to sign with an agent, but that could save you $80,000/year for four years if you don’t know where to start. It is worth having a real look into the application process and ensuring you fully understand the American collegiate system with YouTube videos and articles before deciding if an agency is right for you.

American Sports College


When choosing a university, the biggest tip I could ever give someone is to understand what you’re signing up for inside out and backwards. You can afford to be picky, there are hundreds of universities, all with solid teams and excellent facilities, but you need to research and ask the coach every question you can think of. Ask them the difficult questions, research the local area, look up their roster and previous results and ensure that you understand their coaching methodology, the institution you’re signing for and the logistics of it. 

There are a LOT of horror stories about athletes going to America and not having a good time, but equally as many great success stories. But this decision will shape the next four years of your life, so make sure it is as informed and researched as possible. You are essentially signing your life away into the hands of a coach in America, and for some people (myself included), that’s not what I was looking for. After an incredible 6-month adventure in North Carolina, I came home and reapplied in the UK, and it was the best decision I ever made. However, I don’t regret heading to the States in the slightest.


You can take a gap year where you defer your university place in the UK, study in the USA for a year (entirely separate from your UK university application) and work out if it’s right for you. If not, you’ve still got your university place in the UK, whereas if it’s the best thing you’ve ever done, you’ve got another three years before you graduate in the USA (it can be 2.5 years if you take the maximum number of classes).


Writing this article, I’ve come to realise that I can’t cover this in a specific amount of words. So, I will write a part 2 where I answer your questions and impart as much knowledge as possible into a second article. Shoot me an email at or write to me via Instagram @charlie_wako, and I will try to include as many of your questions as possible (anonymously)! I look forward to hearing from you, and thank you for reading this far!


Charlie Wakefield Neuff Athletic Blog

Charlie is predominately an 800m/1500m runner, but he also runs 5K and cross country.

He is an active member of three different athletics clubs, namely Saint Edmund Pacers AC, Ryston Runners and UEA Athletics.

As part of our blog team, Charlie will primarily be making content focusing on middle-distance events.

His goals over the next 5 years include achieving an England/GB vest on the track and breaking the 4 minute mile!

Instagram: @charlie_wako

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