Becoming a student athlete in America offers a unique opportunity. No where else in the world can you combine playing soccer at such a high level with studying for an internationally recognised degree.
Embarking on this journey requires dedication and hard work however what you can accomplish will lay the foundations for future success.
The college system is divided into 3 main organisations which are the NCAA, NAIA and Junior College. The NCAA and NAIA are all four year schools whereas Junior College is a two year program and seen as a stepping stone before finishing your final two years at the NCAA or NAIA level.
Unlike soccer in many other countries around the world, there isn't a relegation and promotion system in place, so playing at the NCAA D1 level doesn't necessarily mean you are playing at a school that is better than NCAA D2. This is something we help you understand throughout your journey. It is interesting to note that at NCAA D1 and D2 level, the women's soccer teams have more scholarships available than the men's teams.
U.S. College soccer system
Soccer Pre-season Late July – Mid August (usually 3 weeks)
Fall Soccer Season Mid August - Late November (between 18-23 games on average)
Spring Soccer Season
Mid/Late January to Mid/Late-April (usually 5 games which are friendlies)
Fall Soccer Season – This is the main soccer season in America and will usually run from mid-August through to mid/late November depending how far you go in the national tournament. Normally the season will comprise of between 18-24 games, therefore it is very intense.
Spring Soccer Season- This will run from mid-January through to mid-April and although you will continue to train regularly, there won’t be as many games during this period. You will likely play 5-6 friendlies and potentially these are games against teams from other divisions. The spring season will allow you to pick up more hours in the classroom.
Soccer season format
Why become a student athlete?
Nowhere else in the world do you get the balance of academics and sport like you do in America and that is why it is such a popular destination for student athletes. Your classes will be scheduled around your soccer which means if you are on campus, there are no excuses for missing class.
The huge benefit of the American College system is that if you are wanting to take your soccer to the next level, you will have 4 years in an incredibly competitive environment. We have seen many players go to America and come back different players mentally and physically which has enabled them to progress to a high level in UK soccer, some have even become professionals.
If you want to take your soccer to the next level and you have the drive and determination to better yourself everyday, the student athlete environment will be perfect for you.
The facilities at colleges throughout the US are absolutely incredible and will be better than many professional clubs and organisations throughout the world.
When it comes to women’s soccer, this is no different. There are more women’s soccer teams than there are men’s soccer teams which gives you an idea of just how seriously it is taken. You also don’t have to be at a top NCAA D1 school to get great facilities. There are amazing facilities at all different levels and some of the top European teams have been known to use NCAA D2 and NAIA facilities during their summer pre-season camps.
Just to give you a bit of an idea of the scale of an NCAA D2 school, this is what was available at the University of Montevallo in Alabama (approx. 2000 students):
Full time coaching staff
State of the art, fully equipped gym for student athletes
Two physio rooms for any players needing treatment
Full time athletic trainers (physios) to help with anyone who had injuries.
Full sized swimming pool
Main Soccer Field and 2 separate training fields
Changing facilities for ALL individual sports
What this will allow you to do is push onto new heights as a soccer player and it gives you the best possible opportunity to reach your full potential.
What are sports facilities like?
What happens if I get injured?
If you get an injury when you are in America and it can be treated by a physio, there will be one within the athletic department that will help you get back from injury as soon as possible. The incredible facilities that they have on offer, along with a full time athletic training staff, means that you get the best quality care and are back playing as soon as possible. As the regular part of the season is so intense, there will also be a plan in place to make sure that you recover from games properly which will minimise the risk of injury significantly.
During the main part of the season, games come thick and fast and that could mean that you spend some time on the road for away games. Due to the sheer size of America, you might find that a relatively local game can be 6-8 hours coach ride away. When travelling away, if you need to stay overnight, all the travel, accommodation and food is covered by the athletic department which will allow you to solely concentrate on taking care of business on the pitch. Sometimes (mainly NCAA D1), you could potentially fly to a game if it is on the other side of the country or you are taking part in the national tournament.
The away travel is a contributing factor to what makes being a student athlete so special and is a great time to forge an extra strong bond with your teammates.
As mentioned before, it is important if you are away from college and miss class, that you stay on top of your school work so there will be the opportunity for some study time while on the road to do this.
Away day travel (for matches)
Another huge part of being part of the student athlete family is that you will get the opportunity to go and support other college sports and they will come and support you. You may find that you don't have a clue what is going on with some sports like basketball, baseball and American Football but the opportunity to go and support these other sports brings a real sense of community.
It can be a very special environment to be in when you are part of a successful athletics program and everyone is supporting each other. For example, in the NCAA D1 National Championship game in 2022 between UCLA and UNC, there were nearly 10,000 fans in attendance at the WakeMed Soccer Park. If you are lucky enough to go to, or be near one of the Big NCAA D1 schools with American Football, you could be packed in a stadium with 100,000+ fans watching the team and then be in class on the Monday with one of the players.
Until you are in the environment, there really is no way to put into words just how special it is.
Supporting other sports teams
There are also opportunities for players to potentially play in the summer months over in America. If you are considering following the professional route when you graduate, this is a great opportunity to get in the 'shop window' for professional teams in America. The season will last roughly 8-10 weeks through the months of May and June and it could mean you get the opportunity to visit another part of America.
If you feel you would like to do some coaching over the summer months and earn some money in the process, our partners, Challenger Sports will be perfect for you. Challenger Sports run camps throughout the summer months where you work for them to deliver their camps. This will once again give you the opportunity to go and visit a different part of America and earn some money while you do it.
For so many players, and with more opportunities than ever these days, the dream at the end of your student athlete career is to play professionally. This all comes down to the individual and how much they want to dedicate themselves during the 4 years they are in America.
If you are of a good enough level, there is the opportunity to go into the NWSL Draft. This is when, once a year, the professional teams in America’s top league, get the opportunity to pick the players they would like to join their squads. It is important to remember that there are limits on the number of foreign/international players that can be on each squad in America’s top division.
There are also opportunities when returning to the UK/Europe, with the FA WSL and majority of the FA Women’s Championship now being professional. Something we always mention to players is that you are not forgotten when you travel over to America. We are here to help integrate you back into the soccer pyramid within the UK/Europe.
We have great connections with a lot of top clubs in the U.K and are always wanting to help our players progress to the next level.