By Joan Grey
Rising New Zealand football stars such as Joe Bell and Daisy Cleverley have launched their international careers after playing college football in the United States.
This pathway is becoming increasingly common for young New Zealanders wanting to combine education with a football career.
But how do you land a college football scholarship and follow in the footsteps of players like Bell and Cleverley?
I was fortunate to pick the brains of two experts on US college soccer from a New Zealand perspective.
I interviewed Jaiden Van der Heijden, Director of International Recruitment for Striv3 Elite Sports Management.
Van der Heijden plays in the midfield for Eastern Suburbs in the Northern League, and previously attended Oklahoma Christian University on a soccer scholarship.
I also spoke to former Football Fern Tessa Berger, Director of Athletics for Crimson Education. Berger played NCAA Division I women’s soccer at Florida Gulf University.
Our conversations highlighted three key tips for young footballers interested in the pathway to US college soccer.
Step 1: ‘Figure out your why’
“The first step is figuring out your ‘why’,” says Berger.
“Why is it that you want to go to the US? Is it because you want to use the US collegiate system as a stepping stone to going pro? Is it because you want to leverage your athletic ability to increase your chances of gaining admission to top 50 academically ranked schools?
“Figuring out the purpose of your journey is the key first step.”
In the US more than 1,000 colleges offer women’s and men’s soccer programmes, which play across five main divisions.
- NCAA Division I – The highest tier of college soccer. Sport is your life.
- NCAA Division II – A more balanced approach. High level of competition but academics and sport are on the same bar.
- NCAA Division III – Academics take more of the lead. Sport is not as intense and students feel they have more time to be immersed in the college experience.
- National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) – Mostly smaller private schools. Similar to NCAA Division III academic/sport balance.
- Junior Colleges (NCJAA) – Provides two years of college for secondary school graduates.
“There’s such a wide variety of levels and there’s a level to suit everybody. You don’t have to be a world-beater, there are different reasons that people go to the US,” says Van der Heijden.
“Some New Zealanders go to American universities to kick on to the next level and become professional. Others go to the US to get their degree while playing the sport they love, and some people simply go there for life experience.
“There are all sorts of levels of football that cater to all abilities.”
Main photo: A college match between Iowa State and Grand View. Photo: Jacob Rice / Unsplash.
Step 2: ‘Film your games’
US college coaches don’t get to see you play in New Zealand so they rely entirely on a ‘highlight video’ you’ll submit as part of your application to give them an idea of your football ability.
You should be filming your games when you’re in year 12 and 13. Keep a log of your playing highlights – record the date, match and the video timestamp to reference later.
“You’ll want to showcase what makes you unique as a footballer. Whether you’re a central midfielder that can distribute with a high completion rate, a centre-back with a high football IQ that reads the game well, or a technically astute striker that’s creative on the ball, you need to highlight what sets you apart from other recruits,” says Berger.
Step 3: ‘Read up on academic requirements’
To apply for any US college, you’ll need to submit your Grade Point Average (GPA). Measured on a scale from 0 to 4.0, your GPA is the average of the grades in all of your subjects.
It is calculated by dividing the total amount of grade points earned by the total amount of credit hours attempted.
While the US education system operates on GPAs throughout secondary school, students from other countries need to show a conversion of their secondary qualification scores to an equivalent GPA.
How does GPA translate to New Zealand’s NCEA system? Click here >>>>
US colleges also require an SAT test score. The SAT is a globally recognized college admission exam that tests your reading, writing and mathematical comprehension.
“You should consider taking an SAT in year 12. We recommend taking it two or three times, sometimes even four,” Van der Heijden says.
“You can take SATs as many times as you like and they will use your highest score. A high SAT score might help you get academic funding from a programme.”
Where do you take a test? There are various testing locations at different times during the year in New Zealand. The easiest way to register is via the college board website. To find out more click here >>>>
Where you can get help
“It’s a pretty tall task trying to navigate this pathway alone; I’ve been there and done that,” Berger says.
Friends of Football writer Joan Grey loves playing and writing about football. She captains the Strathallan College Girls First XI and represents Franklin United in the NRF Women’s Championship.