10 Essential Tips To Help You Win A College Swimming Scholarship

By Wayne Goldsmith

As the NCAA swimming championship season heats up, swimmers all over the U.S. and across the world are thinking “Wow – wouldn’t it be great to win a college swimming scholarship, be part of a college swimming team and race in the big NCAA Meets”. 

Being part of a successful college swimming team can be one of the most motivating, positive, energizing and exciting experiences the sport has to offer: it’s a swimming dream come true.

However, as it is with most dreams, just thinking about it and talking about it is not enough: the key is to deliberately, consciously and systematically take steps to make it become a reality.

Here are ten essential tips to help you win a college swimming scholarship.

First…The Most Important Question of All.

Most swimmers chasing a college swimming scholarship become too focused on what they want.

What school do I want to go to?

What type of program do I want to swim in?

What coach do I want to swim for?

All these are no doubt important questions to consider but the most important question of all is “What is the college I want to go to looking for in a swimmer?”

Every college already knows what you want – a great education, a wonderful school, an outstanding coach, a brilliant program and four years of amazing experiences in a hard-working, dedicated, successful team. Every swimmer wants the same things.

The key is finding out what the college and the coach is looking for – and training hard to develop those skills, qualities and attributes.

The Big Three College Questions: City, College and Coach.

There are three questions you need to ask yourself as you commence your college choice selection process:

  1. City: Where would I like to live for four years?
  2. College: What college will offer me the educational opportunities I am looking for?
  3. Coach: Which coach will be right for me – who can help me realise my swimming potential?

There is a lot of information available on the internet that can help you answer these questions. As a starting point try working through this process:

  1. Google – The US’ 100 most livable cities and write down the top ten cities where you feel you’d be at home during your college years;
  2. Search – The US’ 100 top colleges and look at their academic programs, athletic programs, swimming programs etc – then list the top ten colleges that offer you the educational and swimming opportunities you’re looking for;
  3. Check out the NCAA rankings and results for the past five years (women’s and men’s) and see which colleges and coaches are consistently performing well in their division and at NCAA national champs.

If you can find a great coach, leading a team who’s consistently performing well and who’s based in an outstanding college located in a very livable city – you’ve got it all!

The 10 Tips…

  1. Choose events that matter to your college. This is without doubt the most important tip! Do your homework on the college swimming program you’re targeting. Find out what events the college values. Are they 100% sprints focused? Do they have a reputation for distance and medley swimming? Also – check out their roster. If they’ve got some really great butterfly swimmers – who are all in their final year of college, chances are they’ll be looking to recruit a new group of “flyers” for next season.
  2. Master every aspect of relays swimming. College swimming is the greatest example in world swimming of team racing. And team racing means relays. Become a Relay-Master! Work on lightning fast change-overs, super starts, terrific turns and powerful finishes and become a dream team member.
  3. Starts – starts – starts and turns – turns – turns: master racing skills. Short course racing is approximately 50% dives, starts, turns and finishes, i.e. if your racing skills are poor – you’ve got no hope of being a desirable college recruit. Focus on your racing skills at every practice and at every Meet.
  4. Learn to thrive under pressure. Training and practicing with your new college team mates will be a lot of fun. But…you’re there to race. As you prepare to chase the college swimming scholarship you dream of – race often. Race hard. Learn to race anywhere, anytime and against any and all opposition. Practice racing fast when you are tired. Learn to race under pressure. Learn to do your best no matter what situation or challenge you face and every college coach in the country will be knocking on your door.
  5. Become a team player. One the fundamental qualities of a great team is selflessness. Swimmers in a high performing college swimming team want to be successful – that’s natural – but they want their team mates to succeed – just as much as they want to achieve their own personal swimming performance goals.
  6. Take responsibility for every aspect of your preparation: Become fiercely independent: do it yourself. College coaches do not want to hold your hand. They will not fill up your water bottle. They will not carry your bag, dry your towel or remind you to be on time to practice. They are looking for swimmers who willingly accept responsibility for their own planning, preparation and performance. Develop a fierce commitment to independence and self-responsibility. Tell mom that you love her – but also tell her to stop doing everything for you – so you can learn to do it yourself.
  7. Do your homework – learn all you can about your future coach, his / her philosophies, the college, their history etc. You’re going to be spending a lot of time with your college coach. What are their philosophies? Are they sprint focused? Do they have a great record in distance events? Do they believe in hard work, large volumes of training and long practices? Are they more sprint and power focused with a strong their dry-land program? Find a coach who’s training philosophies are consistent with the type of swimmer you are – and who can help you become the swimmer you want to be.
  8. Start living and training like a College swimmer NOW! College swimming life can be a challenge. Moving away from home. Living in a strange city. Training and studying with people you don’t know. All these things can be managed – and most colleges have excellent transition and induction programs for “newbies”. However, in terms of how you practice, taking care of your own training equipment, taking responsibility for your own diet and hydration, learning how to manage minor injuries, understanding the importance of rest and recovery etc. etc. start living and training like a college swimmer now and master the “whole of life” skills you’ll need to thrive in your new environment. Learn how to cook a few basic meals. Ask mom or dad to teach you how to clean and press your clothes. Go do a self-massage and injury prevention course. Start developing the skills you need to be a successful college swimmer – NOW.
  9. How will you leave the College a better place after you leave? Colleges are living, breathing, dynamic places. They grow, evolve, change and improve over time due to the impact and influence of the teachers, coaches, students and others who spend time in the college. To paraphrase JFK – “ask not what your college swimming program can do for you – ask what can you do for your college swimming program”. What skills, qualities, values and contributions are you going to bring to the college and the swimming program that will make it a better place?
  10. Have very clear swimming, academic and life goals – balance is critical. It’s not all about swimming. College life is something to be enjoyed. It’s place where you will make life-long friends and have experiences that are potentially life changing. Train hard. Give everything you’ve got to your coach, your team and your college but take time to enjoy learning, the city you’re living in and being a college student. Scouts and recruiters will look for great swimmers – that’s true – but they’re also looking for great people with a balanced approach to life.


Being part of a College swim team is one of greatest experiences the sport has to offer.

Nothing short of a world record guarantees your chances of winning the college swimming scholarship you want – however, with a little homework and by adopting a different approach to the way you think about your swimming, you can shift the odds a lot more in your favor.

Wayne Goldsmith