Lara Schenk soccer player

My Journey to a Soccer Scholarship

Insights from a Former International Student-Athlete at Harvard University

A soccer scholarship offers significant athletic and academic benefits for student-athletes. Lara Schenk, a former international student-athlete recruited by Harvard's soccer team, shares her experiences and insights on how to earn a soccer scholarship.

A soccer scholarship offers significant athletic and academic benefits for student-athletes. Lara Schenk, a former international student-athlete recruited by Harvard’s soccer team, shares her experiences and insights on how to earn a soccer scholarship!

Securing a soccer scholarship can be a transformative opportunity, offering both athletic and academic enrichment. As a former international student-athlete who had the privilege of attending Harvard University on a need-based scholarship and was recruited by the Harvard soccer coaching staff, I understand the complexities and challenges of this journey.

In this blog post, I’ll share my insights into and personal take on the requirements needed to obtain a soccer scholarship, drawing from my own experiences and observations before, during, and after my time at Harvard. 

Key points:

  • Review the academic eligibility requirements for your soccer team and college of choice 
  • Back home, play soccer at an academy, center of excellence, or regional team, as well as preferably the youth national team 
  • Start your recruiting process early and professionally with a sports scholarship agency 
  • Create a soccer highlight video 
  • Build your academic resume 
Soccer player Lara Schenk at soccer field

1. Academic Excellence:

One of the cornerstones of obtaining a soccer scholarship, particularly at prestigious institutions like Harvard, is academic prestige. Many colleges seek student-athletes who not only excel on the field but also demonstrate a commitment to their studies.

Maintaining a strong academic record is essential throughout high school to meet the rigorous admission standards of top-tier colleges. Something that I found important and surprising was the level of scrutiny that all high school report cards are looked at with. This means that doing well in school from the 9th grade onwards is valuable to show continuous determination.

While your grades do not have to be perfect, you should be around or above the average in most courses and show particular interest and passion in a few that might translate into a college degree later. For example, I enjoyed psychology in high school a lot and could see myself choosing this as my major in college. Therefore, I made sure to do well in my high school psychology classes, take my psychology projects seriously, and use other interdisciplinary moments like my extended essay to dive into an aspect of psychology that I found interesting at the time. 

2. Soccer Skills:

Of course, a soccer scholarship requires exceptional talent on the field. Coaches look for athletes who possess outstanding technical skills, tactical understanding, physical prowess, and a strong work ethic. Participating in competitive leagues, attending showcases, and receiving recognition through awards or honors can enhance your visibility to college recruiters. I also made sure to analyze the similarities and differences between European and US soccer styles to prepare well and build excitement to get better as a player.

During high school I played on boys’ teams, therefore, I had the robustness and aggressiveness of a good defender already but felt that I was still lacking the athleticism to be a more versatile player. Knowing that the college system emphasized strength and conditioning sessions much more than German academies did at the time helped me to know my areas of improvement and build determination to add these aspects to my game. 

3. Leadership and Character:

Beyond academic and athletic achievements, colleges value student-athletes who demonstrate leadership qualities and exemplary character in their personal and professional lives. This can mean captaining your team, volunteering in your community, or developing a hobby that shows care and integrity for the people around you. All this can strengthen your candidacy for a soccer scholarship at any college in the US.

Coaches seek individuals who will contribute to their team’s success and uphold the institution’s values. I joined extracurricular clubs in high school that aligned with my values, such as the PLAN (Because I Am A Girl) group that advocated for gender equality around the world through local meetings, bake sales to raise money, and advocacy events such as banners in the school and presentations to younger grades. 

4. Networking and Recruitment:

Navigating the recruitment process can be daunting, especially for international student-athletes. I remember feeling overwhelmed with the number of US college teams to filter through and the number of tasks to complete on time to be eligible to play.

Utilizing recruitment services, attending showcases and camps, and reaching out directly to college coaches can help you gain exposure and establish connections. Building a strong recruiting profile with videos, statistics, and recommendations can enhance your visibility and attract the attention of college programs. At Keystone Sports, you will find experts in this field who will help you manage the tasks and deadlines to ensure that you can be the best student-athlete when you attend your college. 

5. Standardized Testing and Eligibility:

While it is only a minor section of the recruiting process that can be overlooked, I think it is worth mentioning earlier that standardized tests will be an important part of your journey. In addition to academic and athletic credentials, standardized testing such as the SAT or ACT is often required for admission to colleges offering soccer scholarships.

Understanding the testing requirements and preparing diligently can improve your chances of meeting eligibility criteria. I took the SAT too lightly at first and did not prepare for a long time, so don’t make my mistake. The subjects and content are like your high school curriculum, but I would recommend practicing the type of questions and timing of each section a lot more than the content itself. 

6. Financial Aid and Scholarships:

While sports scholarships can significantly offset the cost of college tuition, it’s essential to explore other forms of financial aid as well. Filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and researching scholarship opportunities can help alleviate the financial burden associated with higher education.

Additionally, understanding the terms and conditions of your scholarship offer is crucial to managing expectations and planning for the future. While this might not be the case if you are offered a full soccer scholarship, I would still recommend understanding other options and pathways in case you decide to stop playing soccer during your college career or have a career-ending injury. 

Lara Schenk soccer player at Harvard

By navigating the recruitment process effectively, preparing well, and excelling on the field and in school, you can maximize your chances of realizing the transformative opportunity that a soccer scholarship holds.

As a former international student-athlete, I can only recommend using soccer to open doors to colleges that you may not have thought possible and seeing the world through your sport. Soccer scholarships not only let you play soccer in the US, but also allow you to focus on your studies without worrying about a financial burden and building yourself a promising future. 

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About the author

Lara Schenk

Lara Schenk, sports and education consultant at Keystone Sports, holds a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Harvard University and plays professional soccer at reigning Belgian champion RSC Anderlecht. Working and studying at the intersection of psychology and gender equality in sports she uses her platform to improve the educational and sports marketing opportunities and well-being of athletes.

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