College Cross Country Scholarships & Recruiting Information

Instructor: Christopher Sailus

Chris has an M.A. in history and taught university and high school history.

In this lesson we explore the world of cross country and the potential for earning a college scholarship in the sport. We also discover some pointers for improving an athlete's scholarship chances.

Cross Country

Let's face it: sometimes running and working out can be boring. Running on treadmills can be especially monotonous affairs, even if they are a source of much-needed exercise. But it doesn't have to be. In fact, there is an entire sport devoted to running in more interesting a diverse settings: cross country.

Cross country offers diverse settings
cross country

If you enjoy running across hills and fields, and you do it quicker than most, it is possible you can even earn a scholarship and help pay for your college education. This lesson will explore this possibility as well as provide a few tips for the recruiting process.


Lots of people run, some for pleasure, some for exercise, and some to help train and stay in shape for other sports. Cross country is an increasingly popular high school sport, with nearly a half million male and female runners participating in the sport in 2017 alone!

Cross country teams are similarly populous at the college level. Across all divisions and associations, more than 1,500 schools have cross country programs.

However, not all of these schools offer scholarships. The number of scholarships each school can offer varies depending on the athletic association to which they belong. Here are the amount of scholarships each school can offer in each division:

  • NCAA Division I: 12.6 scholarships for men, 18 for women
  • NCAA Division II: 12.6 scholarships for men, 18 for women
  • NCAA Division III: 0 scholarships
  • NAIA: 12 scholarships for men, 12 for women
  • NJCAA: 20 scholarships for men, 20 for women

Now, as most cross-country teams field between 8 and 15 runners, you would think that your chances of getting a full scholarship are rather good, but there is a hitch: the scholarship numbers listed above are the combined total scholarships available to cross country and track and field competitors.

While the average cross country team might have about a dozen runners, track and field teams can easily have more than 30 athletes. That means you will not just be competing for a scholarship against other cross country runners, but against members of entire other team as well.

Cross country is also an equivalency sport, meaning coaches can and do divide scholarships. This reality, coupled with the amount of scholarships available to cross country and track and field athletes, means it is possible you will receive a partial scholarship if you are lucky enough to receive one at all.

Target Schools and Check Times

The nature of cross country sharing its scholarships with another sport means you will need to target schools that have a good cross country program and try to attract the best athletes. Those that take pride in their program will likely devote more scholarships to the sport than those who value their track and field athletes more.

Competing for a cross country scholarship can be incredibly competitive. Before you decide to pursue one, check to see if your times are comparable with average running times at the next level.

Check out the conference and national competitions to see their winning and average times. If you times are close to these, you may want to think about devising some extra training to improve your performance. Alternatively, if your times are not even in the same ballpark, you may want to think about other options of paying for college.

Run Track & Field

Participating in track and field can have multiple benefits if you are trying to gain a scholarship for cross country. For example, more track and field coaches attend meets to recruit individuals than cross country coaches.

In some cases, there is the same coach for both sports, and these generally do all their recruiting at track and field competitions. In addition to increasing your visibility with coaches, running track and field can help keep you in shape and keep you training during the off season.

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