College Scholarships for Lesser-Known Sports | Paying for College

College Scholarships for Lesser-Known Sports | Paying for College

Some sports – such as football, soccer, basketball and baseball – tend to garner significant attention and college funding. But scholarship money is often still available for less-common athletic abilities.

Woman practicing archery training with recurve bow on open field before sunset. She is in very good shape and focus is on the bow

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At the institutional level, there are financial restrictions for non-NCAA sports. However, students can search for scholarships from third-party sources, such as nonprofits or local organizations.

“There are some colleges that will have some scholarships for non-NCAA sports that are at the club level that maybe an alum has donated money to,” says Kelly Herrington, director of college counseling and student services at UPrep Seattle, a private school for grades 6-12 in Washington.

At NCAA schools, he adds, “you have regulations around who you can give scholarships to. You can only provide scholarships at the Division I level. The athletic scholarships out there are going to have to come at the club level. They can’t be anything where the students are competing in the intercollegiate athletic association.”

Here are examples of outside or college-associated scholarships for unique sports that may be offered as a club or intramural activity on campuses.

Examples of Scholarships for Less-Common Sports


Archery enthusiasts can compete for both medals and college scholarships at the Junior Olympic Archery Development National Target Championships. These scholarships are reserved for top finishers.

However, students don’t need to be the star player to win a sports scholarship, experts say.

“It’s really about showing your interest in the sport” and your leadership abilities, says Christopher Gray, founder and CEO of Scholly, a scholarship app recently acquired by Sallie Mae.

For instance, members of the Minnesota State Archery Association who are graduating high school students with a demonstrated interest in archery may qualify for a $500 college scholarship.


While there are national curling scholarships, students can also look to see if a local curling club provides any college funding.

The Schenectady Curling Club in New York offers a Charlie Brown Memorial Scholarship – established in the 2023-2024 season – that provides a one-time scholarship of $500. There’s no grade or transcript requirement, but applicants must be a high school senior and current or past member of the club’s Juniors program. Funding can be used for any postsecondary education-related expenses.


Video game lovers can take their passion to a competitive level in college. Many institutions have started to build their own gaming arenas in an effort to recruit students for their esports teams.

“Esports scholarships are everywhere,” Herrington says. “My message to middle school families or families just starting high school is: Who knows, that niche thing that you are doing may actually become more mainstream and there may be more scholarships in it.”


Pickleball has been growing in popularity across the U.S., including on college campuses.

At Utah Tech University, students can apply for the Pickleball Club Scholarship, which covers up to six credit hours of tuition costs. Selected candidates become part of the team as either a player or officer. Applicants must have at least a 3.0 GPA and commit to volunteering a minimum of 20 hours per semester for club-related projects.


Compared to other sports on this list, surfing is more geographically limited. However, there are still scholarships out there for surfers.

The International Surfing Association distributes up to $20,000 in award money each year, ranging between $100 and $1,000 per recipient. The amount is determined case by case.

To qualify, students must be 18 years or younger, demonstrate financial need, be outstanding role models in their community and be recommended by their country’s National Surfing Federation. Funding can be used for tuition, books, transportation, training, coaching, contest fees, surfboards and other equipment.

How to Stand Out on Scholarship Applications

In the application, it’s important for students to discuss why they became interested in that particular sport. Additionally, they can mention “how they’ve grown as a result of their participation, how they’ll contribute to their collegiate community in that particular sport and how they’ve applied the lessons from that sport to other areas of their life,” Herrington says.

Essays should be used to tell a story rather than paraphrase a resume, Gray says. He recommends keeping responses brief – around 500 words – if there is no word count.

However, students shouldn’t spend all their time applying for these scholarships.

“I always tell students to focus most of your attention on doing well in school and your grades and taking a strong curriculum,” Herrington says. “The vast majority of money that’s given to students for outside scholarships is going to come as a result of your academic work.”

But, he adds, “there is a really impressive narrative when you stick with something that maybe not (many) other people are involved in because you are seen as doing it out of genuine passion and interest, not because of public glory. Colleges love that. … So even if they don’t get a scholarship, they are still going to get rewarded in the college process because of that interest that they have.”

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