Best Niche Sports For College Admissions

best niche sports for college admissions

Getting into and paying for college can feel like daunting tasks, especially in today’s competitive environment. Playing a niche sport is one way to give yourself an edge when applying to a college that might be difficult to get into or a scholarship that many are vying for.

Niche sports are those that aren’t widely popular and that might provide you with opportunities to bolster your admissions and scholarship applications. Here are some of the best niche sports that might help you get more bang for your college admissions buck.

Fencing

Learning how to deftly attack with an épée might get you admitted into one of the 46 schools across the country that offer varsity fencing. Schools like Harvard, Boston College, Yale, and the U.S. Air Force Academy have fencing. And they might even provide you with a scholarship.

In 2018, the odds of getting a scholarship for fencing were 22:1 for men and 13:1 for women. Compare that to the odds of 57:1 for men and 43:1 for women who want to play basketball. As you can see, opportunities abound if you can master the blade.

However, it’s important to note that fencing offers less potential than it did in the past, as Brown discontinued its varsity fencing program for men in 2020, and similar cuts may happen at more schools in the future.

Lacrosse

If you’re looking for a sport that continues to offer relatively high odds of making a college varsity roster, lacrosse can be a good choice. There are 645 U.S. colleges that offer varsity lacrosse teams. It’s even possible to find junior college lacrosse teams as well as NCAA teams outside Division I.

The odds of making any college roster as a lacrosse player are 7:1 for both men and women. When it comes to playing Division I lacrosse, the odds are 32:1 for men and 24:1 for women. This also offers a much better chance at hitting the field than you’ll get with some other, more well-known sports.

Water Polo

Hop in the pool, and you might be surprised at how it can help you get into a good college. Cal State campuses offer varsity water polo teams, along with a number of other schools, including Arizona State University, Chapman University, Pepperdine, and the U.S. Naval Academy. There are 125 schools in total that offer varsity water polo teams.

But what are the odds that a high school water polo player will make the cut for college? A man has 13:1 odds of getting onto a team in college, while a woman has odds of 11:1. Making a roster for an NCAA Division I team has more difficult odds, at 34:1 for men and 29:1 for women.

The significant difference in the chances of making a Division I team versus a team in any of the three divisions highlights an important factor when considering niche sports for college admissions or even scholarships: Sometimes, applying to a smaller school might make sense. Even at a non-Division I school, you might still be able to get a scholarship, albeit likely a smaller one than you would for Division I.

Related: Best Extracurricular Activities For College Applications

Field Hockey

Field hockey is a sport generally played by women at the college level. There are 288 schools that have a varsity field hockey team, meaning that you might be able to get into school if you can skillfully handle a hockey stick. Stanford, UC Berkeley, Georgetown, and Trinity College all offer varsity field hockey teams. If you’re looking to set yourself apart from other college applicants, excelling in high school field hockey might be one way to do this.

Women hoping to get onto a field hockey roster have 10:1 odds, with 39:1 odds for those hoping to make a Division I roster. There are more than 6,600 field hockey players at the collegiate level.

Equestrian

Back in 2018, Marketwatch reported that women had 3:1 odds of getting a college scholarship for equestrian performance. For the 2022-23 academic year, there were 77 schools across the country that had varsity equestrian teams. The average scholarship amount, for those who received one, was $16,567 for riders competing for NCAA Division I schools.

As with many other niche sports for college admissions, schools considered more prestigious, like Auburn, Dartmouth, Cornell, and Sarah Lawrence, are more likely to offer varsity equestrian teams. As a result, it’s important to weigh the scholarship against the potential cost of attendance. For example, tuition alone at Cornell University is more than $60,000 before factoring in grants and scholarships. A $16,000 athletic scholarship at a school like that won’t make much of a dent on its own.

On the other hand, a $16,000 scholarship at Auburn University would more than cover the cost of that school’s in-state tuition price tag of about $6,300. And it would leave plenty of room to cover the $7,700 needed for on-campus housing and food as well.

Rowing

The sport of rowing made headlines in 2020 as part of a college admissions scandal in which certain students received admissions help by being falsely portrayed as rowing team recruits. Other niche sports, like sailing, were also caught up in the scandal.

The incidents underscored the advantages that niche athletes have when they apply to certain colleges. Coaches of sports like rowing and sailing may find it challenging to fill their college rosters. So if a student is recruited for these teams, they may have a leg up in the college admissions process, even if they might otherwise be passed over based on academic merits alone.

There are 152 schools that sponsor a rowing team at the varsity level, with NCAA Division I and Division II schools offering scholarships. Interestingly, men’s rowing isn’t an official NCAA sport, although it’s still possible for a male student to get a scholarship for being on a crew roster. It is, however, an official NCAA sport for female competitors. The average scholarship size for an NCAA Division I woman in rowing is more than $19,700, while for men it exceeds $13,500.

In 2018, the reported odds of receiving a scholarship for women’s rowing were 2:1. Those odds might have been impacted by the aforementioned scandal, but rowing can still be a viable niche sport for college admissions.

Swimming And Diving

Swimming and diving are often lumped together for the purposes of admissions statistics. The odds of making a swimming or diving team at any college are 13:1 for men and 12:1 for women. However, the odds of getting a scholarship are 47:1 for women and 69:1 for men. These stats indicate that swimming and diving may be useful sports for getting into a school you’re interested in, but it’s far more challenging to study on a swimming or diving scholarship.

With 687 schools supporting a varsity swim team, you have the chance to get into schools at various levels. There are even scholarships available at the junior college level for swimming. If you’re looking for ways to save money in college, the combination of starting at a community college and getting a swimming scholarship could be a smart strategy.

Esports

Don’t forget about esports when you’re considering college admissions and scholarships. There are about 170 schools out there with esports teams, from the community college level on up to NCAA Division I. On top of that, there is reportedly more than $16 million in available esports scholarships.

If you play “Fortnite,” “League of Legends,” “Call of Duty,” “Super Smash Bros.,” or other similar games, you might be able to use your esport passion to gain admission or even a scholarship to a college. My son is the captain of his junior college’s League of Legends team and has a half-tuition scholarship as a result.

Bottom Line

Sports like tennis, basketball, and soccer might be popular, but admission slots and scholarships for those sports are also incredibly competitive. If you excel at a niche sport, you might have a better chance of getting into a college you’re interested in, and you could even land a scholarship.

Editor: Ashley Barnett Reviewed by: Robert Farrington

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