It starts with opportunity, experience, and maybe even a scholarship.
It’s only natural that most high school athletes aspire to earn an athletic scholarship at an NCAA Division I school. But for those athletes who, for whatever reasons, don’t land in DI, DII, or any other four-year school, a junior college still has plenty to offer. And if you’re looking to compete in track and field at the college level, a JUCO could still put you on track for a scholarship. That’s because junior colleges offer:
An Athletic Scholarship
In the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA), there are 104 schools that sponsor women’s track and field teams and 102 that offer men’s teams (add in cross country and the numbers go to 286 for women and 276 for men). The average roster size of those JUCO track programs is 14 for men and 8 for women. However, a fully funded junior college track program has 20 full-ride scholarships to offer.
The downside to a JUCO scholarship is it’s only a two-year scholarship. The upside is, those two years at a junior college could offer you the chance to go to school close to home or even live at home while competing at the college level. Plus, you can get a feel for college life and have more time to decide your next step.
An Opportunity To Develop
If you still need time to get faster, improve your form or technique, or simply to grow as an athlete, two years at a junior college could be just the ticket. A JUCO offers higher-level coaching and more time for you to focus and develop athletically. And, if your academic record was a concern, at a junior college you can work on your eligibility, take care of your core college classes, and get adjusted to college life, so you can show NCAA or NAIA coaches that you’ve got what it takes to handle the load in college, athletically and academically. Plus you’ll have two more years of experience under your belt.
In most cases, junior colleges are far more affordable than larger, four-year schools. That means, even if you don’t earn a scholarship, you can still compete at the JUCO level at a significantly lower cost. Plus, you can be close to home and, if you live at home while attending a junior college, you can save even more money. And, just like four-year schools, JUCOs also have academic scholarships and need-based grants you can apply for, on top of whatever athletic scholarships you earn. And, by saving money in your first two years of school, you’ll have more money in your pocket to finish your degree at a four-year college.
A Chance To Shine
For many junior college track and field programs, the competition can still be tough. In fact, many NCAA Division I and II track programs often look to junior colleges first to help fill open slots on their team. That’s where the extra growth, development, and experience that’s been highlighted above will work in your favor. That’s because, with a year or two of JUCO track and field experience under your belt, you’ll likely be a more advanced athlete than a high school senior, you’ll have more higher-level competition experience, and you’ll have a better feel for college-level academics.
When you add it all up, a year or two at a junior college can simply make you a more attractive recruit. And, just as a baseball player might need a year or two in the minor leagues to grow his game, the time you spend competing at a junior college could be just what you need to develop into an NCAA or NAIA-level track and field athlete.
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