While it may not possess the popularity of college football or basketball, cross-country running nonetheless commands attention from many colleges and universities. As a high-school runner, finding a scholarship to one of these programs can be challenging, but they are available. Oklahoma State, the University of Oregon, the University of Wisconsin and Stanford are among the top Division I schools for cross country.
The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) enforces a number of requirements and limits on men's and women's cross-country scholarships. Division I and II schools combine cross country and track and field in their annual scholarship allotment. For men in Division I and II schools, each school can offer a maximum of 12.6 cross-country/track and field scholarships. For women in Division I and II schools, each school can offer a maximum of 18 and 12.6 cross-country/track and field scholarships, respectively. Smaller Division III schools are outside the scope of NCAA scholarship regulations.
Cross country is considered an equivalency sport, meaning coaches can share their allotment of scholarships among a larger number of runners. This means that most cross-country runners can expect to get partial scholarships when they commit to a program, as opposed to the "full rides" that predominate sports like football and basketball. College-bound runners should keep this in mind, particularly when deciding if they should accept a partial scholarship at a smaller school or try to "walk on" with a team at a more prestigious school.
Generally, a high-school cross-country runner must meet three qualifications to earn a scholarship: athletic ability, academic prowess and financial need. Typical requirements might include an essay, at least two recommendation letters and a 3.0 grade point average. Some exceptional runners are identified by college recruiters and offered scholarships, but the vast majority of runners must apply for financial assistance.
Scholarship amounts vary depending on the institution and the size of the program. Generally, a cross-country running scholarship can range from $250 to $1,500 per year. Local scholarship or grant programs may offer as much as $5,000 to qualified students, generally from a specific area or school. Most scholarships include tuition fees, while some programs might include money for uniforms, equipment, housing and transportation expenses.
A number of different cross-country scholarships are available. NCAA scholarships, perhaps the most expansive, require minimum grade point averages and a qualifying standardized test score, among other factors. For students considering a junior college program, the National Junior College Athletic Association also offers full and partial cross-country scholarships. The National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics offers cross-country scholarships to Division I and II schools; requirements for these scholarships are less strict. Some schools also have endowments that fund cross-country scholarships internally.