Guide to Scholarships for Lesser-Known Sports

Written by: Kristyn Pilgrim
Updated: 8/25/20

It’s common knowledge that talented baseball, basketball, and football players can earn college scholarships for playing sports, but what about archers, fencers, equestrians, or video gamers? Are there similar opportunities for talented participants in lesser-known sports?

The answer is yes! While often these scholarships might be harder to find and smaller in amount, they may also be less competitive since, well, they are lesser-known. 

In this article, we discuss how to find sports scholarships and list several opportunities in some of these lesser-known sporting areas.

How to Find Sports Scholarships: An Overview

There are two main avenues through which sports scholarships are generally acquired. The first is through a club or association related to the sport, and the other is through athletic scholarships offered by college recruiters who want you on their competitive team.

If you have a lesser-known sport that you love or excel at, look into joining any associated clubs or organizations. Many of these have scholarship programs for their members that might be based on any combination of athletic prowess, community engagement, or academic excellence. 

If you want to compete on an intercollegiate level, look for colleges that have well-funded teams. Coaches will be looking to recruit talented members, and if they have the funding, they will do so by offering scholarships to play. If you find a school you would like to attend with a team you would like to join, contact the coach or athletic department to express your interest. 

Below, we list specific scholarships for a variety of lesser-known sports. If your sport is not on the list, do not despair. Again, look into organizations or schools with teams as a starting point. There might be more available than you realize.

Archery Scholarships

The National Field Archery Association administers a scholarship program for NFAA and NAA/USA Archery members. To qualify, you must be planning on attending a two- or four-year college, university, or technical program full time and have a minimum 2.0 GPA in the current year. Current college students applying must have a 2.5 GPA.

Scholarship amounts vary from $500 to $5,000, depending on where you plan on attending school and your archery accomplishments and plans. The committee reserves the right to create an even larger scholarship of up to $20,000 for an extraordinary applicant, depending on circumstances.

Recipients of the scholarship agree to compete in archery during the entire academic year. Applications are due at the end of December.

Boxing Scholarships

Those who are already or are planning on attending college as a competitive boxer for the United States Intercollegiate Boxing Association are eligible for the $10,000 

Ira Mitzner Memorial Scholarship

To apply, you will need to submit a complete application form, recommendation letter from a current coach, a copy of your current transcripts, and a signed release allowing them to contact your school. Selection is also based on financial need, GPA, and commitment to academics.

Applications are due by Nov. 15, 2020, and recipients are announced in January for the following academic year. Disbursements occur in two installments of $5,000 each. 

Equestrian Scholarships

The Intercollegiate Equestrian Foundation (IEF) administers both general scholarships and other awards. You do not need to be an IEF member to apply, but you will be asked to summarize your past and current equestrian activities on the application. 

A short essay and two letters of recommendation are also required, and selection is based on involvement, academic record, and financial need. Application deadlines are in February. Among the scholarships offered through IEF are:

  • Jack Fritz Memorial Award
  • Joan Johnson Memorial Award
  • Emily Hilscher Memorial Award
  • Margaret “Maggie” Blackmon Memorial Award
  • Bob Anthony Memorial Scholarship Award (coach nomination required)
  • Jon Conyers Memorial Scholarship Award (coach nomination required)
  • Several general IEF scholarships

Additional equestrian scholarship opportunities can be found on the Intercollegiate Horse Shows Association website

Rifle/Marksmanship Scholarships

The Civilian Marksmanship Program (CMP) offers $1,000 Carolyn Hines Memorial Scholarship awards to high school seniors who excel in marksmanship. The top 10 recipients receive an additional $1,000 award. 

To be eligible, you must be a U.S. citizen of good moral character, have at least a 3.0 GPA, be accepted to a university, college, or trade school, and have demonstrated marksmanship competition experience.

Your application will need to include a high school transcript, letter of recommendation, a letter in which you describe your reasons for applying and your goals, and documentation proving your marksmanship activity. Application forms become available in the fall and are due in March.

Water Polo Scholarships

Because water polo is an NCAA sport, scholarships are typically earned by being recruited onto a team. Full-ride scholarships for this sport are extremely rare due to a lack of funding. 

Each Division I and Division II program has a limit to the number of scholarships they can award each year (according to the NCSA website, currently eight for women’s teams and 4.5 for men’s teams). These total numbers are “full-ride equivalents,” and coaches usually divide them among multiple members of the team.

To get a water polo scholarship, you will need to do your research and find a school with a Division I or II program and look into how they recruit for their team. Ivy League schools do not offer sports scholarships, and financial assistance is only available through academic scholarships.

Fencing Scholarships

For those who love fencing and are still in high school, consider applying to the Absolute Fencing Gear All-Academic Team scholarship. To qualify, you must have a GPA of 3.85 and become a member of the All-Academic First Team. One female and one male applicant each receive $4,000 based on their GPA and an essay, while two additional applicants receive $1,000.

Fencing is also an NCAA sport, which means that schools with teams are often looking to recruit talented athletes and entice them with scholarship money. Check out a list of colleges with NCAA fencing teams on the USA Fencing website as a starting point, then do your research and look into how well each program is funded and how they go about recruiting.

Surfing Scholarships

The International Surfing Association distributes $20,000 in scholarships each year in amounts ranging from $100 to $1,000. To be eligible, you must be 18 years of age, enrolled in school, be an outstanding role model in your community, and demonstrate financial need. You must also be recommended by your National Surfing Federation. 

ISA scholarships can be used for education expenses and surfing equipment and expenses associated with competition and training. 

The Surfers’ Environmental Alliance (SEA) is another surfing organization that offers scholarships. To qualify, you must be a high school senior planning on attending college in the fall or a current undergraduate, master’s, or doctoral student. 

Your major must focus on environmental studies in some way. Two scholarships offered include the Environmental Studies Scholarship of up to $10,500 and the Benjamin J. Keiser Memorial Coastal Engineering Scholarship of up to $3,500. 

Esports Scholarships

Not surprisingly to those who have been watching, esports is a fast-growing sector. In 2016, the National Association of Collegiate Esports (NACE) was created and now includes over 170 member schools. 

Teams at these schools compete for cash prizes, and because of this, colleges with teams seek to recruit talented players with scholarships. While these scholarships typically range from $500 to $8,000, some schools have started offering full rides, and this trend is expected to grow.

Search for schools by game on the NACE website to find schools to which you might consider applying. Then, contact the coach or esports team representative at that school to inform them of your interest, skill level, and background.

Paying for College With Scholarships

Check out additional resources on for how to find scholarships. The great thing about scholarships is that they are essentially “free money” for college, and you don’t have to pay them back like student loans. 
The effort you put toward applying for scholarships today can save you thousands of dollars in the years to come.