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Can You Play College Soccer Without Playing Club?

Can You Play College Soccer Without Playing Club?

Soccer might not be the most followed sport in the United States, but there is no doubt that it is immensely popular amongst high school and college students. College soccer in the U.S. is highly competitive and has become a breeding ground for national soccer talents.

Perhaps, the reason why college soccer is highly popular in the United States is because of its highly structured competitions. The school environment always pitches students against their peers—and they take this passion to be better than their peers to the field.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) is the regulatory body in charge of college soccer. Soccer is definitely a great addition for college students because it helps them to build resilient physical and mental health.

Engaging in college soccer also helps you to grow a strong network of international friends and gain exposure while pursuing your degree. It is estimated that every year, several college soccer players transition into professional leagues across the world.

We all know that you cannot play the Premier League (or any other professional league) without joining a club. This is one of the questions that occupy the mind of those that want to play college soccer.

What exactly are the criteria for playing college soccer? Must you join a club to be eligible for college soccer or does gaining admission to any college across the United States make you eligible to represent your school team? Read on to find out.

Can you play college soccer without playing club?

Is it mandatory for young soccer players in the U.S. to play for an elite soccer club before they become eligible to play college soccer? This is probably what you may be thinking.

The simple answer to that question is yes, you can play soccer in college without playing for a soccer club. However, it is not usually as easy as it sounds. You have to work twice as hard and merit your jersey.

soccer team gathers around the coach

Taking this route isn’t for the fainthearted because it requires making extra effort, dedication, and persistence. Students who already played soccer for their high school teams tend to have a better selection chance in college soccer.

The truth is that some college soccer players have never played for any club prior to gaining admission into their preferred college. All they did was train on their own or with other smaller soccer teams while waiting for an opportunity to present itself.

The standard recruitment process for men’s college soccer teams is rigorous and highly competitive. Statistics reveal that only a small percentage of high school and club male soccer players get a recruitment chance into a college soccer team and even a smaller percentage usually make it to NCAA Division 1 school.

To increase your chances of playing soccer in college without playing for a club, you have to understand the right kind of college that suits your skill level.

Also, it is crucial that you understand the recruitment process of your intended college and deliberately work to exceed their expectations.

soccer coach and three students

Interestingly, there are different types of colleges in the United States, and their approach to soccer differs. Let’s take a brief look at all the levels of college soccer to help you understand this point better.

  • Junior College
  • NAIA
  • NCAA Division I
  • NCAA Division II
  • NCAA Division III

1. Junior College:

These are two-year universities that offer opportunities for student-athletes to develop both their academic and athletic prowess in a post-high school program. Junior college soccer teams are suitable for resilient soccer players without the finances, fitness, or grades for a four-year school.

These colleges are good avenues to gain experience and skills demanded from collegiate soccer players. There are 217 NJCAA soccer colleges with programs for male soccer players and 181 NJCAA similar colleges with programs for female soccer players in the U.S.

2. NAIA (National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics):

These colleges are usually characterized by their well-rounded college experience, competitive soccer teams, and smaller close-knit campuses for athletes.

Colleges like this are suitable for student-athletes intending to enjoy a more traditional college experience and engage in extracurricular activities while studying abroad. They offer scholarships to athletes depending on their talent level, school, and position.

3. NCAA Division I (National Collegiate Athletic Association):

This college soccer is strictly for students with great skills seeking to compete at the highest level. They are usually composed of the best players in club teams and high school soccer teams and might not be suitable for players seeking to play college soccer without playing in a club.

4. NCAA Division II:

They feature talented soccer teams with exceptional players, DII-level players can often be found in these college teams.

Their major difference from DI teams is that they have a less demanding schedule which gives them enough time and space to enjoy life outside soccer.

5. NCAA Division III:

Colleges under this category might just be suitable for soccer players seeking to be recruited into playing college soccer without playing in a club. They are known for running fewer talented soccer programs.

Similar to NAIA, their recruitment process is less rigid, compared to DI and DII colleges which give coaches more freedom when seeking and recruiting talented players. There are 415 NCAA DIII men’s and 441 women’s soccer colleges across the U.S. as of July 2022.

How to get recruited into playing college soccer without playing in a club?

There is no sure way to secure a spot on a college soccer team especially if you haven’t played in a competitive club before. However, there are ways to maximize your chances of getting picked.

Some of the major characteristics most college soccer coaches are on the lookout for in a recruit include the following: teamwork, good skills and technique, exceptional physical strength and endurance, experience level, and academic competence.

To increase your chances of being recruited into a college soccer team even without playing in a club, consider doing the following.

Take the right steps

Getting recruited doesn’t just stop at communicating with coaches. Continue flaming the relationship afterward. Follow up with coaches by sending them videos of your skills, academic progress, and results.

a man sends email via his laptop

By taking steps like that, coaches will be more likely to contact you directly once they see the need to do so.

Always ask the right questions and show interest in the school and their soccer team when communicating with college team coaches. Take every communication seriously like you would take an interview on live TV.

Let your first impression count

Your first impression matters a lot. So, always seek to make the best possible first impression while reaching out to coaches. The coaches should see and hear your passion and what you want to bring to the team.

When reaching out, show seriousness by having your records, your GPA, and other important requirements ready. Your emails should be brief, polite, and straight to the point with your resume, transcript, and other necessary documents attached to them.

Make them feel like they are your best choice even when you have other choices. If a recruitment form exists on the school’s website, do well to fill it out and submit it. Coaches might use the answers you provided on such forms to grade you.

Research properly

It is often said that the most difficult aspect of applying for college is putting together a college list. It is even more difficult for student-athletes to come up with a list because there is so much to be considered in relation to their skill level.

a student is researching

Research the competitive nature of college soccer teams and compare them with your current experience to know if you fit in. Also, make sure your choice team has what it takes to propel you to the next level of your career.

Attend collegiate soccer camps

The NCAA hosts collegiate soccer camps at numerous colleges all over the United States every summer. It’s a great avenue for high school soccer players to socialize, meet coaches, share ideas, train with players from around the country, and learn about college soccer.

A coach and his players are discussing the tactic before a college soccer match

At such camps, you can improve your skills and also unveil yourself to college soccer coaches who might pick interest in you and add you to their squad when the time is right. These camps will help you gain better tactics, sharper skills, and a better understanding of college soccer.

Attend tournaments

Attending the right tournaments might get you noticed by DI coaches scouting for potential recruits. Tournaments often attract college soccer coaches and you wouldn’t want to miss such an opportunity to connect with them in real-time.

Maintain high grades

Inasmuch as college soccer teams want skillful players that will help them to win trophies, no team will want to be responsible for a player’s poor grade. Coaches prefer players that know how to balance academics and soccer.

Therefore, maintaining high grades and having the right skills and attitude to impress coaches are crucially important and increase your chances of being recruited into a college soccer club.

Start early

three kid soccer players

Many collegiate soccer coaches like to start evaluating potential recruits as early as in their tenth grade or even before then.

You should start reaching out to coaches with the help of your parents earlier in your soccer endeavor if your dream is to get recruited into a college soccer team when you get older.

A single ‘NO’ should not stop you

If you think that every college soccer coach will embrace you with open arms just because you are passionate about soccer, you will eventually end up sad—and maybe depressed.

You may get some ‘NOs’ from the coaches and some may not reply to your messages. Even if a coach has said NO to your first email, wait for a few weeks to pass, compile more personal videos and academic records or documents that can boost your chances, and send them.

Your persistence may be all it will take to break the resistance of your potential college coach and make him or her want to give you a try. If you ever get that chance, make sure you bring your ‘A’ game to the trial.


College soccer is a slight elevation from club soccer and high school soccer. But you may need the latter two to boost your chances of being drafted into your college soccer team.

However, it takes more than just playing in a club or in high school to secure a place on a college soccer team. NCAA Division 1 teams are competitive and only take the best, which is why you need to be exceptionally skilled to secure a spot in their team.

Aside from displaying exceptional skills on the pitch, maintaining a professional attitude on and off the pitch can also get you noticed by a college soccer coach.

At the end of the day, there is no single pathway that can get you recruited into a college soccer team. So, train as hard as you can and make sure that you are that exceptional player that you are trying to market to college soccer coaches.