Going to college can be an ace move for sporting careers as well as preparing for the world of work. Colleges encourage sporting excellence to the point that they offer scholarships to talented athletes who enrol in their courses.
They are now commonplace in Irish higher education and the range of sports covered grows every year to include just about everything from GAA, rugby and tennis to rowing and taekwondo.
The idea is to allow the student with serious sporting promise to train and compete at a high level, while studying for a third-level qualification. A scholarship holds obvious benefits, and may include coaching, elite training facilities, nutrition and psychology advice, and help towards expenses. For many, the availability of such support is a factor in college choice.
In some cases, students with outstanding sporting ability will be accepted on a sports scholarship, even if they haven’t reached the minimum CAO points threshold for their course. This is because they may have sacrificed study time in the run-up to the Leaving Cert, in the interest of developing their sporting career.
Sports scholars could be short up to 50 CAO points, but once they meet the entry requirements for a course, such as minimum grades in certain subjects, they will be accepted.
Some of Ireland’s best known sportsmen and women, including former UCD student Brian O’Driscoll, were sports scholars in their day and many current scholars have the Olympics 2012, and beyond, in their sights. Among the 2012 Olympic hopefuls among the current crop of sports scholars at Trinity College Dublin (TCD) are Sarah Dolan, who is studying Mechanical Engineering, and pentathlon athlete Natalya Coyle, a BESS student.
Since UCD introduced its first sports scholarships for soccer in 1979, the scheme has expanded to include a wide range of sports, including fencing and table tennis.
Dublin City University (DCU) recognised 20 different sports this year, including Taekwondo, while the 21 covered at University College Cork (UCC) included canoeing and show jumping for the first time.
NUI Galway has recognised windsurfing and rock climbing, and NUI Maynooth has the only snooker scholarship in the world.
Although still studying for her Leaving Certificate, 17-year-old swimming star Grainne Murphy has moved from Wexford to take advantage of the coaching and facilities at the Swim Ireland’s High Performance Centre and 50-metre Olympic size pool at the University of Limerick.
Sports scholarships are not exclusive to the universities. For instance, this year Blanchardstown Institute of Technology awarded scholarships to students in kickboxing, soccer, basketball and GAA.