How to Get a Coaching Job at the College Level

How do you become a college coach? Whether you’re a former player or an avid fan, you can turn your passion for sports into a rewarding career and get a job as a collegiate team coach. Coaches are given the leadership responsibility of teaching collegiate athletes the essential skills to succeed both on and off the field. From basketball and hockey to swimming and football coaches, collegiate coaches can be hired to organize teams in any varsity sport. As participation in college sports continues to rise, especially in women’s sports, the employment of coaches is expected to grow faster than average by 20 percent to create 39,900 new jobs by 2031, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The following is a step-by-step guide on the pathway you’ll likely need to take for successfully becoming a collegiate team coach.

For a sports lover, getting a job as a collegiate team coach can be a dream come true. Before that dream job finally comes around, however, most aspiring coaches will have to spend years working their way up from low-paying entry-level jobs. The thrill of coaching a college team can provide enough motivation to work through these early years of a coaching career. With decades of hard work and determination, a few talented coaches will end up leading NCAA Division 1 teams for several seasons. Read on to find out more about how to become a college coach.

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Earn a Bachelor’s Degree

Before you can direct college athletes on the sidelines, you’ll need to attend an accredited four-year college or university yourself. Collegiate team coaches can earn their undergraduate degree in virtually any subject, but studying exercise science, physiology, kinesiology, fitness, nutrition, physical education, sports management, or sports medicine is most beneficial. While earning your degree, aspiring coaches should acquire plenty of playing time in their chosen sport because colleges typically hire former athletes. Working as the manager for your college’s athletic team or interning in the athletic department would also be helpful.

Most coaches in college earn their bachelor’s degree while attending classes on an athletic scholarship. Athletic scholarships are the standard currency of organized collegiate sports, and they come in several varieties. The most well-known organization for collegiate team sports is the National College Athletics Association, which includes Division 1, Division 2 and Division 3 subdivisions. The dream of practically every college coach is to work at the D1 level. This dream typically requires a lifetime of athletic achievement beginning at the college level.

Talented college athletes receive scholarship offers from NCAA D1 schools, which compete in the most important events in college athletics, such as the various college bowl games. College athletes who play at the NCAA D1 level and attend college on athletic scholarships are well on their way to finding work as D1 head coaches when their playing careers are over.

The same pattern holds true for other NCAA divisions and collegiate sports organizations, such as the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletes and the National Junior College Athletic Association. The lower subdivisions and organizations may be less prestigious than Division 1 of the NCAA, but they account for the vast majority of college sports teams and scholarships.

How do you become a college football coach? Are you wondering how to become a college baseball coach? An aspiring collegiate coach should do everything they can to get an athletic scholarship while attending college, even a relatively less prestigious NAIA or NJCAA scholarship. Every year, they should hone their athletic skills, maintain a high grade-point average and apply for the top athletic scholarships. With years of experience playing college sports at a nationally recognized level, they’ll be much more attractive to teams looking for coaches.

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Obtain Coaching Experience

The majority of collegiate team coaches don’t automatically become head coach after their graduation without paying their dues first. It’s generally required that coaches have years of coaching experience and a winning record before becoming head. You can start getting your feet wet by coaching a youth team, assisting on a high school roster, or working as the assistant coach for a collegiate club. As an assistant coach, you’ll gain expertise in organizing practices, developing physical conditioning activities, watching game types, and giving players effective strategies. Working as head coach of a smaller college might be necessary before climbing the ranks to the higher levels of competition too.

One common way to climb the coaching career ladder is to start out as an assistant coach. The assistant coach plays an important role in providing athletes the support they need to perform their best during the season. While the head coach oversees all the training and preparation from a top-down perspective, the assistant coach works with players under the direction of the head coach. For college football coaches, this might come in the form of defensive coordinators.

The assistant coach carries less of a burden of responsibility than the head coach, so he or she is free to have a friendlier relationship with the players. Depending on the personality of the head coach, this dynamic can lead to a “good cop/bad cop” coaching style where the assistant coach plays the good cop and the head coach plays the bad cop. Although NCAA D1 assistant coaches have less responsibility and earn less money than their head coach bosses, they still hold prestigious positions in the world of collegiate team sports.

Before coaching at the NCAA D1 level, it’s usually necessary to gain experience by coaching at a lower level. Many of the country’s top universities are too small to host major sports teams, so they qualify for ranking in the NAIA or in D2 or D3 of the NCAA. A distinguished career in one of these organizations can lead to a coaching job at the D1 level. Most collegiate team coaches, however, work in the lower divisions.

Pursue Professional Certification

Finding your spot as the prominent collegiate team coach is all about networking. New coaching jobs open every season, so it’s essential that you interact with a network of collegiate coaches who will spread word about your talents. Earning professional certification could be another way to provide your coaching expertise, even though it’s wholly voluntary. For instance, you can become a Certified Interscholastic Coach (CIC) through the NFHS or complete the new National Coaching Certification program from the U.S. Sports Academy. Don’t forget to also show your commitment to your sport by attending camps, clinics, and scouting trips. Also, be willing to relocate because college coaching jobs are available across the United States.

Establishing a reputation as a college coach can be easier with professional certification, especially at the beginning of a career. One of the most common certification bodies is the American Coaching Academy, which offers an online certificate for aspiring coaches at many competitive levels. The ACA Coaching Certificate takes two to five days to complete and can help an inexperienced coach find an entry-level position on a collegiate sports team.

Another prominent coaching certificate is the National Federation of State High School Associations Coach Certification. As the name suggests, this certificate prepares coaches to work at the high school level. With some experience coaching high school athletics, an assistant coach may be a more attractive candidate for a position with a D3 or NJCAA team.

Aspiring coaches also have the option of enrolling in the United States Sports Academy, a regionally accredited four-year university that offers bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in sports-related disciplines. In addition to granting accredited college degrees, the USSA offers certificates in both sports management and coaching. These certificates take about one semester to complete. They carry the name of one of the most well-known athletic colleges in the country, and they’re accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, a top regional accrediting body.

Professional Requirements

football coach

The job search for a college coach can be competitive. That’s why it’s essential for beginning coaches to have an impressive record of academic and athletic achievement in college. That will help with how to be a college coach. It’s also helpful to have experience coaching in a high-pressure situation such as a postseason series or championship.

Collegiate team managers expect their coaches to have bachelor’s degrees in sports-related disciplines, so it’s important to choose the appropriate college major as an undergraduate. A few top choices include kinesiology, sports management, sports coaching, physical education, sports science and sports nutrition. College coaching candidates should have experience competing at the college level as well as extensive knowledge of the sport they’re working in. Depending on the job, there are also NCAA coaching requirements.

Gaining Experience

There are some experiences that every coach should be prepared to endure before finding the perfect coaching job. It’s common for a college coach to spend years working in low-paying jobs before landing their dream job of coaching a team in the NCAA. Team coaches tend to work long, arduous days and nights, often attending big games on weekends and holidays.

Although collegiate team coaches can earn millions of dollars per year at the NCAA D1 level, they usually earn much less money at the D2 and D3 levels. Because coaching is such a passion for the professionals who enter this line of work, the vast majority of college coaches are willing to work for relatively low salaries for the chance to do the job they love. Often, these low salaries force coaches to work second jobs while gaining professional experience.

While head coaches can receive six-figure salaries at the D2 and D3 levels, assistant coaches can make less than $10,000 per year working part-time for their teams. After several years of gaining experience as an assistant coach in the lower divisions, it will be much easier to move up to the position of head coach. In many cases, however, this job switch will require moving to another city or state. Experience in the sports arena could also come with athletic directors or being part of the athletic office. Being part of a coaching staff will help with experience in the field.

Job Outlook and Growth Potential

The job market for college coaches is set to grow in tandem with the overall growth of the higher learning industry. New coaching jobs will become available as athletic programs are created or expanded in the coming decades. Are you wondering how to become a college football coach. Currently, there are 130 teams competing in the NCAA D1 Football Bowl subdivision, so the opportunities for NCAA football jobs are abundant. When other sports and divisions are taken into account, the growth potential is substantially greater.

College coaches have a better job outlook than working professionals in most other industries. However, they must be prepared for years of earning low wages. Many other coaches supplement their income during these years by working as:

  • physical education instructors
  • personal trainers
  • high school coaches
  • physical therapists
  • nutritionists

Entry-Level Coaching Jobs

A coach who is just starting out in his or her career can take steps to establish a reputation right away. In addition to obtaining certification, a coach can gain a foothold in collegiate team sports with various entry-level job opportunities. Some of these jobs may be available in occupations that are separate from but related to college sports. This might include high school or community league sports.

There are an abundance of collegiate team coaching jobs available in today’s economy. Most beginning coaches will find work in their preferred profession. It might only part-time and low-paying at first. After this beginning stage, careers in organized sports can be stable, reliable and lucrative for good coaches with wide-ranging skill sets and boundless passion for their work. Aspiring coaches can make themselves highly attractive to recruiting teams by choosing a specialization such as:

  • kinesiology
  • nutrition
  • physical therapy

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Best States for Collegiate Team Coaches


According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the best states for collegiate coaches are in the regions where public interest in team sports is the greatest. Many of the states where coaches earn the highest median annual salaries are southern states with competitive football teams. These southern states, such as Louisiana and South Carolina, also offer some of the lowest living expenses in the country. A relatively high coaching salary can go a very long way.

The location with the highest median annual coaching salary in the country is Washington, D.C., at $72,180. While the top collegiate coaches in the NCAA can earn 20 or 30 times that amount, assistant coaches who are just beginning their careers can earn substantially less. Most college coaches who dedicate their lives to their profession can expect to reach a maximum earning potential of around $90,000 to $100,000 per year.


Now you know how to get a college coaching job. Coaches work hard to win games. They also strive to develop collegiate athletes with good sportsmanship and teamwork. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average annual salary for coaches at colleges and universities is $48,710. However, coaches working in NCAA Division I sports often see this figure more than tripled. Some of the highest paid coaches in college sports even pass the $1 million mark every year by breeding winning teams. Once you get a job as a collegiate team coach, you’ll receive lucrative financial and intrinsic rewards in passing along your love of the game and your coaching philosophy to young college athletes.


With coaching jobs growing at a faster rate than the overall economy, many people will be interested in pursuing a college coaching career path. The most successful college coaches will be highly passionate and knowledgeable about their sports and ready to work their way up from the lowest positions in the industry. With these points in mind, anyone can get a job as a collegiate team coach.

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