Undergrad in Columbia with Sports (Tennis) Scholarship - Nada Zaher

Updated: Jun 20, 2020

Hometown: Alexandria, Egypt

Undergraduate: Columbia University

Field: Political Science and Business

Position: Founder of Pas-sport


Nada Zaher grew up in Alexandria, Egypt and played tennis competitively. Excelling at tennis and academics, and after a stressful, back and forth recruitment process, Nada pursued her undergraduate degree at Columbia University as a member of the college’s varsity women’s tennis team - an experience that changed her life! As a former Egyptian collegiate tennis player, Nada learned of the hardships and uncertainties that young athletes, specifically international ones, face during recruitment. Nada’s passion for sports and gratitude for her student athlete experience is what led to pas-sport - the road to every international athlete’s collegiate experience. Her vision is to educate young student athletes about how your sport is your passport to a prestigious, affordable, and well-rounded educational experience in the United States, like tennis did for her.

I. College Application Experience

Nada, when did you first consider applying to universities abroad?

I had a lot of exposure growing up. I went to summer camps such as Weil Tennis Academy and Bollettieri in California and Florida when I was a kid. These camps were not academic, they were for sports especially tennis. Through these camps, being in the US, hearing people, and visiting universities sometimes, I had extra exposure to the US. I was also born there. I knew from a young age that I wanted to do my undergraduate at an Ivy league or Stanford. I was also in one of Egypt’s top American schools all my life, Schutz American School, so that as well gave me extra knowledge of the American university system.

How did you prepare for the application?

I knew that if I wanted to get to something competitive I had to be different, I had to be the best at most things. I wasn’t the typical student trying to get into a good university. I took as many AP classes as I could, ran for every leadership activity at school, and joined all extra-curricular activities to improve my resume. I understood universities, especially ones in the US, cared about “well-rounded’ people and I focused on that.

How did Tennis fit in the picture?

I started playing Tennis from a very young age. My brother and my mother played tennis. Growing up, it was a repetitive routine like it is for athletes - days are split between school and tennis practice. Often, I’d have to go to school in Alexandria in the morning then leave mid-day to catch my match in Cairo and head back to Alexandria at night to catch school the next morning. On weekends, I’d either practice or I’d have a championship in Cairo. It was mentally draining, but it was part of trying to be different and to reach a goal.

I officially applied for 12 universities. When I was applying to universities, I knew tennis would help, but I did not understand the extent at the time. I was surprisingly late to reach out to tennis coaches. I started in grade 12, and emailed 60 coaches. I guess at some point I decided that tennis is a big part of my achievements and that I wanted to be able to continue in university. If I had more information, I would have reduced extracurriculars and academic focus, and invested more time into sports recruiting.

I had even paid a counsellor in the US who helped me with my college essays, but they were not as familiar with sports recruiting as it is an entirely different process. They gave me good advice about applying to dream schools, target schools and safety schools to increase my chances.

Wow, you reached out to 60 coaches. Tell us more about that.

I looked at different tennis programs to try to assess where I’d fit athletically by looking at different team rankings and the level of individual players in each team. It was a looooooong process. And then I also had to find the right academic fit, and finding the balance between my academic interests and my tennis interests was the difficult part.

Universities have athletic departments and I’d check their websites and reach out to the relevant coaches. It was like selling yourself in an email - I’d explain who I am, tell them a bit about myself academically, share a link to a video of myself playing in a certain match, and share my tennis ranking.

Some coaches never answered, but I followed up a lot. Coaches are super super busy and they get many emails from all over the world. They also scout for talent on their own and are not just waiting for students to reach out. Sometimes they know who they will accept 2 years in advance. It is very competitive. Because I started later in grade 12, some coaches ha