Athletic scholarships for college are often misunderstood and assumed to be more available than they are. The process to find these and market your athlete appropriately can be a confusing and overwhelming process.
I want to start by providing some general considerations, then talk about the main steps in the process, and finally provide some links to help you get started with finding athletic scholarships – and the overall college recruiting process.
Only Some Schools Can Offer Athletic Scholarships
Only Division 1, Division 2 and NAIA 4-year schools, and NJCAA 2-year schools give athletic scholarships. Division 3 schools cannot give athletic scholarships. Athletes at Division 3 schools often rely on merit scholarships or need-based aid given by the school to make these schools more affordable.
Not all Division 1 schools give athletic scholarships – Ivy League schools cannot give any athletic scholarships. There are also other Division 1 schools that are not funded at all by the NCAA for any athletic scholarships, or not funded at all in certain sports.
What Are Headcount Sports And How Do They Factor Into Athletic Scholarships?
Division 1 fully-funded programs in “headcount sports” can only offer full-ride athletic scholarships. Headcount sports, according to NCSA Sports, are defined as “sports that generally bring revenues to the school.”
There are 2 headcount sports for men: football and basketball, and 4 for women: basketball, volleyball, tennis, and gymnastics. In these D1 sports, it’s a full-ride scholarship or nothing. For D1 headcount sports, there is a maximum number of athletes on scholarship allowed per team and each of these must be a full-ride scholarship if the program is fully funded aka allowed to provide the maximum amount of scholarship money per the NCAA. If the program is not fully funded, it can choose how to disperse the scholarship money up to the maximum number of athletes on scholarship.
Athletic Scholarships For Equivalency Sports
All other D1 sports not that aren’t headcount sports, D2, NAIA, and NJCAA sports are called “equivalency sports.” There is still a maximum number of “full” scholarships for equivalency sports, but these scholarships can be divided out between athletes.
For example, the maximum number of scholarships allowed in Division 1 & Division 2 men’s tennis is 4.5. Instead of only having 4 tennis players on full scholarship and one player on half scholarship, the coaches can divide out the equivalent of 4.5 scholarships among as many players as they want to.
When To Start The Athletic Scholarship And Recruitment Process?
The higher the level your student wants to play (D1, D2), the earlier you should start the athletic recruiting process. The same is true for how competitive the sport is. The more competitive the sport is at the collegiate level, the earlier you should start the athletic recruiting process.
In general, this would mean that you should start the process earlier for headcount sports (in fully-funded D1 programs) since students are vying for full-ride athletic scholarships. Beyond that, you will want to look at the general information for athletic recruiting in the sport to see when the process usually starts.
Do Athletic Scholarships Cover All 4 (Or 5) Years?
Athletic scholarships only cover one year at a time and most are not guaranteed to be renewed. For example, in 2015, the power 5 D1 conferences (Big 10, Big 12, PAC 12, SEC, and ACC), plus the University of Notre Dame, voted to adopt a rule that keeps their student athletes from having their athletic scholarships taken away for any athletic reason. Other D1 schools and conferences can choose to follow this rule but are not required to do so. It is common for a freshman to be recruited as a walk-on (no scholarship) with the “promise” of a scholarship in later years or to be offered a scholarship that will cover less than 4 years. This is often how headcount sports attract more players than their allotted number of scholarships – they move the scholarships around from year to year among players who weren’t their “top” recruits.
A Dose Of Reality
Only about 2% of all high school athletes are awarded scholarships to play in college and only about 1% of all college athletes receive full-ride scholarships. This means your child will still very likely need to apply for financial aid.
Your child could be a very talented athlete. But unless your student is a natural “phenom” that coaches will seek out on their own due to stats and press coverage, your student is going to need to do the work to get recruited.
Finding Athletic Scholarships & Getting Recruited
In order to get athletic scholarship offers, your student needs to get recruited. Here are the overall steps recommended in order to get recruited.
Helpful Resources For Athletic Scholarships:
The college recruiting process is an exciting journey! These resources will help you get started. Make sure you and your student both have a realistic view of what division he or she is well suited for, both based on athletic talent and the demands involved. The NCAA Eligibility Center Guide linked above will help you understand the demands.
If you don’t know where your student’s talent would put them, get an evaluation from a trusted source. It’s best to start with school and club coaches and athletic trainers – make sure they are people who have seen your student compete in person (and hopefully know your student’s personality and how they respond to coaching).
Not sure if an athletic scholarship will pan out for your student? Paying for college can be expensive. And having the talk about financial aid, scholarships, and other ways of paying for your child’s degree can feel daunting. We can help.
My College Money Report™ gives you answers to three critical things every family needs to know before entering the college funding maze. Request our fully customized report and demystify your student’s college financial aid outlook.