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If you’re a student-athlete looking to pursue a college education, an athletic scholarship could be a game changer. Athletic scholarships can help cover the cost of tuition, room and board, and other expenses associated with college. But, what exactly are athletic scholarships, and how do they work?
Types of Athletic Scholarships
Athletic scholarships are awarded to student-athletes who demonstrate exceptional athletic ability in a particular sport. These scholarships are available at the NCAA Division I and Division II levels, as well as at the NAIA and junior college levels. There are two main types of athletic scholarships: head count scholarships and equivalency scholarships.
Head count scholarships are offered to athletes in sports such as football, basketball, and volleyball, and provide full tuition, room, and board. Each team is allowed a certain number of head count scholarships, which cannot be divided among multiple athletes. Equivalency scholarships, on the other hand, are offered in sports such as tennis, golf, and swimming, and provide a partial scholarship that can be divided among multiple athletes.
While it’s true that some colleges may offer financial aid in this form, the awards may not be as generous as you think. Here’s what you need to know going in.
1. Fewer Students Earn Athletic Scholarships Than You Think
According to Next College Student Athlete (NCSA), less than 2% of high-school athletes earn some kind of athletic scholarship, most of which don’t cover the full cost of school. To put that into perspective, that allocation rate means that an applicant has a better chance of getting accepted to Harvard, Princeton, Stanford or Yale than earning an athletic scholarship.
2. Full-Ride Scholarships Are Even Rarer
Only six college sports offer scholarships that cover a student-athlete’s entire college bill, including tuition, room and board, books and, occasionally, living expenses:
- Men’s football
- Men’s basketball
- Women’s basketball
- Women’s gymnastics
- Women’s tennis
- Women’s volleyball
Athletes are also only eligible for full-ride scholarships at Division I and II schools, which are the most athletically competitive of them all.
3. Sports Scholarships Are Not One and Done
Some academic scholarships are guaranteed for four years, provided the student maintains the minimum requirements. However, sports scholarships must be renewed every year, and they require student-athletes to keep both a certain GPA and level of excellence in their sport. If the student suffers an injury that affects their ability to play, their scholarship may also be at risk.
4. College Sports Can Limit Everything Else
Scholarship athletes must dedicate significant time to practices, games and sometimes even public appearances. Combined with travel schedules that often make it tough for them to attend all of their classes, the demands can make it difficult to maintain the minimum GPA required to preserve their scholarships. To stay organized and on top of their schoolwork, some athletes spend almost as much time studying with team tutors as they do with actual professors in college classrooms. This further restricts time for social activities, volunteer projects, part-time jobs, study-abroad programs and other extracurriculars.
5. It’s Crucial to Get Offers in Writing
If a student is fortunate enough to be recruited by a college sports team, the coach may offer generous scholarship aid and other attractive accommodations. However, be aware that verbal promises are not binding guarantees. Nothing is official until it appears in writing in the college’s official financial aid award letter.
It’s true that sports scholarships can be a great way for students to secure a reduced-cost or even free college education. But those instances are rare, so the vast majority of families will find that other financial aid and financing options may be more attainable and realistic. Check with college admissions representatives about other scholarships and complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) to determine your eligibility for financial aid.