What you should know before you start your recruiting process

Trying to earn an athletic scholarship to compete in college can be confusing and frustrating, and it’s understandable if you have questions. Fortunately, we have answers to the questions we hear the most:

Who awards athletic scholarships?

Though they’re often perceived as four-year awards, most athletic scholarships are usually one-year agreements between the school and the student-athlete, which are revisited before every new school year. That said, not all colleges award athletic scholarships, and not every athletic scholarship is an all-inclusive “full-ride.” Athletic scholarships are available at NCAA Division I and II schools, as well as from NAIA and NJCAA colleges. Note that schools in the NCAA’s Division III and Ivy League universities do not offer athletic scholarships.

How much scholarship money is available?

In DI and DII alone, more than $3.1 billion worth of scholarships are awarded every year. However, while that number is enormous, less than 2% of student-athletes are offered athletic scholarships and the majority of those scholarships are not full-rides. The amount you’re offered will depend on your sport and whether that sport is classified as a headcount sport or equivalency sport.

What’s the difference between headcount sports and equivalency sports?

Athletes in headcount sports always receive full-ride scholarships, as those sports are generally the ones that produce revenue for schools. For men, headcount sports are DI-A football and DI basketball. For women, headcount sports are DI basketball, tennis, volleyball, and gymnastics.

Equivalency sports encompass every other sport that’s not a headcount sport and, as such, have less scholarship money to award. While full-ride scholarships can be awarded for equivalency sports, it’s not the norm and most equivalency sports athletes earn partial scholarships. In fact, the term “equivalency sport” comes from the fact that each program has only a certain number of scholarships to award, but that number is less than the number of athletes on a team. Each coach awards partial scholarships that add up to the equivalent number of scholarships allowed for a given sport.

In DI, men’s equivalency sports are baseball, rifle, skiing, cross-country, track and field, soccer, fencing, swimming, golf, tennis, gymnastics, volleyball, ice hockey, water polo, lacrosse, and wrestling. For women, DI equivalency sports are bowling, lacrosse, rowing, cross-country, track and field, skiing, fencing, soccer, field hockey, softball, golf, swimming, ice hockey, and water polo. In NCAA Division II and the NAIA, every sport is an equivalency sport. Also, not every school offers every sport and, as some athletic programs may not fully fund every sport, some coaches may have fewer scholarships to award than the maximum number allowed.

How can I get a full-ride scholarship?

As noted above, less than 2% of student-athletes are awarded any form of an athletic scholarship. However, only about 1% of student-athletes are offered a full-ride scholarship in headcount sports. That means, your best chance of earning a full-ride scholarship – which will usually cover tuition and fees, books, supplies, room and board, and maybe even living expenses – is to excel in a headcount sport for your gender. If you don’t play a headcount sport, don’t worry. You may still have an opportunity to earn plenty of scholarship money.

To maximize the athletic scholarship money you’re offered, consider all your options. Some positions – such as baseball or softball pitcher – are more highly valued by college coaches than others. If you receive multiple scholarship offers, you can use that leverage to ask coaches to sweeten their offer. In other cases, larger partial scholarship at a lower division school may actually be a better offer than what you would receive from a larger, higher division program.

Can I get an athletic scholarship to an Ivy League school?

As noted above Ivy League schools don’t offer athletic scholarships. However, depending on your family’s income, you may still be able to receive financial aid to defray some or all of the cost of an Ivy League education. Depending on the sport and the school, Ivy League coaches may be able to help prospective athletes with financial aid packages.

Do I need a scholarship to compete in college?

In short, the answer is “no.” if you don’t receive any scholarship offers or you’re set on playing for a particular school, you can still try out for many college teams as a walk-on. In fact, many programs offer what’s called “preferred walk-on” status for athletes that want to join the team without a scholarship. It doesn’t always happen, but some walk-ons have worked hard, proven themselves, and earned a scholarship.

How do I know if I’m eligible for an athletic scholarship?

To be eligible for an NCAA or NAIA athletic scholarship, you need to meet each governing body’s minimum eligibility requirements. Those requirements include a number of core classes, a minimum GPA, and confirmed amateur status. Note that qualifying for eligibility doesn’t mean you’ll be awarded a scholarship. Instead, it’s the minimum need to be eligible for any scholarship and, if your grades are higher, you’ll likely receive more and better scholarship offers.

What is a verbal scholarship offer?

A verbal scholarship offer is just that; a scholarship offer that is spoken by a coach, and it may come any time during the recruiting process. However, a verbal scholarship offer is non-binding and means nothing until you sign on the dotted line on a national letter of intent.

You can accept a verbal scholarship offer at any time, but it may put you at a disadvantage. As it’s non-binding, a coach can rescind that offer at any time, leaving you scrambling. You can also break a commitment to a verbal offer, though you run the risk of making other coaches wary of making comparable offers. Further, accepting a verbal scholarship also signals to other coaches that you’ve made your decision, which means they may pursue other recruits. That’s great if you feel good about the offer, but if you’re not sure, it’s OK to simply thank a coach for the offer and also ask for more time to make a decision.

If I’m awarded an athletic scholarship, can it be taken away later?

As noted above, most athletic scholarships are actually awarded for one year at a time and are subject to review with each new school year. That means, even if you have a scholarship this year, there’s no guarantee you’ll have it next year. In fact, an athletic scholarship doesn’t even guarantee you a spot on the roster.

Further, a scholarship may not be renewed if you’re injured, if you’ve gotten into trouble (on the field or off the field), a new coach has taken over, or because of poor athletic or academic performance.

Can I get other scholarships?

Yes! As most athletic scholarships are partial scholarships, it’s a good idea to look for other ways to cover what an athletic scholarship might not. Many schools have abundant academic scholarship money available and academic scholarships only require you to maintain your good grades. In addition, depending on your family’s income, you may also be eligible for financial aid or grants. On top of that, consider federal scholarships, and scholarship and grant opportunities from corporations, non-profits, and private entities.

Your odds of getting an aid package to augment a partial, equivalency scholarship rely on two things; your GPA and FAFSA. The higher your GPA, the better chances you’ll have of earning any form of non-athletic scholarship. And the FAFSA (which stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid) should be applied for by every high school senior, regardless of family income, as many coaches leverage FAFSA grants to fill out aid and scholarship offers to recruits.

Hopefully, we’ve answered your most pressing questions about athletic scholarships. Reach out to CaptainU if you want to know more and search the blog to see what else you need to know about earning an athletic scholarship in your sport.

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