Combining Athletic and Academic Scholarships

While the term “student-athlete” is thrown about often in the recruiting process, much of the emphasis is placed on “athlete.” Most athletes are hoping for an athletic scholarship to play in college but, since it can also be what pays for college, that scholarship is actually more valuable to the “student” part of the term.

If you’re among the roughly 98% of student-athletes that don’t receive a full-ride athletic scholarship, you can still land a partial athletic scholarship. Fortunately, you can also receive an academic scholarship which, combined with your athletic scholarship, can help pay for your college education much like a “full-ride.”

Student-Athletes Can Combine Athletic and Academic Scholarships, But…

… It depends on the NCAA division, your GPA, and your entrance exam scores. As the NCAA considers academic scholarships “non-athletic financial aid,” to combine a partial athletic scholarship with an academic scholarship in Division I, you’re required to:

  • Rank in the top 10 percent of your high school graduating class.
  • Carry a cumulative GPA of 3.50 or higher through high school.
  • Have an SAT score of 1,200 or higher or a sum score of 105 or higher on the ACT.

Since Division II schools have fewer athletic scholarships to award, the standards for combining athletic and academic scholarships are slightly lower. Those standards include:

  • Rank in the top 20 percent of your high school graduating class.
  • Carry a cumulative GPA of 3.50 or higher on a 4.0 scale.
  • Score 1,140 or higher on the SAT or have a sum score of 100 or higher on the ACT.

In addition, regardless of division, the student-athlete must also demonstrate that being an athlete is not required during the application process for an academic or non-athletic scholarship. This rule is in place to ensure that athletes truly receive academic scholarships based on their academic record, not their athletic ability in the sports recruitment process. In addition, the rule helps keep a check on the amount of non-athletic or merit-based scholarships schools can offer athletes.

While the process of combining athletic scholarships with other, non-athletic scholarships can be confusing, if your academic record merits an academic scholarship, then it should be smooth sailing. However, if you have any questions about your eligibility for an academic scholarship, check with the school’s compliance office to confirm your status.

Know The Differences Between Athletic and Academic Scholarships

In broad terms, the differences between athletic and academic scholarships are quite clear. Academic scholarships are awarded based on your high school GPA and entrance exam scores and, as part of the application process, some schools may even require an essay. 

Academic scholarships are usually partial scholarships to cover some or all of a student’s tuition, textbooks, and fees. However, there is no limit to how many academic scholarships you can receive. That means, earning several can help cover more of your college education expenses. 

The requirements for an athletic scholarship may be less defined. Different schools, different sports, and different coaches all have different selection criteria based on positional needs, roster sizes, and division levels. 

While the number of academic or merit-based scholarships or grants may vary widely from school to school, the number of athletic scholarships at each school is capped by NCAA regulations and varies by sport and division level. However, as the majority of college sports programs are considered equivalency sports, coaches can award any number of partial athletic scholarships so long as the total number of partial scholarships awarded does not exceed the overall cap number put forth by the NCAA.

One other area of difference between athletic and academic scholarships is in their length. In general, most academic scholarships are awarded for four years. To hold on to those scholarships, however, you’ll have to keep your GPA at or above the required level and you’ll have to remain in good standing with the school and its policies. 

By contrast, while athletic scholarships are often assumed to be awarded for four years of college, most are actually only guaranteed for one year and must be renewed annually by both the coach and student-athlete. However, an athletic scholarship can be jeopardized by injury, poor grades, and even poor standing on the team. 

Earning An Academic Scholarship Won’t Affect Your Athletic Scholarship Opportunities, Unless…

At the risk of sounding cold and crass, when it comes down to partial scholarships, a coach will apply a numeric value to you as a member of the team. And, as that coach needs to stretch his or her scholarship money as much as he or she can, you having an academic scholarship (or scholarships) might affect how much of an athletic scholarship offer you’ll receive. 

As a simple example, if an NCAA Division II softball team has a scholarship limit of 7.2, but 18 players on the roster, that coach has to spread out his or her partial scholarships. So, while a coach might offer you a partial scholarship that covers 40% of your college expenses, having an academic scholarship covering 70% of your expenses would allow the coach to lower your scholarship amount and use that extra 10% elsewhere. 

The numbers and possibilities are infinite, but if you have the athletic talent, having an academic scholarship won’t affect your recruiting and, in fact, it may make you more attractive to many coaches. But, depending on your sport and the amount of your academic scholarship, it could affect how much of an athletic scholarship you receive. 

Finally, remember that all colleges are not created equal. As costs and fees vary, combined academic and athletic scholarships covering 80% of your tuition and expenses at College A could still cost you and your family more money than a scholarship package covering 50% of your expenses at College B. Know your expected family contribution (EFC) and use that when comparing offers, so that you choose the combined athletic and academic scholarship package that’s right for you.

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