Many athletes and parents mistakenly believe that if you can’t get an athletic scholarship you can’t play in college. The reality is that the majority of college athletes do not have athletic scholarships, the demand is way too high and supply is way too low. Put simply, there are far more college athletes than there are athletic scholarships.


While coaches would love the opportunity to give every athlete a scholarship, they are limited, and unless you’re one of the top athletes in the country, don’t expect a team to give you a full athletic scholarship, a partial scholarship is more likely. College coaches are strictly limited to a certain number of total scholarships based on sport and level and often divide their scholarships among multiple players. If you aren’t offered an athletic scholarship at a college of your choice, it doesn’t mean you should give up your dream of playing in college or remove that college from your list; it just means to keep working and pushing to accomplish your dream.

When an Athletic Scholarship Is Not Available

Athletic scholarships are regulated by the NCAA to specific limits per University Sport, and at many schools, Division III or Ivy League, there are no scholarships offered. Another factor that must be considered is whether a school actually funds the full allotment of scholarships per year. Just like everything else, don’t let tuition stop you from chasing your dreams – there are usually payment alternatives. This is where you and your parents need to be creative and persistent and reach out to the school’s financial aid office. They can help you find options like scholarships that fit your specific skill sets and background, federal grants and loans.

Scholarship Limitations

As mentioned before, a college may offer athletic scholarships, but not fully fund the NCAA/NAIA allowance. For example, a Division I women’s soccer team is allowed a total of 12 scholarships in a given year. The coach can divide those 12 scholarships among as many players as she wishes. So 12 players may get full scholarships, or 24 players might get half scholarships. Coaches tend to choose the latter, dividing scholarships among a larger number of players which allows the opportunity for more assistance to more players. While this doesn’t fully cover the cost of education expenses, it will help offset and give you the opportunity to play collegiate sports.

Early Research

In your early correspondence with coaches, determine what kind of scholarship money might theoretically be available for you. Find out the size of the scholarship pools from which you’d be drawing. Determine if your candidate teams are fully funded—i.e., if the team you’re researching has the full allotment of scholarships. This can be a strong indicator of a school’s financial commitment to the team and of the team’s commitment to you. It says a lot if a team is offering you a 75% scholarship out of its pool of four total scholarships.

Later In The Process…

Once you are well into your recruiting process and the coach at one of your colleges has a strong sense of your ability, discuss your scholarship outlook more specifically. Build on your earlier discussions where you determined how serious the coach is about getting you on the team. Ask the coach if they will offer you an athletic scholarship—and in what amount. Assess the offer and how much your family will have to supplement.


There are many rules that govern athletic scholarships. If you’re offered a scholarship, go to the NCAA’s website and familiarize yourself with some of the rules. Download a copy of the NCAA Guide for the College-Bound Student-Athlete. Learning about scholarships will prevent you from following dead-end leads and breaking rules that endanger your eligibility.


Institutional financial aid is available at many schools as need-based, academic, minority and departmental scholarships—to name a few categories. These awards are a great way to deal with skyrocketing tuition, though competition for this money is intense. For each college on your list, research the non-athletic scholarship opportunities through the admissions department and financial aid office.

Questionable Scholarships

In recent years some colleges have found loopholes in NCAA regulations. They offer murky “leadership” or “activities” scholarships that allow them to circumvent NCAA bylaws. Think long and hard if you’re offered a sketchy scholarship and discuss its legality with the coach, admissions department, and perhaps even a lawyer if you feel there is a red flag. If the NCAA determines that it is a violation, you could lose your eligibility.

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