When it comes to scholarships, every high school athlete is looking for that “full ride.” That is a scholarship that covers four years of your tuition, books, room and board, and more. That’s why we’re breaking down the scholarship types for athletes looking to get recruited. 

The reality is, a very small percentage of high school athletes get a scholarship, and an even smaller percentage winds up with a full ride. All is not lost however because, in the NCAA, there is another type of scholarship available and what you might earn for is determined by your sport and your gender.

The “Head Count” Scholarship

A headcount scholarship is an NCAA term for a full-ride scholarship. The term comes from how the NCAA categorizes the sports it sanctions. The sports that generate revenues for a school or athletic department are considered “headcount sports.”  

For men, the NCAA head count sports are basketball and Division I FBS football. For women, basketball, volleyball, tennis, and gymnastics are categorized as headcount sports. 

As they participate in the sports that make the money, it is the athletes in headcount sports who receive full-ride scholarships. If a football program has a total of 85 scholarships, then only 85 football players can be on full scholarship at any given time. 

However, even if you don’t participate in a headcount sport, you can still receive the equivalent of a full scholarship. You simply want to look for…

The “Equivalency” Scholarship

Any sport that’s not a headcount sport is considered a “non-revenue” or “Olympic” sport and is referred to as an “equivalency sport” by the NCAA. In fact, at most larger colleges and universities, it’s revenue from the headcount sports that often provides the funds for equivalency sports.

As they don’t generate the same amount of revenues for a school, equivalency sports have fewer scholarships to offer. And, as you might have guessed, coaches from equivalency sports award equivalency scholarships. 

An equivalency scholarship most often takes the form of a partial scholarship. While coaches of equivalency sports teams don’t have enough scholarships to give the entire team a full ride, an equivalency scholarship does allow a coach to provide some scholarship money to some or all of his or her team.

As an example, let’s look at a college baseball coach with a scholarship limit of 11.7. That coach needs to spread those 11.7 scholarships among the 36 players on his roster. To do that, the coach often doles out partial scholarships that, when added up, are equivalent to 11.7 full rides.

For instance, the coach might offer a scholarship covering 90% of the costs for a star pitcher and divide the remaining 10% to cover books for two backup outfielders. Or that coach could simply split the money for the equivalent of 11.7 scholarships 36 ways and cover 32.5% of the costs for every player on the team. The equivalency scholarship possibilities are endless and can vary based on the sport, the coach’s preference, or the academic year.

The Package Deal

If you’re looking for a full ride, but don’t participate in a headcount sport, don’t despair. You might still be able to receive an equivalency scholarship of some percentage and have the remaining costs covered by a package of merit scholarships or government grant monies. These package deals are often created by coaches together with their school’s administration to help provide the equivalent of a full-ride scholarship to equivalency sports athletes.

Remember that your odds of getting an aid package to augment a partial, equivalency scholarship rely on two things; your GPA and FAFSA (link to FAFSA blog). 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.

While there are only two athletic scholarship “types,” you still have multiple opportunities to earn a scholarship or scholarship package that covers some, or all, of your college costs. When it comes to equivalency scholarships and aid packages, there is no right or wrong. The key is to know your type, know what you have to do to earn that type of scholarship offer, and then, find the school, program, or package that’s right for you!