What You Need to Know about Athletic Scholarships

Student-athletes looking to compete at the next level need to know how athletic scholarships work. With just NCAA Division I and II schools, there are more $3.6 billion in athletic scholarships available. However, only two percent of high school athletes receive athletic scholarships to compete in college. So, it’s important to know how athletic scholarships work and what to expect when you start to receive offers. Along with additional opportunities to receive scholarships and financial aid outside of athletic scholarships.

Who gives out athletic scholarships?

Division I, II and NAIA all give out athletic scholarships. Division III schools do not offer athletic scholarships. Ivy League schools also do not offer athletic scholarships. Athletic scholarships are typically one-year agreements between the college and the athlete. However, some scholarship offers extend to more than just one year. Only one percent of college student-athletes receive full ride scholarships. It’s important to have realistic goals when it comes to scholarship offers. The amount a student-athlete is offered has a lot to do with what type of sport it is, head count or equivalency sport. 

Head count sports are always full rides but only include revenue sports. Revenue sports include Division I basketball, Division I football, Women’s Division I basketball, tennis, volleyball and gymnastics. Equivalency sports usually hand out partial scholarships. It’s up to the coach to divide their scholarship money among athletes. Equivalency sports include Division I men’s baseball, rifle, skiing, cross-country, track and field, soccer, fencing, swimming, golf, tennis, gymnastics, volleyball, ice hockey, water polo, lacrosse and wrestling. For women’s sports equivalency sports include Division I bowling, lacrosse, rowing, cross-country, track and field, skiing, fencing, soccer, field hockey, softball, golf, swimming, ice hockey and water polo. All Division II and NAIA sports are equivalency sports.

Due to COVID-19, the NCAA Division I council adopted a legislature to adjust the rules on need-based aid for equivalency sports. Teams in equivalency sports will not have their academic and need based aid count against their athletic scholarship amount. Prior to this legislation change, athletes needed to meet certain academic criteria for their additional aid to not be counted against a team’s athletic scholarship limit.

Do you have to have a scholarship to compete in college sports?

Usually there are more spots available on a team than there are athletic scholarships. So don’t count yourself out if you haven’t received an athletic scholarship offer. Athletes are often asked to walk on and depending on their performance, could earn an athletic scholarship for the next year.

How to know if you’re eligible for a scholarship?           

To receive a Division, I or II scholarship, student-athletes must register with the NCAA Eligibility Center to ensure they are eligible. There are minimum academic standards that student-athletes need to meet to be eligible. Division I and II schools use a sliding scale to match SAT/ACT scores and core-courses to determine eligibility. So, if you have higher test scores, you won’t need a high GPA. And if you have lower test scores, you will need a higher GPA to balance the scale and gain eligibility. Division I requires student-athletes to have a GPA of at least 2.3. Division II requires student-athletes to have a GPA of 2.2.

Can you lose your athletic scholarship?

Unfortunately, athletic scholarships can be taken away for several reasons. Remember verbal agreements are non-binding. So, if a coach only says the school will offer you an athletic scholarship, it does not mean that you have a scholarship. Typically, scholarship agreements become official when the school and athlete sign the Letter of Intent.

Injuries can also result in a student-athlete losing their athletic scholarship. It’s not uncommon for athletes to lose their scholarships due to a serious long-term injury. It all depends on the school and the extent of the injury.

Remember most scholarships are only valid for one year. So, coaches can also decide to not renew your athletic scholarship after a year.

Your scholarship may get pulled if you lose your eligibility for any reason. It’s important to stay on top of your academics and maintain a good relationship with the school to keep your athletic scholarship.

Why are academics important?

Academics are an important piece in the recruiting process and can help you receive more scholarship money. College coaches are looking for good students who qualify for academic scholarships, potentially saving the athletic department money. This mainly pertains to equivalency sports. Coaches can spread the athletic scholarship money out over more players by filling in the financial gaps with academic scholarships. A good GPA and good SAT/ACT scores indicates to coaches that you will likely meet the minimum GPA standards to keep your athletic eligibility. Admissions and administration offices put pressure on the athletic department to recruit athletes once they get into the school. So, academics are an important part in the recruiting process and can help you receive more scholarship money.

What about other Scholarships?

Remember most student-athletes do not receive full athletic scholarships. Academic scholarships can be a good supplemental form of aid. Along with filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to see if you meet the requirements for federal grants, loans, or work-study funds.

Leave a comment