What Student Athletes Need to Know about Athletic Scholarships

by | Dec 1, 2021 | College Admissions, College Planning | 0 comments

The myth of the college athlete gives the impression that tons of sporty students are coasting their way through school on the merits of their abilities on the field or the court. We’ve seen plenty of movies and TV shows that give this impression, but the truth is a bit more complicated.

If you’re a high school athlete who is hoping to use your athletic skills to alleviate the costs of college through scholarships, there are some important details you need to know.

Athletic Scholarships are Rare

As U.S. News and World Report explains, athletic scholarships are a rare reward. Only about 1-2% of undergraduate college students are receiving scholarships for athletics. While that might sound disheartening, it’s important to note that rare doesn’t mean impossible.

Around 180,000 student athletes will receive approximately $3.6 billion in scholarship funds each year. There certainly are funds available for talented athletes who would like to continue their sport into college.

Not All Schools Grant Athletic Scholarships

As you consider athletic scholarships as a possibility, it’s important to note that only Division I and Division II schools offer scholarship funds through the NCAA. Division III schools do not offer athletic scholarships.

Partial Athletic Scholarships are More Likely

If you do end up receiving an athletic scholarship, you should still be prepared to cover some college costs through other means — additional scholarships, student loans, or paying out of pocket. The average athletic scholarship award is $18,000, which can be substantially lower than tuition, room, and board fees — especially for private schools.

You Don’t Need to Be Headed for the Pros

There’s a misconception that only student athletes with their sights set on a professional athletic career will get scholarships. The truth is that making it into professional sports is a very rare occurrence, and most student athletes receiving athletic scholarships will go on to careers in other fields.

It’s also important to note that athletic scholarships are available for a wide variety of sports and not just the ones most popularized and televised.

Athletic Scholarships are Renewed on a Year-to-Year Basis

There’s often a lot of focus on funding freshman year, but the college expenses continue through the duration of enrollment. Athletic scholarships are not guaranteed to extend beyond the year in which they are awarded. Decisions about who will get funds for future years are made on a case-by-case basis, and they’re determined by the needs of the team, which might not always align with individual students’ needs. Don’t assume that a scholarship will be available for all of your college years.

Maintaining a Scholarship Takes Work

A student receives an athletic scholarship because they’ve demonstrated promise in their sport and in their academic potential. If a student does not live up to that promise, the scholarship can be removed.

A scholarship cannot be revoked if a student athlete becomes ineligible to play because of an injury, but it can be cancelled if the student goes against the school’s conduct policies or voluntarily quits the sport. There are also often minimum GPA requirements in place for maintaining an athletic scholarship.

Student Athletes Need a Complete College Plan

Some of these facts about athletic scholarships may sound discouraging, but they don’t need to be. Talented student athletes can certainly make the goal of earning an athletic scholarship part of their college plan, but they should also keep a bigger picture in mind.

An athletic scholarship works best when it’s part of a more complete package of funding, and student athletes should still consider overall affordability as they are choosing colleges to attend.


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