Recruiting Column: Maximizing your scholarship dollars

Recruiting Column: Maximizing your scholarship dollars

Recruiting Column

Recruiting Column: Maximizing your scholarship dollars

USA TODAY High School Sports has a weekly column on the recruiting process. This isn’t about where just the top five-star athletes are headed but rather a guide to the process and the pitfalls for student-athletes nationwide from Fred Bastie, the owner and founder of Playced.com. Playced.com is an industry leader in college recruiting.  Their technology based recruiting service identifies the right colleges for potential recruits to pursue and provides a recruiting system that is second to none for student athletes of all talent levels and ages.

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Contrary to popular belief…

  • Bats are not blind,
  • Waking up a sleepwalker does not harm them, and
  • Most college athletic scholarships are partial scholarships

That’s right: Most athletic scholarships are partial scholarships ranging from 25 percent to 60 percent, depending on the sport. Here’s another sobering fact: The projected average “all-in” cost of college for the 2015–2016 school year is in excess of $23,000 for state residents at public colleges, over $33,000 for out-of-state residents attending public universities, and can be over $45,000 for private universities. Given these facts, it’s important for every potential college athlete to seek other ways to help supplement the cost of getting a college degree.

In this article we will discuss the rules related to athletic scholarships, which should allow you to maximize your scholarship dollars.

Head count sports vs. equivalency sports

The NCAA breaks sports into two categories—head count sports and equivalency sports. Students who are offered a scholarship to play a head count sport are being offered a full scholarship, while students who play equivalency sports will most likely receive only a partial scholarship. The head count sports are all at the Division I level and include football (D-I FBS only), basketball (men’s and women’s), women’s tennis, women’s gymnastics and women’s volleyball. All other Division I sports are equivalency sports. Division II, NAIA and Junior Colleges also offer equivalency scholarships.

With respect to scholarships in the head count sports, keep in mind that these scholarships (like all scholarships) are most likely one-year commitments that have to be renewed annually. Some common reasons an athlete might lose their scholarship are injury, academic ineligibility or even coaching changes. For these reasons alone, it is important to pick a college you can afford and where you will be happy even if athletics don’t work out.

If you compete in an equivalency sport, the coaches can divide their scholarships up as they desire, as long as they don’t exceed the total number of scholarships in their sport. A few examples of the scholarship limits at the Division I level are baseball with 11.7 scholarships and wrestling with 9.9 scholarships. These are the total scholarships available for the entire team.

Given these facts, you really need to consider your offers based on the amount you will have to contribute and not just the dollar amount of the scholarship. For example:

  • College A – The cost is $45,000/year and you are offered a 40% scholarship ($18,000/year). The amount you are responsible for is $27,000/year.
  • College B – The cost is $20,000/year and you are offered a 40% scholarship. ($8,000/year). The amount you are responsible for is $12,000/year.

Your scholarship offer at College A is $10,000 more than the offer from College B, but college B is much more affordable. Either way, a college education is expensive so looking at all forms of financial aid is important.

Can college athletes receive both athletic and academic scholarships? 

You would think the answer to this question would be easy, and to some degree it is. However, there are certain scholarships and forms of financial aid that college athletes should not pursue or it may impact their athletic scholarships and, believe it or not, there is a good reason. There are no limits on the number of academic (or merit) scholarships that colleges and universities can award. Schools can give out scholarships for leadership, music, community service and other things without demanding academic qualifications. Therefore, the NCAA had to create rules preventing colleges from providing their athletes with merit scholarships and thereby bypassing the limitations on athletic scholarships.

Here’s an overview of how those rules work. The NCAA has 2 basic scholarship limitations: (1) a limit on “counters” and (2) a limit on equivalencies. The limitation on equivalencies in each sport is simply based on the total amount of athletic scholarships awarded to counters.

The rules related to “counters” are a little more complicated. Any student-athlete who receives any amount of athletic financial aid is considered a counter per NCAA rules. Athletic financial aid is financial aid that is awarded on any basis that is related to athletic ability, participation or achievement. Once a student-athlete is considered a counter, potentially all financial aid will count as athletic financial aid unless specifically exempt.

Generally, federal and state financial aid based on need is exempt, most institutional financial aid is exempt and institutional academic awards that are part of the institution’s normal arrangements are also exempt, provided the student meets certain academic benchmarks.

The important thing to remember here is if you have been awarded an athletic scholarship10112recol and you are looking to supplement that scholarship with other financial aid, the first thing you need to do is contact the athletic department and the financial aid office at the university. You have to be sure you don’t cause a problem for the team by applying for and accepting a scholarship that might be counted as an athletic scholarship.

Here’s the deal

First, every high school athlete looking for a college scholarship needs to understand whether they are seeking a scholarship in a head count sport or an equivalency sport. After that, familiarize yourself with the rules and scholarship limitations related to your sport. Then, if you decide to pursue other financial aid to help supplement your athletic scholarship, contact the athletic department and the financial aid office at the university to determine which scholarships are best suited for a student-athlete.

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