Beyond athletic scholarships: A parent’s guide to creating a better college financial package

Beyond athletic scholarships: A parent’s guide to creating a better college financial package

NCSA Recruiting

Beyond athletic scholarships: A parent’s guide to creating a better college financial package


USA TODAY High School Sports has a weekly column on the college recruiting process. Here, you’ll find practical tips and real-world advice on becoming a better recruit to maximize your opportunities to play at the college level. Jaimie Duffek was one of the top 50 high school softball players in Illinois who went onto play outfield for Drake University. Jaimie is just one of many former college and professional players, college coaches, and parents who are part of the Next College Student Athlete team. Their knowledge, experience, and dedication along with NCSA’s history of digital innovation, and long-standing relationship with the college coaching community have made NCSA the largest and most successful athletic recruiting network in the country.


Dorm rooms, friends, life experiences and more often than not, crippling college debt. In recent years, 70 percent of graduates left school saddled with student loans. 2016 graduates started their post-collegiate life $37,172 in debt on average, according to U.S. News & World Report.

As a parent, you want to make sure your student is set up for success. In the 21st century, that often means helping them nail down top college scholarships to make the experience more affordable. The first step: understanding the wealth of scholarships available.

Create a robust financial package by combining athletic scholarships with other opportunities

For dedicated and talented student-athletes, athletic scholarships are a great place to start when looking at ways to pay for college. However, in most cases, student-athletes won’t receive a full-ride athletic scholarship. In fact, the average athletic scholarship amount received by varsity men is about $5,493 and the average for women is about $6,625, according to And these numbers are probably a little high. Meanwhile, the average cost of college is $33,480 for private schools, $9,650 for state residents and $24,930 for out-of-state residents attending a public university (College Data).

If you’re doing the math right now, you’ve probably noticed that, even with an athletic scholarship, there’s still more ground to cover. The good news: Any athletic scholarship can be combined with other scholarship opportunities. The bad news: You and your student-athlete will have to search them out. Here are other types of scholarships to investigate:

  • Academic scholarships are usually for kids with a good GPA and or test scores. Each academic scholarship comes with its own set of requirements, so keep an eye on how your student-athlete can qualify. Grade point average, graduating class percentile and ACT/SAT scores are typically taken into consideration.
  • Merit scholarships are often given to students based on academic performance, but they can also be awarded for artistic or athletic excellence. Sometimes, they are given for both! Merit scholarships may require membership in specific organizations, an honorary title or more. Start considering these opportunities as early as possible to help your student fulfill the needed criteria.
  • Need-based scholarships look at your family’s financials, considering factors like combined family income, number of students in college and more. To apply for a need-based scholarship, complete your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). All need-based scholarships are awarded for one year only, but students may reapply each year.
  • Private or unique scholarships offer money based on specific qualifying criteria. For example, First in Family Scholarships help students who are the first college-bound individual in their family. Some of our favorite unique scholarships: Chick Evans Scholarships for Caddies, CME Beef Industry Scholarship, National Candy Technologists Scholarship, and more. Never underestimate what might qualify your student for a few extra dollars! Scour websites like to see what opportunities your student-athlete might qualify for.

Academic requirements for alternative financial aid are strict

If your family is looking at athletic scholarships, you’re probably well aware that GPA and ACT/SAT scores play an important factor in fulfilling NCAA eligibility requirements. (If you’ve never heard the term “NCAA eligibility requirements” or you need some brushing up, take a look at The stress-free NCAA eligibility checklist for parents) However, alternative scholarships often require an even higher GPA and even better test scores. To qualify for an academic scholarship, your student-athlete needs to have at least: 3.5 GPA, 25 ACT score or 1200 SAT score, and rank within the top 10 percent of their class. Every college will have different requirements—some maybe even be higher than these. It’s important for your student-athlete to understand these criteria when they start high school, so they aren’t scrambling their junior or senior year.

A school may waive your out-of-state tuition costs

If your student-athlete is set on attending an out-of-state school, you may be able to bring the cost down by paying the in-state tuition costs, rather than the higher out-of-state tuition.

  • Tuition remissions and exchange programs. If your student-athlete’s major isn’t offered at a school in your state, they might qualify to receive in-state tuition at an out-of-state university that does offer this program.
  • Out-of-state tuition waivers. Some public colleges offer in-state tuition for out-of-staters based on certain criteria, such as if they register to vote in that district, have lived on campus for six months and more. Check out some opportunities at The Collegiate Blog.
  • Reciprocity agreements. Certain states have agreements to offer in-state tuition to residents from the other state’s citizens. For example, residents of Illinois can attend Kentucky schools at the same price as Kentucky residents—and vice versa.
  • Scholarships. Many colleges offer scholarships to make up the difference for out-of-state students.

Consider the cost of the school’s tuition when comparing scholarship offers

So, you’ve waded through the scholarship process and your student-athlete is getting some offers! Before you sign on the dotted line for the school that’s given you the most money, consider the following scenario.

You and your family have finally narrowed down your options to two schools. School A is offering a combined 10% scholarship with tuition costing $6,000 per year. School B will give your student a 40% scholarship with tuition costing $37,000 per year. The cost for School A will be $5,400 versus the total cost of School B will be $22,200.

While School B is technically offering more money than School A, your student-athlete still has a higher ending balance. If School B is your family’s dream school, go for it! Just remember School A is more affordable at the end of the day.



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