How athletic and academic scholarships work

How athletic and academic scholarships work

NCSA Recruiting

How athletic and academic scholarships work


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. Garland Cooper, was a three-time NFCA All-American (two-time first team) and Big Ten Player of the Year at Northwestern University. In 2012, Garland was inducted into the NU Hall of Fame having helped the Wildcats to a pair of Women’s College World Series appearances. She was also a first-round pick of the New England Riptide in the 2007 National Pro Fast Pitch College Draft.  Garland 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.

One of the primary reasons families go through the recruiting process is to secure an athletic scholarship. Not only do athletic scholarships help pay for college, but they come with a sense of accomplishment—and some bragging rights. Another great way to pay for college? Academic scholarships. If your athlete has great grades and test scores, they can be financially rewarded for their high academics. Because most athletic scholarships are not full-ride offers, an academic scholarship is a great way to help make up the difference.

However, there are many misconceptions about the logistics of combining academic and athletic scholarships. In this article, I answer some of the most common questions about athletic and academic scholarships and provide an explanation of each.

Athletic scholarships

Simply put, an athletic scholarship is an amount of financial aid given to a student-athlete from a collegiate athletic department. It is awarded based on the student’s athletic abilities and anticipated contribution to the team. The team’s coach is tasked with deciding who to award scholarships to, as well as how much money each student-athlete receives.

How many athletic scholarships are typically given out?

The number of scholarships available and the way they are given out depends on the particular sport and division level. A few Division I sports are deemed headcount sports, and every scholarship given out must be a full-ride, which covers the full cost of tuition at that school. The majority of sports are equivalency sports, in which coaches have a certain number of scholarships that they can divide up however they want. Higher value recruits will get more money, while lower-level will get less.

How long does an athletic scholarship usually last?

Most athletic scholarships are guaranteed for one year, and must be renewed by the athlete and the coach every year. If an athlete is injured, not contributing to the team enough, struggles to maintain their grades, etc., they can lose their scholarship. Some top recruits have been able to negotiate guaranteed four-year athletic scholarships, but this is rare and relegated to the highest-level athletes.

The bottom line

Yes, athletic scholarships can be a great way to help pay college costs. However, they are tough to get—only a very small percentage of high school athletes receive scholarships to compete at the college level. And they aren’t guaranteed for your entire college career.

Academic scholarships

Academic scholarships typically use a minimum GPA and/or standardized test score, but may include other criteria as well. The requirements for each academic scholarship will be a little different, but the academic standards will be clearly outlined.

How many academic scholarships are typically given out?

Most academic scholarships will be partial scholarships, paying for a portion of a student’s tuition and fees. However, there is no limit to how many academic scholarships one student can receive, and just a few partial scholarships can add up.

How long does an academic scholarship usually last?

Most academic scholarships are guaranteed all four years, provided the student maintains a certain GPA and is in good standing with the school.

The bottom line

Most students are easily able to keep up the grade point average to keep their academic scholarship all four years of college. And it’s a great bonus that students can tack on more academic scholarships to help pay for their college education.

Can student-athletes combine academic and athletic scholarships?

The short answer is yes—but it depends. The NCAA has a few specific rules about how Division I and Division II student-athletes should handle non-athletic financial aid. To accept an academic scholarship as an incoming freshman, student-athletes need to meet the following criteria:

Division I

  • Top 10% of the high school graduating class
  • Achieve a cumulative high school GPA of at least 3.50
  • Score 1200 or higher on the SAT or ACT sum score of at least 105

Division II

  • Top 20% of high school graduating class
  • Achieved a 3.5 cumulative GPA out of 4.00
  • ACT Sum score of 100 or SAT of 1140

The student must also show that athletic information was not required as part of the application process. If colleges could give athletes academic or merit-based scholarships freely, then there would be no limit on the amount of money they could offer athletes to compete at their school! By imposing these rules, the NCAA is ensuring that athletes who receive academic scholarships are getting them based on their academics, not their athletics.

If the coach sees I have an academic scholarship, will I receive a smaller athletic scholarship?

Some athletes are under the impression that having an academic scholarship might hurt their chances of maximizing their athletic scholarship amount. The answer here, once again–it depends. Each athlete on a team is worth is a certain amount of money. The coach will offer athletic scholarship money to the athlete based on that amount. If a coach sees that an athlete has an academic scholarship that covers a portion of their worth, he will use athletic scholarship money to make up the difference. Then, he has a little extra money left over to recruit more high-quality athletes.

In other words, recruits are worth a certain amount to coaches. It’s better for coaches if recruits receive academic scholarships to get to that number, so the coach can stretch their scholarship dollars a little further.

Student-athletes need to do their research to get the most robust financial aid package. Athletic scholarships are a great way to pay for college, but don’t discount academic scholarships, either. They are a safer bet overall, and can even make a recruit more attractive to college coaches.

Compare family contribution, not scholarship amount

There are a few last points to remember when helping your athlete choose their college. After you factor in scholarships and other forms of financial aid, compare schools based on your expected family contribution. Your athlete may receive a larger scholarship at one school, but you could still end up paying more if the tuition costs are much higher than the other schools you’re considering.

And always remember that school fit should outweigh financial rewards. If your student doesn’t love the school—even if they qualify for a hefty scholarship—it could end up costing more in the end if they decide to transfer schools after a year or two.

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