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. Jason is a former NCAA DIII athlete and college coach at all three division levels. Jason 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.
Picture this: You and your student-athlete have found the perfect college. Your student-athlete felt right at home on the DIII university’s campus and immediately hit it off with the coach. When your family sits down to crunch the numbers, however, you get a big shock: the tuition is double what you were expecting to pay. Plus, your athlete won’t receive any athletic scholarships, as DIII schools do not offer them. Do you move on to another college or try to make it work?
Many families struggle with this question when looking at DIII universities–scared off by the initial price and lack of athletic scholarships. However, having both played and coached at DIII universities, I can tell you that the sticker price is very rarely what families end up paying, including student-athletes. In fact, DIII schools work hard to create very robust financial packages for families to make the experience more affordable.
DIII financial aid packages are typically a combination of grants/scholarships, work study programs and loans.
Each university is going to have different grants/scholarships that they offer, and each scholarship will have a certain set of criteria your student must fulfill. Academic-based scholarships will probably require a specific GPA, ACT/SAT or class ranking. Other grants may be based on your student’s major or other such specific criteria unrelated to grades. Schools award scholarships for a huge range of reasons, so families must do their research to discover what their student-athlete might qualify for.
Pro tip: Check out the criteria for scholarships your student-athlete doesn’t qualify for–yet. For example, your student may be one or two ACT points away from a better academic scholarship. It’s worth it to have your student study hard and retake the test to see if they can get those extra points.
Work study is another great way to help pay for tuition. Students who qualify work on campus at a part-time job that is typically related to their course of study. At the DIII level, student-athletes do have time to take on a part-time job or participate in extracurricular activities, as they are spending less time on their sport compared to DI or DII athletes.
Loans are the last component of most financial aid packages, but DIII schools do try to keep these to a minimum by providing grants/scholarships and work study options.
How to start putting together your financial aid package
There are a few key steps you need to take to put together your financial aid package. Start this process as early as possible to give yourself time to do your research and get your best financial aid package.
- Start with your college coach. Your student-athlete’s coach is going to be your guide in the financial aid process. While their specific role in the process is going to vary by school, coaches will often call the financial aid office and let them know to look out for your family. They’ll also have insider knowledge about different scholarship opportunities current and former players have been able to tap into, including scholarships that may not be available to incoming freshmen.
- Fill out your FAFSA Oct. 1 of your student’s senior year of high school. I can’t stress enough that you need to fill out your FAFSA as soon as possible (Oct. 1 of your student’s senior year). The Free Online Application for Federal Student Aid will determine your eligibility for financial aid, and is the basis for all your financial aid conversations. You can learn more at fafsa.gov.
- Leverage offers from competing schools to negotiate a better financial aid package. If you’re getting interest from a school, look at universities they compete with athletically in the region. Once you get your financial aid packages for each of these competing schools, let the coach know that you’ve received other offers and you need the school to bring their numbers up. When I was going through the recruiting process, I leveraged the financial aid packages of several DIII schools in the Chicagoland area to negotiate a better offer at my top school.
- Look for scholarships in your community. As with any school, student-athletes need to take it upon themselves to research external scholarships to add to their financial package. There are hundreds of websites that help families find external scholarships.
Find the best college fit for your student-athlete, and the college will work with you on the financial aid process.
Ultimately, the goal is to find the best college fit for your student-athlete, and this means looking at all different types of schools. While the DIII sticker shock is real, there are so many ways for schools to make packages that work with families’ individual needs. I encourage student-athletes to go to a school that helps them with what they want to accomplish. If your student-athlete wants to pursue other interests outside of athletics, DIII might be a great option for them. When I was coaching DIII baseball, my athletes had internships, studied abroad and worked part-time jobs. This wouldn’t be possible at the DI or DII level.