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. Joe Lecessi is a former college athlete and coach at the NAIA level, where he earned an NAIA National Championship. Joe 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.
College has never been more expensive. For many student-athletes, an athletic scholarship allows them to attend a school they might not otherwise be able to afford. However, competition for these scholarship spots is fierce. To help your student-athlete cut down on their tuition and other college expenses, check out these eight key facts about the world of athletic scholarships.
When do college coaches offer scholarships? Usually junior or senior year
In many cases, coaches like to present scholarship offers to student-athletes during an official or unofficial campus visit. For most Division 1 sports, recruits can meet with coaches on these visits any time after September 1 of their junior year. However, football and basketball recruits have to wait a little longer to take official visits. January 1 for men’s basketball, April 1 for FBS and FCS football and the Thursday after the NCAA Championship Game for women’s basketball (usually the first week of April).
In addition to official and unofficial visits, college coaches sometimes offer scholarships through a high school or club coach or during a camp or tournament. Keep in mind—D1 scholarship offers aren’t binding until you and your student-athlete sign the National Letter of Intent.
Most athletic scholarships are only guaranteed for one year
Nearly all athletic scholarships are good for one year and must be renewed by the athlete and the coach. Athletes can lose their scholarship due to injury, academic ineligibility, coaching changes or poor performance. Remember—there’s so much more to college than sports. Even if your student-athlete receives a hefty athletic scholarship, it’s important to make sure the college is the right fit regardless of the team and the coach.
Head count sports are always full rides—equivalency sports are often partial
The sport your student-athlete plays has a huge impact on their opportunities for scholarship money. At the D1 level, football (FBS only), men’s and women’s basketball, women’s tennis, women’s gymnastics and women’s volleyball are head count scholarship sports. This means every scholarship given out is a full ride that covers tuition, books, room, board, and college fees.
Equivalency sports encompass all the other D1 sports as well as D2, NAIA and junior college sports. In general, these sports tend to offer partial scholarship opportunities. Coaches have a certain number of scholarships they can slice and dice however they like. While some give all the money to the top athletes, others divvy up scholarships equally or award them to upperclassmen who have been with the team for a few years. It all depends on the coach.
Scholarships can be combined—if you qualify
While most athletic scholarship opportunities are partial, student-athletes can add academic aid to the mix if their grades and standardized test scores are high enough. To be eligible for an academic scholarship as an incoming freshman, student-athletes at the D1 level need to be in the top 10% of their high school graduating class, have a cumulative GPA of at least 3.5 and score 1200 or higher on the SAT or earn an ACT sum score of at least 105.
At the D2 level, student-athletes must be in the top 20% of their high school graduating class, achieve a cumulative GPA of at least 3.5 and score at least 1200 on the SAT or earn an ACT sum score of 100 or higher.
Academic scholarships are much more secure
As long as your student-athlete keeps their GPA up and stays in good standing with school, their academic scholarship will stay secure for all four years. In addition to academic scholarships offered through the school, there are countless opportunities available via federal aid, nonprofits, private providers and more.
Ivy League schools and D3 colleges don’t give out athletic scholarships
Ivy League and D3 coaches aren’t allowed to offer athletic scholarships. However, many athletes receive merit-based scholarships and need-based financial aid to cover the cost of tuition. Coaches at these schools will often work with the admissions office to offer recruits a favorable scholarship package based on their academic standing or family income.
Don’t overlook NAIA
Like D1 and D2 schools, NAIA colleges offer full and partial athletic scholarships for football, basketball, baseball, soccer, women’s volleyball, track and field, cross country, swimming, diving, softball, wrestling, and competitive cheer and dance. And the level of competition can be extremely high—the best NAIA programs are comparable to D2. If you’re looking for opportunities outside of D1 and D2 sports, NAIA could be your best bet.
Walk-ons can play their way to scholarships
According to the NCAA, 46% of D1 athletes and 39% of D2 athletes are walk-ons. While walk-ons initially receive no form of athletic financial aid, athletes can use this opportunity to win a scholarship by impressing the coach and proving their importance to the team. In both head count and equivalency sports, it is common for coaches to fill out their rosters with walk-ons. If your student-athlete doesn’t received any scholarship offers as an incoming freshman, a walk-on opportunity could help them earn one later on.