NCSA: Five things you need to know about scholarships

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 and play at the college level. Joe 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 athletic programs at the NCAA Division I and II levels, as well as with NAIA programs, follow scholarship guidelines which may cause some confusion and create common misconceptions for high school student-athletes and their families during the recruiting process. The following sections clarify the truths in contrast to some of the misconceptions you may have heard about scholarships.

Full-rides are not the norm

Unlike Division I football or women’s basketball, which require participating programs to offer fully funded college scholarships (which cover the entire cost of attending a university), most sports are what is known as equivalency sports. These athletic programs are permitted to divvy up their total scholarship allotment in a variety of partial awards as long as the combined total of partial scholarships do not surpass the predetermined allotment.

Example: A Division II softball program is permitted to award a total of 7.2 scholarships to players on its roster. The ace of the pitching staff may be awarded an athletic scholarship which will cover 75 percent of the university’s total tuition cost while the power-hitting centerfielder may only receive a scholarship that covers 20 percent of tuition costs. The remaining 5 percent would be given to another player, making the total of one full tuition.

Read more about the different types of scholarships.

Being the best in your event/position does not guarantee big scholarships

It’s obvious a potential scholarship recipient must be a skilled competitor, but that’s not the only measuring stick for college coaches. College coaches need to plan for building the most successful team overall, which means they recruit athletes who can best fill the gaps on their rosters, which ultimately is measured by winning games/meets.

This is especially true in sports like Track and Field and Swimming, where being the best at a single event may not be as valuable to a team as being strong in multiple events.

While student-athletes should continue to strive for their best individual performances possible, as they begin the recruiting process, they should remember that the coach perspective is more holistic, factoring in how each recruit could add value to their team. This means student-athletes should think beyond their individual times to best understand their future role on a team.

Which sports are easiest to get a scholarship for?

Scholarships aren’t guaranteed to continue

Coaches are paid by universities to win! This means there is no time to be sentimental, and many student-athletes will not have their scholarships extended beyond the first year. There are several factors coaches must consider at the conclusion of every athletic season. The evaluation process is not just about athletic performance. Coaches will look at a student-athlete’s academic performance, as well as their personal conduct both on and off the field.

At the Division I fully funded schools, losing a scholarship usually results in the student-athlete leaving the school. For programs under the equivalency guidelines, it is just as stressful for the student-athlete. Just as some scholarship monies are freed up due to seniors graduating, there will also be an incoming class of recruits. Competition puts pressure on all the members of a team. Performing well in all the factors mentioned may still not be enough to maintain the level of scholarship award a player had in the past season.

Are athletic scholarships guaranteed for four years?

An offer doesn’t mean a scholarship

Another part of a college coach’s life is to have more recruits than needed. Therefore, they’ll make offers to several recruits playing the same position. There are a couple of reasons coaches will make verbal offers:

  1. Getting an athlete to accept a verbal offer may make other college coaches cross the name of their recruiting list.
  2. The college coach needs to fill a roster with the best athletes, and if a better athlete chooses another school, the coach will have someone else in line for the vacancy.

An actual scholarship offer isn’t official until the recruit signs a letter of intent.

You’re more likely to get a scholarship by widening your search

Too many college recruits paint themselves into a corner by only listening to Division I offers. Division II and NAIA schools have rosters full of equally qualified players, and many of them are there because the scholarship awards are greater, or the school offers other upsides in relation to campus life and overall experience.

Student-athletes need to consider the impact of a four-year college education, and it’s not just for financial reasons. Other considerations which players should factor in before accepting an offer are:

  • Size of the school: Some student-athletes may have a greater college experience at a smaller campus.
  • Degrees sought: The objective to participate at the collegiate athletic level is not just for the desire to compete. It is to assist in cutting education costs and earning a college diploma. So, it’s important for student-athletes to consider if the school offers majors they’re interested in and if they can see themselves successfully building the framework for their future careers there.
  • Location: Recruits need to recognize where their comfort zone is regarding being away from home. Traveling five states away may seem like an adventure to an incoming freshman, but the distance likely means not getting to see their parents and family members as often as if they attend a nearby school.
  • Position competition: Student-athletes should research players they will be competing against. For example, a Division II baseball shortstop with a 50 percent tuition scholarship may mean that another incoming player awarded a 20 percent tuition scholarship may not see much playing time.
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