Many successful high school athletes hope to get generous college scholarships. If you are one of them, how do you get a chance of winning one?
There's more to getting a sports scholarship than playing well in high school. You need to be eligible to play at the college level—and get noticed by coaches.
Get a Sports Scholarship Reality Check
If you are banking on a sports scholarship to help pay for college, be aware that the competition for scholarships is fierce—and there are very few "full rides." Most awards only partially cover college costs and must be renewed annually. If you get injured or otherwise become ineligible for competition, the financial aid office is free to reduce or cancel your athletic scholarship.
Also, make sure you understand the demands of playing competitive college sports. You won't have much time for socializing or travel (except with your team), extracurriculars, or other experiences of college life. And for all your efforts, you may not get as much time on the field as you would like.
The Mighty NCAA Sets the Rules
The National College Athletic Association (NCAA) regulates and oversees the distribution of athletic scholarships at most colleges. About 300 small colleges belong to another association, the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA), which runs national championships in 13 sports. Many of these colleges also offer athletic scholarships. For more information, visit the NAIA website.
The NCAA Divisions
Based on the size of the college and the level of competition, the NCAA divides member colleges into three groups: Divisions I, II, and III. Division I colleges award the most scholarships. Division III colleges offer only academic, not athletic, scholarships. Student athlete and recruiting requirements are spelled out in the NCAA's Guide for the College-Bound Student-Athlete. These include academic course requirements, GPA requirements, and SAT or ACT score requirements. The guide is available free on the NCAA website or from your high school counselor.
Filing Your NCAA Paperwork
If you wish to play for a Division I or II college, register at the NCAA Eligibility Center at the beginning of your junior year in high school, and file an online Student Release Form by the end of your junior year. This form allows the NCAA to send information about you to college coaches. The fee to file the form is $70, with fee waivers available. Division III students do not need to file this form.
Getting on the Team
Division I coaches of generously funded sports teams take a "Don't call me, I'll call you" approach. Division II and III coaches, however, may appreciate your introducing yourself. (This may also be true for some Division I sports departments with small recruiting budgets.) Many student athletes stop by the coach's office during their campus visits to drop off their sports bio and video clips. If you can't visit, you can usually speak to the coach by phone and email your bio and links to your clips. Like an increasing number of student athletes, you can post web pages with videos of your performance highlights and other information.
There's More to Life Than Being a Player
No matter how good you are in your sport, the odds are against your becoming a world-class, highly paid athlete after graduation. Always have a backup plan and choose your major accordingly. That way, you'll be a winner no matter how your final season turns out.
- Use the Scholarship Finder to find athletic scholarships in a variety of sports.
- For more tips, see If You Want to Play Your Sport in College.
- Use College Match to search for colleges offering specific varsity and club sports.
Note: Financial information provided on this site is of a general nature and may not apply to your situation. Contact a financial or tax advisor before acting on such information.