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How to Qualify for Athletic Scholarships

football players

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. Each division has its own requirements for student athletes, including academic, GPA, and test score requirements. For more information, see NCAA's Guide for the College-bound Student Athlete.

Filing Your NCAA Paperwork

If you wish to play for a Division I or II college, you'll need to register for a certificate account at the NCAA Eligibility Center at the beginning of your sophomore or junior year in high school. The fee to register is $80, with fee waivers available. Division III students must also register, but they are not required to pay the fee.

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 resumes. If you can't visit, you can usually speak to the coach by phone and e-mail him or her your bio and links to your video clips. Some students post web pages with videos of their 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.

What's Next?

Use the Scholarship Finder to find athletic scholarships in a variety of sports.

Use College Match to search for colleges offering specific varsity and club sports.

Financial information contained on the CollegeData website is for general informational purposes only and may not apply to you or your situation. You should not act or refrain from acting on the basis of any financial content contained on the CollegeData website without consulting with a financial or tax advisor, or your parents, high school counselors, admissions representatives or other college counseling professionals. We disclaim all liability for actions you take or fail to take based on any content on the CollegeData website.