Posted in HS4CC

Get a Grip on Sports Scholarships

Is an athletic scholarship on your mind? In this post I’ll break down the $ award your student athlete can expect to receive.

A scholarship is a financial award that doesn’t have to be repaid.  

The Athletics Scholarship

Hours, weeks, months, years of practice. All with the hope of a sports scholarship. Many students hope for a”full ride” scholarship. A “full-ride” means the school pays for your entire educational costs (tuition/room/board/books/fees etc.). In this post, I want to teach you how to separate your teen’s love of sports from the pursuit of an athletic scholarship. This post isn’t a criticism of student athletics, rather it should give you tools that help you assess the costs and scholarships available to your student and plan accordingly. Athletic scholarships aren’t scams, they are, however, an excellent way to end up in a world of hurt and deep debt if you’re not very careful and aware of what happens to many students.

All NCAA Division Sports Scholarship information is transparent and open to the public for review. Unlike many other types of awards, college athletics is a very organized and heavily managed program. Understanding how the program works will help you plan for your student.

FUN FACT: Fewer than 2% of high school students receive sports scholarships.

Some students, like my second son who was a competitive diver in high school, may be aiming for a scholarship as a way to help fund their college degree.

D1 or Bust (92.45%)

There are only a few sports that offer”full-ride” scholarships, and those are only available at Division I colleges (D1).

If your teen plays one of those sports and plans to play for a D1 school, I urge you to dive much deeper at the NCAA website for more information. I also highly recommend the documentary “Schooled : The Price of College Sports”

The Billion Dollar Pot

The money is carefully distributed according to division and then down to schools and further down by sport. This is the current distribution:

Division I: 92.45% of the money to distribute.

Division II: 4.37% of the money to distribute.

Division III: 3.18%, of the money to distribute.

Now, if your sport isn’t on the D1 shortlist, there IS NO MONEY for a full-ride sports scholarship. I know you think I’m exaggerating, but I’m not.  Colleges are given a pool of money to be split each year – at the coach’s discretion- between all / any of the athletes on the team in that sport.

How Scholarships Put Athletes in Debt

Several years ago, my son was a talented high school diver who was being recruited for men’s swimming and diving. Of course a scholarship was promised, but I want to share with you the numbers from his year.

  • The average men’s swim/dive team at a D2 or D3 college consisted of 20 members total.  
  • According to NCAA, swim/dive team coaches would receive $72,000 each year to distribute.
  • Swim/dive team members who received an award received an average award of $8,000 per year.

You may think that an $8,000 award sounds pretty good, but take a moment to look a the numbers. At D2 or D3 colleges, the average cost of tuition per year is $35,000 and the average cost of housing is $11,000 per year.

A student receiving this scholarship will still get a bill of $38,000 each year. Or more accurately, about $152,000 for their bachelor’s degree.

Since $152,000 was not a manageable cost for our son, he attended a different college and today has his degree but no debt.

“But I Wanna Play!”

Faced with this plea, I urge you to get creative. There are many alternatives, and depending on your teen’s sport and where you live, there may be others beyond this short list. These offer your teen an opportnity to play their sport while in college, but also to avoid debt.

  • University recreational athletics teams that practice and compete each season. This is a chance to represent the college on a team, but outside the NCAA. Even community colleges sometimes have these leagues! A college recreational team is usually pay to play.
  • City/Public recreation league or hobby leagues that are a mix of adults. These are usually pay to play leagues.
  • Private recreation leagues or hobby leagues. Frequently a fitness center, gym, sports facility, or even company will sponsor a recreation league. These are usually pay to play leagues.

Elite World / Olympic Hopeful

If your student athlete is considered elite, you may consider an entirely different approach. Many Olympic hopefuls practice year-round for many hours each day. The intensity of that kind of training won’t mesh well with full time residential college enrollment. Some families opt to redirect their financial resources into programs that offer elite coaches and training. In this context, a Homeschooling for College Credit student could complete much of their degree for a low cost in high school and finish their degree online at a transfer-friendly college.

“You did not get a bargain!”

This Division 1 student earned a water polo scholarship and ended up in $175,000 debt.


Executive Director of Homeschooling for College Credit