Tony Amelse, assistant director of admissions at the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University (CSB/SJU) in Minnesota, sees it time and time again: The students who want so badly to get athletic scholarships that they overlook the main reasons they are attending college: to be educated and become adults. Though almost every high school athlete dreams of playing big-time Division 1 athletics, earning full athletic scholarships and playing in front of thousands of fans, the reality of college athletics is that most students will not be playing in the limelight. Instead, you’re more likely to play for the love of the game and a chance to continue your athletic career another four years. That’s not always an easy reality to accept.
“I have worked with students who could have received a financial aid package that would have made it equally affordable to attend a private Division 3 school, but they just see that athletic scholarship as such a prestigious accomplishment, they can’t turn it down,” says Amelse. Indeed, being a star athlete is the dream of just about anyone who has played competitive sports. The focus of many athletes is not always on getting good grades to get academic scholarships, but rather it is on getting an athletic scholarships to play football at Notre Dame, women’s basketball at Tennessee or baseball at Miami (Florida). Those are the frustrations Amelse sees at CSB/SJU, both NCAA Division 3 institutions, where no athletic scholarships are given, and where tuition, room and board costs more than $22,000 per year.
However, 90 percent of the degree recipients from CSB/SJU earn their degree in four years or fewer. Athletically, the school competes in the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, which is made up of private Minnesota schools known more for academic excellence than athletic success. However, The St. John’s football team is nationally acclaimed and started the 2002 season ranked number one in many national polls. But that combination of academics and athletics still isn’t always good enough.
Athletic Scholarships Division 2 or 3?
“While many students take athletic scholarships, there are those who know they are not going to go pro and truly make decisions based on what’s best for them academically,” Amelse says. “Sometimes that still means the Division 1 or Division 2 school is a better fit because of the academic programs offered, or desire to be in a certain size school in a certain location. But people who have not followed Division 3 fail to realize that Division 3 athletics is still very competitive and played at a high level. Division 3 is not junior varsity.”
Understanding the differences between Division 1, Division 2 and Division 3 sports, and the types of athletic scholarships available are what student-athletes, parents and guidance counselors need to understand during the decision making process. Keep these points in mind: A scholarship doesn’t always include the coveted full-ride, even at Division 1 schools. A full-ride—tuition, books, room, board and other fees—is more prevalent in sports that generate revenue for a school, such as football and basketball. However, sports that do not bring in a lot of money –wrestling, tennis, soccer or swimming, for example, often divide athletic scholarships among team members. This even happens in Division 1, although it is more common in Division 2, where athletic budgets aren’t supplemented by the dollars that big-time Division 1 football and basketball programs bring in.
Athletic scholarships will never happen if you, a prospective student-athlete, do not meet the school’s academic requirements. That’s why it is important to start the process early, and check with the NCAA (www.ncaa.org) about the procedures, policies and paperwork required.
Also make the sure you’re up to date on the core class requirements needed for eligibility. Remember, while NCAA Division 1 and 2 schools do offer scholarships, Division 3 schools do not. The can, however, offer scholarships based on academic accomplishments. DIII schools do consider athletic achievements when deciding to offer grants, financial aid packages and academic scholarships.
Many Division 3 athletes could play Division 2 and sometimes Division 1 athletics, but instead attend a Division 3 school because of its academic reputation or programs. In the book How To Win a Sports Scholarship, authors Penny Hastings and Todd Caven talk about how student-athletes can discover thousands of dollars in athletic scholarship money, get the attention of college coaches, and how the entire recruiting and scholarship process works. Caven, Hastings’s son, earned a scholarship to play soccer at Stanford by using a proactive method to contact coaches and recruiters. He made the first move, not the coaches, and the result was four wonderful years playing soccer in the competitive Pac-10 Conference. He also earned an economics degree in the process.
“While Todd spent hours excitedly pouring through college catalogs and talking with coaches, other talented student-athletes in our area to whom we spoke sat back and waited to get noticed,” says Hastings. “As a result, most were never contacted by a single college coach! These young men and women who could have helped many college sports programs while getting a college education, but went completely unnoticed.” Hastings says it is important to research the school’s academic programs just as thoroughly as its athletic programs—for good reason.
“I give seminars to high school students and their parents, and many are often surprised that, just because a school is classified as Division 1, it might not be as strong academically as a Division 2 or Division 3 school,” Hastings says. “Division 1 is only an athletic level, not a measure of quality of academic programs.” Are you really good enough to play Division 1 sports, or will you be stuck on the bench or practice squad when they could be playing at another school at the Division 2 or 3 level? Hastings says it is important to remember that you don’t have to be a superstar athlete to get a scholarship. And, just because you are the best player in your region doesn’t mean college coaches know about you automatically. “A lot of kids will transfer or come back home after that first year because they didn’t plan the right way, and just looked at the level of competition, not how much they might play, what the academic programs are like, and where the school is located,” says Hastings.
“Take the time to assess every aspect. Otherwise it’s going to be very frustrating for everyone involved.” HOW TO GET AN ATHLETIC SCHOLARSHIP Make a highlight film of your varsity experience. Contact the athletic departments of colleges of interest to you. Participate in national camps, festivals, tournaments and clinics. Inform your high school coaches of your interest in playing at the collegiate level. Meet with athletic recruitment services. Register on Internet sites recommended by your coach for collegiate athletics. Fill out and return the athletic questionnaires sent to you by colleges. Source: 100 Ways To Cut The High Cost of Attending College, by Michael Viollt, Cooper Square Press Reprinted with permission.