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Sports Scholarships | Athletic Scholarship Guide

Are you a tennis/soccer/track/football player? Here’s what to do for money

Sports Scholarships | Athletic Scholarship Guide

Athletic Scholarship Guide

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 an athletic scholarship 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 I athletics, earning sports 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.

Consider all of your financial aid options

“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 III 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 sports scholarships to play football at Notre Dame, women’s basketball at Tennessee or baseball at Miami (Florida). 

“While many students take the athletic scholarship, 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 I or Division II 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 III fail to realize that Division III athletics is still very competitive and played at a high level. Division III is not junior varsity.” Understanding the differences between Division I, Division II and Division III sports, and the types of sports scholarships available are what student-athletes, parents and guidance counselors need to understand during the decision making process.

A full ride is not guaranteed

Keep these points in mind: An athletic scholarship doesn’t always include the coveted full-ride, even at Division I 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 I, although it is more common in Division II, where athletic budgets aren’t supplemented by the dollars that big-time Division I football and basketball programs bring in. An athletic scholarship will never happen if you, a prospective student-athlete, do not meet the school’s academic requirements. 

Check with the NCAA and the college

That’s why it is important to start the process early, and check with the NCAA ( 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 I and II schools do offer sports scholarships, Division III schools do not. They 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.

Which Division is best for you?

Many Division III athletes could play Division II and sometimes Division I athletics, but instead attend a Division III 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.

When it comes time to decide what Division you want to play ask yourself: are you really good enough to play Division I sports? Or will you be stuck on the bench or practice squad when they could be playing at another school at the Division II or III level? Hastings says it is important to remember that you don’t have to be a superstar athlete to get sports scholarships. And, just because you are the best player in your region doesn’t mean college coaches know about you automatically.

Be proactive in the recruiting 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 I, it might not be as strong academically as a Division II or Division III school,” Hastings says. “Division I is only an athletic level, not a measure of quality of academic programs.” 

“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.


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