Every young athlete dreams of going pro, and one step before that is getting a full ride to a division one school for their sport of choice. It’s a glamorous dream, playing at the highest level available and getting a free education to boot. But there is a lot more to athletic scholarships than just playing well. There are plenty of myths and misconceptions about athletic scholarships that many prospective student-athletes don’t know about.
And furthermore, how do you even get one? How can you ensure that you get noticed by the right people? Who are the right people? Let’s take a look at some things that every student-athlete should know about athletic scholarships and the ways that they can increase their chances of receiving one.
Athletic Scholarships: The Basics
An athletic scholarship, at its most simple, is free tuition in exchange for playing a sport. If you are particularly skilled at a sport, academic institutions will offer either a partial scholarship or full scholarship (also known as a “full ride” scholarships). Upon accepting an athletic scholarship, a student-athlete must enroll for a minimum amount of classes, then maintain an acceptable Grade Point Average (GPA) in order to keep their scholarship.
Should the athlete’s grades dip below a certain level, they can be suspended temporarily from the team until their grades come back up. Or, they might lose the scholarship entirely and must then begin paying tuition or be expelled from the school completely. Those at school on an athletic scholarship must maintain a delicate balance between school and sport or risk losing both.
Furthermore, most academic institutions and sports teams impose strict behavioral standards on their student-athletes. Whereas a “normal” student may receive a relatively light punishment for transgressions against the school or the law, a student-athlete may find their position on the team and scholarship in jeopardy. The life of a student-athlete can be glamorous, but also stressful and precarious.
Things to Know about Athletic Scholarships
Before you go ignoring other scholarships or avenues to higher education, there are many things to consider before betting the farm on a sports scholarship. Even if you are one of the best there is, your decisions should be informed and not made lightly. Even the best can make mistakes if they don’t play their cards right.
The Odds Are Not Great
Even if you are a fantastic player with exceptional grades, you still might not be offered an athletic scholarship. This is not a personal attack; there just are not enough scholarships to go around. There are only about 138,000 athletic scholarships available for Division One and Division Two sports programs.
This seems like a lot of scholarships at first glance, but considering that in football alone in these two divisions over a million male students participate, that number looks quite small. There are all of the other men’s sports and all of the women’s sports that take scholarships as well. It is great to hope and strive for an athletic scholarship, but considering the odds, you should have a backup plan.
Partial Vs. Full Scholarships
The holy grail of the college student-athlete is the full ride scholarship. All expenses paid including tuition, housing, food, supplies and more. You live like a king or queen on campus and don’t have to worry about money, just playing the game.
While it is true that some students may get this treatment, it is extremely rare. Much more likely, a student-athlete will be offered a partial athletic scholarship. This scholarship will pay for a portion of your tuition and maybe some expenses, but probably not. The vast majority of athletic scholarships are partial ones.
College coaches are often given an allotment of money or scholarships that they can give out to bolster their team, so they aren’t spending too much money. Even for rich schools, the NCAA puts restrictions on how many scholarships a school can dole out. That way, no school can dominate by buying up all the best players.
To maximize their allotments, many coaches tend to split these scholarships up to maximize the talent they are getting. Instead of one superstar on a full ride scholarship, they can offer ten partial ones to players who are may not be as good but will improve the team more than one person can.
So don’t expect a full ride, even if you get a lot of attention and buzz. You are much more likely to receive a partial one, if at all. If you wait for an offer of a full ride, you may be waiting a long time, and your offer may never come.
They Aren’t Guaranteed
So let’s say your grades are great and you don’t get into trouble. You should be fine for four years once your scholarship is locked in, right? Not quite. Athletic scholarships come up for review every year. If the coach does not believe you are contributing enough to the team to warrant a scholarship, they have the power to revoke it.
Even if you are a phenomenal athlete, the possibility exists that funding can run out or be allocated elsewhere. In this case, your funding may be taken away or reduced, even if you have a full ride. You can appeal a decision to revoke or reduce your funding regardless of the reason, but it is no guarantee.
The scholarship is not a golden ticket; you must continue to earn it throughout your college career by maintaining grades, behavior and athletic performance. Even then, fate may step in and take it away.
Balancing Out a Partial
If you receive a partial athletic scholarship, you are by no means locked to athletic pursuits or funding. Student-athletes can apply for any other scholarship, private or government, that they qualify for. Getting a partial ride does not usually exclude you from other scholarships. Some private scholarships may preclude you, but federal grants and scholarships are available to any who demonstrate need.
Since you have to get good grades anyway, there is no reason not to pursue academic scholarships in addition to your athletic one. You can “fill in the blanks” and bring your partial scholarship up to a full one with some hard work and persistence.
How To Land an Athletic Scholarship
The odds are low of you getting an athletic scholarship, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do anything to increase your chances. Being exceptional at your chosen sport is just step one. You need to get noticed by the right people at the right time.
Not many people know who you are or what you can do, even if you are a high school star. That is still a very small pond comparatively. You can’t wait to get discovered there; you have to let people know you exist. To do this find out some contact information for the sports departments at the schools you would like to attend.
Send an email to the coach or his department with a personal greeting, information about you, your sports statistics, testimonials from coaches or anything else that might increase your chances of getting noticed. Be persistent but not obnoxious. If you get a hard “no,” you can politely ask why for further research, but don’t become a pest.
Along with your “cold call,” send a youtube link of your video highlights. This way they can see you in action, and you can pique their interest. Words and numbers help, but not as much as hard, empirical evidence of your ability.
Why YouTube? Because the future is now, that’s why. No coach wants to dust off the old DVD player or sift through physical media to get to your tape. You need to capture their attention quickly, and one click should be all that stands before the coach and your greatest athletic moments.
Cast a Wide Net
You likely have a dream school picked out, but just like in sports, you have to adapt to the situation. With so little scholarships to go around, you getting a full ride to your school of choice is a remote possibility despite your talent. Make a list of schools that you would like to play for, one that has more than just the ones you love.
Getting noticed is the goal, and if you are only talking to a few schools, you likely won’t get noticed. Therefore, you should contact as many schools as you can. Who knows, maybe getting noticed by one school will draw the attention of a school you prefer.
Attend Camps and Showcases
Universities and other organizations hold camps and showcases for prospective student-athletes to sign up for and show their stuff. Find out where some are taking place somewhere you can attend, and go to as many as you can.
Going to a camp is no guarantee of getting noticed, however. Usually, college coaches are at these camps to see students they already know about, not new ones. To get noticed, you’ll have to ask around and talk to coaches and their staff.
If you get some contact information, follow up later that day or early the next. Unless you hear a clear and definite “no,” be persistent and continue to follow up. Coaches are looking at a lot of athletes, and it is easy to slip through the cracks.