Athletic Scholarships

Most families have an unrealistic notion of the money available for athletic scholarships. Few students receive partial athletic scholarships, and even fewer receive full scholarships. College coaches, not the financial aid office, award athletic scholarships, and they use their scholarship money judiciously. Here is how the NCAA describes the source of its scholarships: Athletic scholarships for undergraduate student athletes at Division I and Division II schools are partially funded through the NCAA membership revenue distribution. About $1 billion in athletic scholarships are awarded each year. More than 126,000 student athletes receive either a partial or full athletic scholarship. However, these scholarships are awarded and administered directly by each academic institution, not the NCAA.


Students who do not receive an athletic scholarship but wish to play an intercollegiate sport may be given permission to do so. Such students are known as “walk-ons.” Walking on means the student may try out for a position on the team, and may be eligible to earn a scholarship in the future.

Students considering walking on must keep in mind, however, that in all other respects they are subject to the same rules and requirements as scholarship athletes – they must complete a Clearinghouse form, pay the fee and submit the necessary materials to be certified as eligible.

Letters of Interest

Students ought to have a candid conversation with their coach during the junior year to determine what level of play they can aspire to. Counselors need to talk to coaches to understand how good a student athlete is and whether his or her talent meshes with his or her college goals.

In their sophomore and junior years, students should send letters of interest to colleges they think are a good fit both academically and athletically. Only rarely do college coaches reach out to express interest in a student: Their chief job (and love), after all, is coaching, not recruiting. Make sure even your star athletes know that they cannot wait for colleges to come to them; the process starts with their letters of interest. The letter of interest is, in fact, the most important step in getting recruited.

Students must keep track of their contacts with coaches. A coach will provide information about the college he or she represents. Keeping a written record of every meeting wish a coach will help students remember where they stand with each college.

Topics When Discussing the College Application Process

  1. Make sports only one part of the decision: Some athletes make the possibility of playing sports the primary consideration in their search. It’s important that they envision how they feel about a college if they were injured and couldn’t play, or if they decided for other reasons not to play.
  2. Students should look at colleges where they can be admitted: Make sure students understand that being eligible to play a sport doesn’t necessarily mean that they will be accepted. Ultimately, the admissions decision is made by the admissions committee, not by the college coach.
  3. Recruitment: Students may be unsure whether they are being recruited. If students are unclear where they stand with a college coach, tell them to ask three questions:
    1. Are you recruiting me?
    2. Will you urge the admissions committee to accept me?
    3. Am I likely to be admitted?
  4. Summer Camps: For some sports, summer camps are the best way to be visible to college coaches. In most cases, a student’s coach will work with the students to choose the right camp. Attending a summer sports camp at a college of interest is a very good ideal the coach will see the student play, and the student can check out the feel of the campus.
  5. Review College Sports Rosters: Most colleges have their team rosters on their websites. The roster can be a useful research tool for students. They can compare their athletic stats with those of the teams they are considering; and they can see how many players a team has for each position, what year they are, and even how tall they are.
  6. Athletic Graduation Rate: Students should look at the graduation rate of athletes at the colleges they plan to attend. They will see a wide range – at some colleges the graduation rate for athletes is well below that of other students, but at some colleges, athletes graduate in higher numbers than non-athletes. A lower graduation rate may indicate that the college accepts student athletes whose academic abilities aren’t up to par with the rest of the student body, or that the life of the athlete on that campus is not conducive to successful participation in academic pursuits.
  7. Number of Athletes on Campus: While, in general, the large universities have the highest percentage of athletes, at some small colleges the percentage of athletes is large – 30 to 40 percent. Students should consider whether they want to attend a school where the sheer number of athletes flavors the campus, or a college where athletes are in the minority.
  8. Rapport with the College Coach: For many college athletes, their coach will be the person they spend the most time with during their four years on campus. Students should feel a rapport with the coaches at the colleges which they are applying.

The College Application Process for Athletes

Registering with the NCAA: Students who want to play NCAA Division I or II sports need to register with the NCAA Elibility Center (, or 877-262-1492. They may register online or by paper. Students should register after they complete their junior year – after a transcript with six semesters of work is available. They will be instructed to ask their school counselor to release their transcript to the Center. When the student graduates from high school, the school needs to send a final transcript, confirming high school graduation.

The Athlete’s Resume: Students interested in playing college sports need to prepare a sports resume, which has three parts: basic information about the student, sports statistics and academic record. Students should keep track of athletic statistics starting in ninth grade, and they should prepare up-to-date resumes by the end of their junior year.

The Videotape: Many students will need to submit a tape of their athletic participation. For most sports, the tape should portray the athlete in a competitive contest, and also contain footage showing skills. Remind students to accompany the tape with a statistics summary. Although the video is a helpful part of the application, it does not replace a listing of the student’s statistics or the coach’s recommendation.

Spring Sports Athletes: Students playing spring sports face a complex process if they hope to participate in NCAA Division I or II events. Division I and II coaches can’t contact students until July 1st before their senior year. Therefore, spring sports participants must reach out to college coaches early enough in their junior year to ensure that the coaches can watch them play during the spring of their junior year. In addition, the signing date for some spring sports is November. So students must make college plans early because they may need to commit to a college in November of their senior year. Spring sports athletes should seriously consider participating in a sports camp the summer between junior and senior year – the peak recruiting time for their sports.

Early Decision: Many athletes will be urged by the colleges recruiting them to consider applying for Early Decision. College coaches want to secure their athletes as soon as possible. The Ivy League schools in particular use the Early Decision tool to bring on good players who may be offered athletic scholarships by other colleges. As always, students who apply for Early Decision should be aware that they must attend the college if admitted and that they won’t be able to compare financial aid awards from multiple colleges.

Coded Applications: A student may be given an application by the college athletic department with a code indicating to the admissions office that the department has a keen interest in the student (the code may be the coach’s initials, a red A or another identifier). Students given such an application must be sure to file that form, not an uncoded version of the application.

Postgraduate Year: Some student athletes delay college entrance by a year. A 13th year or postgraduate program in high school can allow them to mature mentally, bring grades and test scores up to speed, and gain desirable weight and strength. Institutions offering postgraduate school are private; students considering this option should ask college coaches which schools they recommend.

Students wishing to play NCAA Division I sports need to amass their 16 core courses in the first eight semesters after a student enters ninth grade. Grades from a postgraduate year do not count toward the core course GPA for Division I.

Transfer: Students may transfer from a two-year and four-year college to an NCAA college. These students must meet certain requirements before being eligible for practice, competition, or financial aid at that college. The NCAA Transfer Guide may be downloaded from the website

Scouting and Recruiting Services: There are numerous scouting and recruiting services that offer to “package” students for maximum appeal to colleges. The NCAA does not sanction or endorse any of these firms.