The Scoop on Being a College Scholar Athlete

Robin Scholz/The News-Gazette
Taylor Edwards(12) during the Illinois Baseball/Softball media day at the Irwin Indoor Facility on UI campus in Champaign on Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2016.

When most people think of the NCAA, they think of only college sports. However, the NCAA is not focused solely on sports. It’s a nonprofit with the number one principle of student-athletes as students first. Because of this founding principle, the reality of athletic scholarships is very different than the many current misconceptions.

Misconception #1: Colleges offer a large number of full-ride scholarships

The truth is that athletic scholarships are pretty rare. Only one to two percent of undergraduate students who are enrolled in bachelor degree programs earn athletic scholarships. Of this small percentage, not all of these scholarships pay for 100 percent of the student’s tuition.

Misconception #2: Every student with an athletic scholarship receives a full-ride

Students aiming for a scholarship to pay for college may assume that an athletic scholarship pays for all the tuition and possibly the room and board. However, the harsh reality is that only students in a “head count” sport receive scholarships with one hundred percent tuition, room and board and other fees. These sports for men are only football and basketball for Division I NCAA schools. For female students, the sports in this category are basketball, volleyball, tennis and gymnastics. For any other sport, scholarships can be attained by students, but they are only for a partial amount. These teams have to divide the scholarships among the players. However, there’s no limitation on how the scholarship is divided; teams do not have to divide the money evenly or to a certain number.

Misconception #3: Only football, basketball and baseball players can receive scholarships.

Students assuming that there is no possibility of a scholarship for golf, water polo, or even rowing should pay attention here. Partial scholarships are available for these other sports as well. What does this mean for student-athletes? Students should really weigh their options for partial scholarships against other available offers for financial aid that may pay for more of their tuition. They shouldn’t accept a school’s offer just because it is an athletic scholarship because long term they may be spending more than expected on tuition, room and board and other expenses. There may be a chance that the scholarship is only covering ten percent of total expenses, whereas financial aid or other opportunities may offer more affordable options that will not leave students in excessive debt after graduation.

Misconception #4: Students have to play at the Division I level to receive a scholarship.

Skilled athletes should take a closer look at Division II schools and even junior colleges or other offers. If a Division I school wants to give a student a scholarship that only covers ten percent of the expenses, but a Division II school will offer fifty percent of those expenses, the latter option is the best. The truth is that a very small percentage of Division I players go on to play professionally, so if the end goal is to play professionally or not, this factor should be included in that decision. Picking a Division II school with a better scholarship is a wise decision financially. Students looking at Division III schools though must only consider financial aid options, since these school do not offer athletic scholarships to students.

Misconception #5: Grades are not important to athletic scholarships.

Remember the founding principle of the NCAA? The nonprofit organization values student-athletes as students first, which means grades are much more important than the athletic component. Most colleges have stipulations included in a scholarship, so students need to pay attention to what they are signing. Ignoring these guidelines and dropping below a particular grade point average or class schedule could mean losing an important scholarship.

The reality of athletic scholarships in college is that they are limited and sometimes don’t cover 100 percent of tuition, room and board and other student-related expenses. Division I and II schools give approximately 2.9 billion dollars in athletic scholarships every year to only about 150 student-athletes. This means that only about 2 percent of high school students receive these scholarships each year. With the number of students attending colleges continuing to grow each year, this information is essential to high school student-athletes who are considering their options for college. Athletic scholarships are not the only opportunity to support students financially with their education. Financial aid or even education related scholarships are other avenues to consider. While a small percentage of students will receive a full-ride athletic scholarship, the number of scholarships and money available is limited.

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