Athletic Scholarships Facts, Myths, and Tips

Athletic Scholarships. I mean what high school athlete wouldn’t want one? A chance to be awarded for your talents while getting a full-ride to college sounds like a dream come true.

Now for your parents out there, your child has athletic ability. You want to harness that ability and potential parlay that into a scholarship for college. Is it possible? Sure. Is it super competitive and hard to get? You better believe it!

Athletic Scholarships: The Facts

Per the NCAA Division I and II schools provide more than $2.9 billion (yes billion) in athletic scholarships annually to more than 150,000 student-athletics. Division III schools do not offer athletic scholarships. The site also goes on to say that only 2% of high school athletes are awarded these scholarships to complete in college.

So my daughter swims. I am her biggest advocate and as a parent I want to let it be known that she is the best and I’d be lying to you that I didn’t have this grandiose thought or picture of her getting an Athletic Scholarship. However, we have to be real and under its competitive nature.

Where are the Sports Scholarships Coming From?

Athletic Scholarships are agreements between the college and student athlete. They normally are one-year agreements (even though some are multi-year). Let’s look at the number awarded from the NCAA Divisions I, II, and III.

NCAA Division I

Number of Scholarships: 74,243

Number of Athletes: 139,063

Number of Schools: 348

NCAA Division II

Number of Scholarships: 36,343

Number of Athletes: 85,383

Number of Schools: 292

NCAA Division III

Number of Scholarships: 0

Number of Athletes: 144,062

Number of Schools: 418

Ivy League Schools

Ivy League schools do not offer athletic scholarships only scholarships that are need-based financially. The coaches (recruiters) will/may get involved in an effort to obtain these financial aid need rewards. They do not have scholarship money to hand out however, they are able to meet the majority of the cost of tuition for families. If the annual income is less a $65,000, families do not make any contributions to the student/athlete’s education. Families with a household income between $65,000-$180,000 could be expected to make a contribution between 10-18 percent. What this means at the end of the day is that you shouldn’t rule out the Ivy League schools if you are a parent or a student/athlete.

Myths and Misconceptions about College Sports Scholarships

Okay so let’s look at some myths and misconceptions about College Sports Scholarships taken from US News. You ready?

Myth 1: Everyone on an athletic scholarship gets a full ride

The Truth: Only some sports offer “full-ride scholarships” In the NCAA it’s basically football for Division I-A and basketball for Division I for men. For Women it’s basketball, volleyball, tennis and gymnastics that offer full-rides.

Myth 2: Scholarships are only available for football, basketball, and baseball

The Truth: Well based on what I previously said that is not true. There are partial scholarships available for everything from golf to water polo to rowing.

Myth 3: You have to be able to play at the Division I level

The Truth: Talented athletes can look to Division II for scholarship offers. I remember going to high school with some people who received football scholarships for Division II schools. I remember Hofstra and Brown specifically being some of them.

Myth 4: You don’t need good grades for a college scholarship

The Truth: Students sign a letter of intent to play at a school. Obviously there will be stipulations such as a minimum GPA and good conduct. Please make sure you are aware of what you committing to before you sign.

Sports with the Best Odds for Athletic Scholarships

Some sports are going to be easier than others to obtain a scholarship. Although I feel they are all going to be super competitive some have better odds for both men and women. Let’s take a look and see the Top 5 for each.

Athletic Scholarships Odds for Men


Number of High School Athletes: 1,995

Scholarships Available: 101

Ratio high school athletes: college scholarships: 20:1


Number of High School Athletes: 2,189

Scholarships Available: 99

Ratio high school athletes: college scholarships: 22:1

Ice Hockey

Number of High School Athletes: 35,393

Scholarships Available: 981

Ratio high school athletes: college scholarships: 36:1


Number of High School Athletes: 1,122,024

Scholarships Available: 25,918

Ratio high school athletes: college scholarships: 43:1


Number of High School Athletes: 152,647

Scholarships Available: 2,998

Ratio high school athletes: college scholarships: 51:1

Athletic Scholarships Odds for Women


Number of High School Athletes: 4,242

Scholarships Available: 2,080

Ratio high school athletes: college scholarships: 2:1


Number of High School Athletes: 1,306

Scholarships Available: 390

Ratio high school athletes: college scholarships: 3:1


Number of High School Athletes: 322

Scholarships Available: 36

Ratio high school athletes: college scholarships: 9:1


Number of High School Athletes: 1,774

Scholarships Available: 134

Ratio high school athletes: college scholarships: 13:1

Ice Hockey

Number of High School Athletes: 9,150

Scholarships Available: 612

Ratio high school athletes: college scholarships: 15:1

How Does One Get An Actual Athletic Scholarship?

Princeton Review breaks this down into some good and actionable steps

  1. Start with understanding what Division level best matches you and your skills then research those college. So get serious about your college list.
  2. Gather all the information you need – It states here to create an Athletic Resume where you highlight your skills, stats, and of course ACT and/or SAT scores. Put the numbers and e-mails together of the head coaches, assistance coaches, recruiting coordinators. To note: make sure your social media is clean…..they will look!!!
  3. Start communication with college coaches – Start networking!!! Include your newly created athletic resume. Even a video would impress some. After you send it out, then follow up in a few weeks with a call to the coach to express interest. Keep a record of the ones that you have contacted and the ones that have reached out to you.
  4. Manage your college recruiting process – So after you reach out and develop relationships with coaches keep checking your eligibility by visiting the NCAA Eligibility Center. Attend camps and combines, go on campus visits, and keep in communication the people you network with at the colleges. It’s something that’s important to be on top of and to constantly be in the faces of the ones that have the ability to make that all important decision.
  5. As you get offers evaluate them – Make sound and wise decisions. If you are fortunate enough and blessed with a gift then make sure you think about sports and the academic side of things. In the end, make the best decision for you and your family.

In the End

This is a commitment as I’m sure everyone knows. A colleague of mine would always make reference to their situation prior to college. They were a swimmer and received a full ride scholarship. Into their first year, they realized how all-consuming it was then it wasn’t that appealing anymore. It wasn’t fun and it wasn’t enjoyable. This is something that most student athletes deal with. It’s important to strike a balance and know yourself so you do not get burnt out.  

At my daughter’s school the parents have to attend a yearly session about how really be a rational and sane parent while your child is active playing competitive sports. The intent was to tell us not to be crazy and let the coaches be the coaches and I get that. The athletic director stated that his daughter received a great volleyball scholarship and she is now entering her sophomore year and he received a call saying she wants come home…As financially heartbroken as he was in the end he wanted what is best for his daughter.

Competition is fierce and if you play a more common sport it’s going to be difficult. As you see the lesser known sports have a nice opportunity. However, there comes the question as to if your child is actually talented in that area. At the end of the day, if your child loves the sport they are playing then it’s best to let it play out naturally. The less pressure the child faces, the more sustainable they may be after the receiving of the scholarship.

Tuition Drop Podcast

Check out our episode of the Tuition Drop Podcast where we discuss Athletic Scholarships.

Tuition Drop Podcast – Athletic Scholarships
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