Athletic Scholarships: An Overview

If you are involved in sports, you might consider athletic scholarships as a way to help cover the cost of your education.

Scholarships Available for Many Sports

Edgar Johnson is director of athletics at the University of Delaware. He says that his college offers a choice of 23 different sports. All have some level of athletic scholarships available. That means that no matter what sport you are currently involved in, there are likely scholarships available.

Jonathan Clough is associate athletic director at Santa Clara University. "At my institution we offer scholarships in basketball, baseball, soccer, softball, volleyball, golf, tennis, cross-country/track and water polo," says Clough.

Scholarships are open to men and women in sports where both sexes participate.

According to federal law, there must be an equal number of scholarships for both men and women in those sports. Clough says, "Scholarships for women are increasing every year, and it is easier for a female student to get scholarships than a male student."

Athletic Requirements

So, how do you know if you are a good enough athlete?

Marc Samonisky is head coach of men's soccer at the University of Delaware. "I am looking for immediate help. [An athlete] must show me an understanding of the game, a hunger to be part of the team and an urgency to get on the field," he explains. But the athlete "must be successful in the classroom," he adds.

A high school athlete should at least be a starter on their team in order to be considered.

Getting Started

How do you get there from high school sports? According to Johnson, it is best to have your high school coach call, write or e-mail the coach for your sport at the colleges you are most interested in attending.

Also, have your coach send a videotape of one of your games. Do not send a highlight tape. They do not impress coaches; they want to see actual games. Or the college coach may attend one or more of your games.

Your part is to talk to the coach of the college team you are interested in and find out what they expect.

Common Myths

Be aware that "the common misperception is that [if] you played in high school, you can play in college at any level. Not in Division 1," Clough says. The University of Delaware, where he works, is a National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division 1 school.

Another common mistake is to think that an athletic scholarship and a spot on an NCAA college team will be a ticket to the pros. Johnson says that "less than 1.5 percent of college football players in Division 1 colleges make it to the draft. And less than half of that make it in the pros."

Academic Requirements

On the academic side of things, both Johnson and Clough agree that there are no requirements that you study, or major in, any particular subject. As long as you follow NCAA eligibility guidelines, and maintain grades acceptable to the institution you are attending, you can study whatever you want.

Johnson points out that many coaches follow the policy that if "you don't go to class, you don't play."

You do need good grades and standardized test scores to get admitted. "For our institution, good grades are necessary," Clough says. Johnson also says that high grade levels are needed for the University of Delaware programs.

Check out the NCAA website to find out what high school classes you need to qualify.

Do Your Homework

How do you go about getting an athletic scholarship? Research carefully. The best, and safest, way is to do the work yourself. Start at your high school by talking to your coach and your guidance counselor.

Johnson advises, "Be careful, do your homework." Speak to students who are already attending those colleges.

He strongly recommends that "you choose a school that feels comfortable to you. It's more than academics and athletics; there is also the social aspect to consider."

You may be tempted to pay someone else to find a scholarship for you. Both Johnson and Clough advise against this practice.

When you hire someone else to find a scholarship, you and your parents lose control over the process. Then you can't be sure you are getting the college that is the best fit for you.

Someone hired to get a scholarship won't worry about which college is the best for you. You will get only what they find and you may not be happy at that college.

Also, you may end up paying hundreds of dollars to someone to find a scholarship and end up with nothing. There are scholarship scam artists out there.

Beware of Scams

According to the Federal Trade Commission, tens of thousands of high school students are the victims of scholarship scams every year. Here are ways to avoid them:

  • Contact colleges directly; don't pay someone else to do it for you.
  • Ignore offers you did not request.
  • Avoid offers that contain a lot of promises or a guarantee of getting a scholarship.
  • If it says the offer is exclusive to you, or for a limited time, avoid it like the plague.
  • Claims of saving you money are false. Scholarships are free.
  • If they offer to do all the work for you, say "no thanks."

The U.S. Department of Education website provides information on federal student aid programs and important warnings about scholarship scams. If you're interested in scholarships, be sure to check it out. Don't be a victim; do your own homework.


National Collegiate Athletic Association

U.S. Department of Education

Federal Student Aid Information Center


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