The Truth About Athletic Scholarships

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By Jennifer Stephan

Any parent who has a child who plays sports has certainly heard other parents on the sidelines of games/meets/matches etc… talk about athletic scholarships.  Who has gotten one, who will get one (even if the child is very young) and how to get one (again, even if the child is very young) are all common themes.  And much of what is overheard is wrong.

No, so-and-so who is headed to Dartmouth to play (insert sport here) did NOT get an athletic scholarship.  How do I know this?  Because Dartmouth, although it competes in Division 1 sports, is part of the Ivy League, and Ivy League schools do not award athletic scholarships.   (Ivy League schools also do not offer merit or academic scholarships, either.  So, any financial aid package that so-and-so received upon admission to Dartmouth was necessarily need-based.)

No, so-and-so who is headed to Williams (or any other D3 school) to play (insert sport here) did NOT get an athletic scholarship.  Division 3 colleges do not award athletic scholarships either.  Again, any financial aid package was based on other factors (need or merit, if the school offers merit aid).

And in all likelihood, no, so-and-so who is headed to (insert D1 or D2 institution here) to play (insert sport here) is NOT “set” for his four years because he got an athletic scholarship.  Athletic scholarships are always for one year, renewed each year, and are not guaranteed.

Also in all likelihood, so-and-so who really did get an athletic scholarship did not get much money.  Contrary to what most people think, full scholarships are only available for a handful of sports.  The full scholarship sports – called “head count scholarships” – are Football (D1 men only), Basketball (DI men and women), Tennis (DI women only), Gymnastics (DI women only) and Volleyball (DI women only) [source].  The remaining sports have scholarships at the discretion of the coach, who can decide how much to offer each athlete s/he recruits.

Jennifer Stephan headshot - Magellan College CounselingI spend a lot of time on the sidelines of athletic fields.  I’d like to show this site  and this site to every parent I overhear talking about their child’s playing a sport in college.  These sites break down the numbers of players, teams and money available but it can all be summed up by saying that even most of the players who make it through to play at top D1 programs in their sport are not getting full-ride scholarships, and most are getting far less money than you would expect.

My advice?  If your child loves playing a sport, support him to do so. Embrace all of the positive aspects of athletics. But forget chasing an athletic scholarship.  Even if the child stays healthy (does not get injured) and continues wanting to play the sport (does not get burned out and/or develop other interests), the odds are long for him to play in college, let alone get an athletic scholarship.  Have him play the sport only to the extent that it doesn’t interfere with his building the strongest academic record that he can – and to be balanced, healthy and maintain other interests.  There are far more academic merit scholarships available than there are athletic scholarships.

Jennifer Stephan writes with the experience of having advised student athletes at Wellesley College, having helped recruited athletes through the college application process, and as a parent of a recruited athlete.

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