Athletes, Grades and Scholarships

As summer club sports season transitions to fall high school sports season, so too does the talk turn to athletic scholarships. Here’s a little known fact: Other than football and basketball, many– perhaps more– student athletes attend college on academic scholarships rather than athletic ones. So even the most successful athletes should make school their focus.

Here’s the deal: Most college sports teams have a limit to the number of athletic scholarships they can offer. These limits are established by the NCAA, NAIA or NJCAA. They are always lower than the number of roster spots on the team. For example, baseball gets 11.7 scholarships. Soccer gets 9.9, 9 or 12, depending on division (1, 2 or NAIA). NCAA Division 3 schools do not offer athletic scholarships at all. (Most sports programs are “equivalency” programs where the scholarship dollars available to the team equal the number of scholarships times the cost of the college; that budget can be divided among the whole team. For example, a soccer team with 9 scholarships and a roster of 18 could offer all 18 players a 50% scholarship instead of full scholarships going to 9 players and nothing to the rest of the team.)

However, there is no NCAA-imposed limit on the number of academic scholarships a school can offer. So frequently schools will target academic scholarships at student athletes as part of their recruiting efforts. This is especially common at D3 schools where no athletic scholarships are available. Being a good student in addition to a good athlete, therefore, increases the pool of scholarship dollars available to the student athlete because generally you still need to meet the academic criteria for that scholarship.

Then, of course, there’s also the Ivy League’s Academic Index for student athletes, but that’s a topic of its own.

Here is a list of how many athletic scholarships schools can offer, by sport.

Potentially more interesting is this list, which compares average athletic scholarships to average financial aid offers at different schools. When you factor out the big football and basketball programs, you find that the average general financial aid package is more substantial than the average athletic scholarship at most schools. Which means that if you’re debating between paying for club volleyball or an SAT prep class, you’re probably better off with the SAT prep.

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