Athletes and Grades

I meet with families who tell me, “Susie is a D1/D2 softball prospect so we’re really only worried about her siblings.” I get quizzical looks when I ask, “How are Susie’s grades?” Before you commit your summer to ID camps, you need to understand how athletic scholarships work.

For scholarship purposes, college sports fall into two categories: “headcount” and “equivalency.” Headcount sports are typically the big-money sports: D1 football, men’s and women’s basketball, women’s gymnastics and volleyball, and a few others. In these sports, there is a set number of scholarships per team, and every scholarship athlete will receive a full ride– though not all athletes on the roster will be scholarship athletes.

The majority of college sports are equivalency sports, meaning that the team has the equivalent of a set number of scholarships they can offer. The coach or school can divvy up that pool however they like, but they cannot exceed the number set by the NCAA. For example, a D1 men’s college soccer team may have a roster of around 25 players, but they are limited to 9.9 scholarships for the entire team. Assuming a couple of players get a full ride, the coaches need to be pretty creative to recruit a team when they’re dividing 6 scholarships among 23 players. Here is a table showing D1 scholarships by sport.

That’s where academics come into play. Coaches can recommend players for other scholarships the school offers, which is usually a win-win: the player with strong academic credentials gets a potentially bigger scholarship (with the fringe benefits of an academic scholarship), while the coach retains the athletic scholarship budget to target other players.

So, the student athlete who keeps the “student” piece in focus is likely to have far more options for continuing to play in college– and better scholarship offers– than the one who prioritizes sport over academics. Only about 2% of high school athletes will receive athletic scholarships for college, according to the NCAA. You can increase your odds of continuing to play by ensuring that your academic credentials are what your desired schools are looking for, too.

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