Updated: Nov 27, 2021
If you landed an athletic scholarship, congratulations! According to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA®), only about 2 percent of high school athletes are awarded a scholarship to compete in college.
Not all athletic scholarships cover the full cost of attendance—in fact, most are partial—but they can still be a meaningful contributor to your college education, allowing you to pursue your athletic and academic dreams at the same time. Here’s what you can expect from the experience.
Regardless of your athletic abilities—and even if you have a verbal offer from a coach—you still need to fill out college applications. So pay attention to things like test dates and deadlines! In addition to admissions applications, college-bound athletes hoping to play Division I or Division II sports need to register with the NCAA Eligibility Center. This process certifies that you meet certain athletic and academic standards.
If you win an athletic scholarship you should be set until you graduate, right? Not quite. While Division I schools can award athletes with multiyear scholarships, most are renewed annually and are at the discretion of the coaches. Injuries, rule- or law-breaking, and poor academics can all lead to a scholarship not being renewed. If a student athlete's aid will be reduced or not renewed, the school must notify the student in writing by July 1st prior to the academic year and provide an opportunity to appeal.
Student athletes will have to balance their schoolwork with athletics training and games as well as things like reviewing film, treating injuries, and attending team meetings. For Division I athletes, this can add up to as much as 9 hours in a day! Keeping a balanced schedule means organizing your time and not filling your calendar with conflicting items, such as a part-time job or a late-night party the night before a game. You can still balance school, sports, and a social life, but expect to make sacrifices too as you prioritize academics and athletics and of course, your sleep and overall well-being.
The NCAA requires Division I student athletes to complete at least six hours of credits each term and have 40 percent of their degree completed by the end of their second year. They must also maintain a minimum GPA as set by the school’s graduation requirements. Division II athletes must maintain at least a 2.0 GPA.
At many schools, if these athletic scholarship requirements are not met, a player will be ineligible to play until they are. Failure to meet the academic expectations for the entire year can result in removal from the team and being placed on university academic probation or even disqualification in extreme circumstances.
Many universities offer free tutoring and academic help for all students, so talk with your coach, professor or academic adviser as soon as you begin to struggle. It is important not to wait too long to ask for help since it can be harder to bounce back from a failing grade.
If you are able to snag a highly coveted athletic scholarship but still don't have enough money to cover the bill, there are other options. Make sure to fill out the Free Application For Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) each year to see if you qualify for scholarships, grants and federal student loans. And don't forget to keep searching for other types of scholarships you are eligible for since that is money you don't have to pay back. You can also consider federal or private student loans to help pay for school costs.
While only a small percentage of student athletes win funding, an even smaller percentage go on to play for professional teams. Even so, athletic scholarships are a great opportunity to use your talent to help pay for your academic dreams.
Being a student-athlete will require you to balance a full academic and sports schedule, but the experience can be worth the added commitment you have to make. The degree you earn on your athletic scholarship will be beneficial to your future career, even if you hang up your jersey for good after graduation.
FAFSA® is a registered trademark of the US Department of Education and is not affiliated with Discover® Student Loans.
NCAA® is a trademark of the National Collegiate Athletic Association and is not affiliated with Discover Student Loans.