7 Things You Need to Know About Sports Scholarships

A guide for parents who hope their child can win a athletic scholarship.

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Do you secretly hope that your child will some day win a full-ride athletic scholarship?

Many parents do, including my sister, who believes that her 9-year-old daughter enjoys an excellent shot at a soccer scholarship in 2021. What would prompt my sister, Jane, who is sane in other respects, to think her daughter, Kate, has a chance at an athletic scholarship?

Kate, a third grader, was recently picked to be on a top club soccer team in her San Francisco area neighborhood. Yep, that's all the evidence that my sister has to go on.

There's so much disinformation about athletics scholarships circulating in this country that I decided this week to share seven things that teenagers and parents, including my misinformed sister, need to know about sports scholarships.

1. The odds are remote.

There are roughly 138,000 athletic scholarships available for Division I and Division II sports.

That might sound like a lot, but it isn't. For instance, more than 1 million boys play high school football, but there are only about 19,500 football scholarships. Nearly 603,000 girls compete in track and field in high school, but they're competing for around 4,500 scholarships.

2. The money isn't that great.

The average athletic scholarship is about $10,400. Only four sports offer full rides to all athletes who receive scholarships: football, men's and women's basketball, and women's volleyball. If you exclude football and men's basketball, the average scholarship drops to around $8,700.

3. Most scholarships are sliced and diced.  

The NCAA dictates how many athletic scholarships each sport can offer in Division I and Division II. To squeeze out the maximum benefit, coaches routinely split up these awards. For instance, a Division I soccer coach is allowed up to 10 scholarships, but he or she can dole out this money into tinier scholarships to lure more athletes to their campuses. This practice can lead to some awfully dinky scholarships.

4. Don't wait to be discovered.

Unless your child is a superstar, college coaches probably won't know he or she exists. Teenagers should send an E-mail to introduce themselves to coaches at schools that they think they'd like to attend. They should include such info as their positions, sport statistics, and coach contacts.

5. Use YouTube.

To attract the attention of coaches, jocks should compile seven or eight minutes of their best stuff in an action video and then post it on YouTube. Send the coaches that link. Rather than CDs that tend to pile up on desks, coaches prefer seeing YouTube videos of athletes.

6. Scholarships aren't guaranteed.

If your teen receives a sports scholarship, don't assume that it's going to be for four years. Athletic scholarships must be renewed each year and that's at the coach's discretion. The pressure to maintain athletic scholarships can distract stressed students from what should be their main goal—earning a college degree.

7. The best places for money can be in Division III.

The best way for many athletes to win a scholarship is to apply to colleges that don't award athletic scholarships. Yes, that's right.

Division III schools, which are typically smaller private colleges, routinely give merit awards for academics and other student accomplishments. The average merit grant that private colleges are awarding routinely slashes the tuition tab by more than 50 percent.

Here's the bottom line: Students and parents, including my sister, should be realistic about a child's scholarship chances. For most athletes, academic scholarships from the colleges themselves are going to represent the preferable way to shrink the cost of college.