Overall, only about half of the student athletes who compete at Division I or Division II schools get scholarships. Division I schools have the most money to award but are the most competitive. Division II schools generally have a smaller pool of money for scholarships, and Division III schools (along with Division I schools in the Ivy League like Harvard and Brown University) award aid based only on financial need. Smaller schools that are members of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics also award scholarships, but often have limited budgets. You can search for schools that field teams in your sport and look up the division at the NCAA's website. (Under "academics and athletes," click on "education and research," then "school-administered athletics scholarships.")
Assuming you're not the next Michael Jordan, how do you get a coach's attention? Begin contacting coaches in your sophomore or junior year, letting them know about your interest in their program. Follow up with a résumé that sums up your athletic accomplishments, or even a video if you have some great clips of yourself in action. Make an appointment to meet the coach during your campus tour, and keep him or her updated on your senior year accomplishments. Attending summer camps run by college coaches is another good way to get noticed. Be sure to register for NCAA eligibility (www.ncaaclearinghouse.net) and pay careful attention to the recruiting rules. You wouldn't want to lose your eligibility for unknowingly breaking a rule.
As with academic scholarships, if you receive an athletic scholarship and also qualify for need-based financial aid, you won't get both. Your scholarship will likely replace any loans or work-study in your aid package, and then it might also reduce or replace the amount of any need-based grant.
From the federal government
Students from families with modest household incomes (typically less than $35,000) may be awarded a federal Pell grant of up to $4,050 for each year of undergraduate study. This money, which is awarded based on the information the family provides on the FAFSA, does not have to be repaid. Because need depends on family size, the number of family members in school, and income, a large family with a higher income might qualify, for instance. The key is the EFC, which can be no higher than $3,850 for the year.
Exceptionally needy studentstypically, they can't afford any family contribution at allmay qualify for a Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG) in addition to a Pell grant. The amount ranges from $100 to $4,000 a year, depending on need and on the funding available at the school. FSEOG grants are an example of "campus-based" federal aid, which means that colleges apply each year to the Department of Education for funding and the financial aid office determines how much each student receives.
From the states
The 50 states give out nearly $7 billion annually in financial aid, the majority of it to students with financial need. In most states, you apply by filing the FAFSA, but some states have supplemental forms or require a separate application. College financial aid officers can provide guidance on the requirements of a particular state.