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Athletic Scholarships 101

Beth Feinberg Keenan

Written by Beth Feinberg Keenanon January 25th, 2022

I started my career at Lesley University and spent over a decade at Northeastern University’s Office for Student Financial Services, where I was a senior assistant director. At Northeastern, I worked with applicants for financial aid, athletes, and families interested in financing their educations. In addition, I have served as an ambassador with the Massachusetts Education Finance Authority, visiting Massachusetts high schools to introduce students and parents to the financial aid process and the many sources of education financing that are available. I'm a graduate of Scripps College in Claremont CA, and I have an MBA and a master’s degree in college student development and counseling from Northeastern University. I serve as an ambassador with the Massachusetts Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators.
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Many families dream of their student playing a sport in college; even better, receiving a scholarship to play that sport. But with these dreams come many questions. What are the academic requirements to be admitted to college? Recruited athletes must meet the NCAA or NAIA academic eligibility requirements to play a sport. Unfortunately, this alone may not be enough to actually gain acceptance to a college, because each school also has its own set of admission requirements. Just because a student meets the college’s basic eligibility criteria does not mean that they will be offered an athletic scholarship. If a student has a strong academic record, they could be offered other merit (academic) scholarships from the college. Is my student a strong athlete? Families must be realistic about their student’s athletic talent. This ability may be hard to assess early on in high school. By the time your student is a junior, you should have a good idea of the possibility of a school wanting to recruit your student. Have a conversation with your student’s current coach and get an honest opinion on which colleges might be good athletic fits for your student. Athletic fit is just one of the fit features that families should consider. As a parent you may be equally concerned about the financial fit of the school. It is important that all of the schools on your student’s college list reflect your family’s financial priorities in this process. How are athletic scholarships determined? Coaches have a limited amount of money to spend on recruits and not all applicants are going to be offered scholarships. Coaches like to see students demonstrate interest in joining their teams, but every school has different strategies for how they award athletic scholarships. Some colleges only offer money to the top recruits. Others may offer scholarships primarily to upperclassmen, rewarding students who have been part of the team for a few years. Some coaches desire a large roster of talent so they offer smaller scholarships amounts to a larger number of people. Athletic aid is only one source of funding students may be eligible for and coaches will consider other available resources in conjunction with how they distribute their athletic aid. Are there full-ride athletic scholarships? There are full-ride scholarships, but these are typically awarded to athletes who play sports that generate revenue for the college, such as men’s football and basketball and women’s basketball, volleyball, tennis, and gymnastics. Families who are hopeful that this will be the reality for their student should remember that full-ride scholarships are offered to less than 5% of all recruited athletes. If your student is not getting the amount of scholarship you had hoped for, consider having them look at institutions in a lower division, where they may be considered a stronger recruit and get additional athletic funding (understanding Division 3 colleges offer no athletic scholarships).    What does the scholarship cover? If your student is one of the lucky ducks to receive a full-ride scholarship this covers all of their costs: tuition, fees, room, board and required books and supplies. Most students don’t fall into this category and earn a scholarship that only covers a portion of the bill. Are athletic scholarships renewable? Coaches can award multi-year scholarships to recruited athletes, but this is not typical. Most student athletes find that scholarships are awarded on an annual basis and that coaches may not renew scholarships for team members who are injured or underperforming athletically or academically. Athletes are required to stay in good academic standing to maintain their scholarship and eligibility to play.  Many families would love to see their students offered an athletic scholarship. I encourage students not to put all their eggs in one basket, but instead use the college list to their advantage. By considering a well-rounded list of schools and applying for need-based financial aid, students may receive other forms of free money based on merit or financial need that will help make paying for college a little easier.

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