Financial Aid Options for Student AthletesFebruary 8, 2023
Many parents dream of their children becoming star athletes and earning full rides to college due to their prowess in sports. But the reality is that athletic scholarships are hard to come by; according to the Next College Student Athlete (NCSA) organization, just 2% of student athletes receive college scholarships.
Even for those lucky students that do qualify for athletic scholarships, they are likely for less than families expect; the majority of athletic scholarships only cover a portion of the total cost of attendance.
Here’s what you should know to help your child get their best chance at college athletic scholarships.
How Athletic Scholarships Work
Talented athletes can sometimes qualify for scholarships in college. However, the majority are partial scholarships. Full-ride scholarships — which cover tuition and school-required fees — are typically limited to revenue-producing sports like football or basketball.
Student athletes are often recruited while in high school, so they enter college with a scholarship. However, a college student can walk on a team, meaning they attend open tryouts, qualify for the team, and qualify for a scholarship later on.
Athletic scholarships are incredibly competitive across every sport, but they’re challenging to get at NCAA D1 or D2 schools.
How to Apply for College Athletic Scholarships
College athletes, even those that are truly exceptional, cannot wait to be found by coaches and offered a scholarship; they have to advocate for themselves. To help your child prepare, follow these steps:
Review Eligibility Requirements
Sit down with your child and have a frank conversation about their educational and athletic goals. Their performance and dedication to the sport can affect what schools are a good fit and their likelihood of earning a scholarship.
To ensure your child meets scholarship eligibility requirements, check the NCAA’s academic requirements:
- Must have a high school diploma or equivalent
- Must complete 16 core courses using pass/fail grades
- Earn a core course GPA of 2.3 or higher
- Receive final verification of amateur status from the NCAA Eligibility Center
Gather Documents and Video
Next, help your child gather the necessary documents and videos of their performance. Your child can create an athletic profile on the NCSA website and share it with coaches and team contacts.
Some paid services will create professional websites and polished videos of your child, but they aren’t a necessary expense for most students. Because of how rare athletic scholarships are and how few are full-ride awards, spending a fortune on athletic reels isn’t a cost-effective option.
Reach Out to Coaches
Encourage your child to reach out to team coaches personally via email. They should stress their enthusiasm for the team and the coach’s methods, emphasize what they would bring to the team, and highlight their achievements. It’s also a good way to share their athletic profile and videos.
As your child receives acceptance letters and financial aid packages, help them compare those offers. While some athletic scholarships may be fairly small, some schools will make up for it with larger academic scholarships that lower the total cost of attendance.
Look for Outside Scholarships
School-issued athletic scholarships are rare, so it’s a good idea to look for external scholarships and grants too. Many private companies and non-profit organizations offer scholarships specifically for college athletes, and you can find opportunities in a wide range of sports. For example:
- Foot Locker Scholar Athletes: Offered by the Foot Locker brand, the Foot Locker Scholar Athletes program awards up to $20,000 in scholarships to eligible students. To qualify, you must demonstrate good sportsmanship and character and have a strong academic record. Students must be graduating high school seniors involved in high school, intramural or community-based sports.
- The United States Hunter Jumper Association (USHJA) Hamel Family Scholarship: For equestrians that compete in hunter/jumper divisions, the Hamel Family Scholarship offers up to $25,000 in scholarships to pay for college, graduate school, or trade programs.
- Philadelphia Flyers Rising Leaders Scholarship: The Philadelphia Flyers, in partnership with the United Negro College Fund (UNCF), created the Rising Leaders Scholarship for students in the Philadelphia region involved in hockey. Qualifying students can receive up to $2,500 to pay for their education.
- First Tee College Scholarship Program: The First Tee Scholarship Program is for teens who golf and are members of First Tee chapters. Eligible students can qualify for renewable scholarships of $5,000 per year to pay for college.
- First Ever Foundation Scholarship: The First Ever Foundation is dedicated to promoting the sport of badminton. It offers its Badminton Scholarship to academically strong students, and qualifying students can receive up to $2,500.
You can find athletic scholarships by searching for opportunities on scholarship databases like The College Board’s Scholarship Search, FastWeb, the NCSA’s athletic scholarship database, or your local athletic association.
Qualifying for Financial Aid as a College Athlete
College athletic scholarships are available, but even if your child qualifies, the scholarship is unlikely to cover the entirety of their education. To pay for the remainder, make sure you and your child complete the Free Application and Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), so you can qualify for federal and state grants and student loans.
If you need additional help paying for school, private student loans from ELFI can cover the gap.* ELFI offers competitive rates on undergraduate loans, graduate loans, and parent student loans, and you can get a rate quote online.