This is part one of a mini-series called “Scholarships and College Funding for the Student-Athlete.” It will give information on the resources and steps for attaining college athletic scholarships from the perspective of a young athlete, a collegiate coach, and a professional athletic advisor.

So…you’re an athlete (or your child is). Congratulations, Sporty Spice!

Parents, you only have a few more years until someone might pay you back for all the time, travel, and money you’ve invested in your little slugger. Unfortunately, we can’t all be Lebron James and skip college for the pros.

But what does playing at the collegiate level even look like? What are the chances your child can compete at the collegiate level? And how do you balance the other ways to pay for college—loans, merit-based scholarships, savings tools—at the same time? We’ll help you answer those questions right here in this blog series.

Background of Athletic Scholarships

The NCAA, along with its member colleges and universities, gives almost $3.5 billion to student-athletes every year. And that’s just the NCAA! Here’s what you need to know about athletic scholarships and how to potentially take a slice of that sweet green pie.

There are 3 main collegiate athletic administrations that govern over 40 different sports between men and women:

  • NCAA: 1,101 member schools in 3 divisions – DI, DII, and DIII (Division III does NOT award scholarships); 180,000+ scholarship athletes; $3.5 billion in awarded scholarships each year.
  • NAIA: 251 member schools in 2 divisions – DI and DII; 77,000+ scholarship athletes; $800 million in awarded scholarships each year.
  • NJCAA: 300 member schools in 3 divisions – DI, DII, and DIII (Division III does NOT award scholarships); 60,000+ athletes; $141 million in awarded scholarships each year.

Overall, there are around 1,650 schools that would be willing to give you an athletic scholarship and those schools could award around $4.1 billion to over 437,000 athletes–not a bad sample size of options that, on average, could award each athlete over $6,600 in scholarships (although, as we will explain in our next post, varies heavily between sports/divisions/gender)!

Finding the Right Fit


At The College Funding Coach we emphasize finding the college that is the “best fit” for your child, then educate you on how to pay for it, or get someone to pay it for you. Sometimes our client’s college search is driven by athletics. Other times it’s focused on a course of study or degree. Your goal for your young Mia Hamm is to combine those pursuits, along with affordability, to narrow down your search and select the best college for your child.

The good news: Not only do we have knowledgeable college funding specialists, but we also have an awesome college planning software that helps you quickly determine where your child may get financial aid and which colleges are affordable based on your family’s resources.

If you’re curious as to the likelihood of your child competing in college, there are almost 8 million high school athletes that compete in the “core” NCAA sports (yes, Water Polo counts!). Of that amount, around 480,000 went on to compete collegiately, which is a 6% success rate competing at the next level.

(This is where you hear the voice saying, “There are over 360,000 NCAA student-athletes and just about all of us will be going pro in something other than sports.”)

Where to Start

You’re thinking, “OK. This all sounds great. But where do we START?”.

We had the privilege of picking the brain of Nancy Whitley, an experienced college guidance counselor at Prince of Peace Christian Schools in Texas and approved Highlands Personality Battery consultant, to get some ideas on how her athletes take the first step towards collegiate athletics. Nancy has helped athletes get scholarships in sports ranging from Division II Basketball to DI Soccer to Ivy League Skiing.

“If you have any future desire to compete at the collegiate level, you should fill out a free or ‘undecided’ profile on the NCAA Eligibility Center (formerly ‘Clearinghouse’) to start the process,” she suggests, “and by the time you are a sophomore, you’ll be able to fill out the rest [for a fee of $90] to start updating your sports stats and academic information. Then coaches are able to find you.”

[Additionally, we suggest registering and creating a profile on the NAIA Eligibility Center (fee of $80) to expand the number of schools that can find you.]

Nancy adds, “The stronger your academics are, you can put that on file as soon as possible (PSAT can be taken in 8th and 9th grades). But only when it’s good! Then by the end of your 11th grade year you’ll need a high school transcript that includes your GPA.”

Important Questions You Should Ask Yourself

But does being an athlete improve your acceptance to college? “Yes. If you are good enough,” Nancy says.

To help in the filtering process she has her students ask the following questions and make two subsequent lists:

  • What division do I want to play in?
  • Do I go where I can play at the varsity level? Or do I play intramurals?
  • Do I love the coach? (coaches can make or break your athletic experience)
  • Would it be a school I would choose anyway if athletics wasn’t an option?

Now make the following lists:

  • Top colleges I want to attend as an athlete
  • Top colleges I want to attend without competing

As young athletes ask these questions, their list will start to be narrowed to finding that “best fit”– hopefully the one that will maximize academic, athletic, and need-based scholarships.

One of the best things for a prospective college athlete to do in high school is to focus on academics: maintain a good GPA and test well on ACT/SAT exams. This is important not only to admissions departments but also to college coaches.

What We’ll Talk About Next Time

Stay tuned for our next post which will answer questions like:

  • What sport should I play?
  • How do I get recruited? What are coaches looking for?
  • What is the difference between “headcount” and “equivalency” sports?
  • Should I play a club sport?
  • How much can I get offered for my sport?
  • Should I apply for other types of scholarships and aid?

Talk to you soon. Make it a great day!


Cooper Hanning, MBA

Related Reading

Don’t Bank on the Big Time NCAA Baseball Scholarship

How to Qualify for More Financial Aid During COVID-19

What Every College Financial Aid Officer Wants You to Ask

14 Ways to Minimize Student Loans

The FAFSA vs CSS Profile for Divorced Parents

College Planning Alphabet Soup – FAFSA, CSS, EFC, COA



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