We all have that one friend who is delusional when it comes to their kid’s chances at getting a full-ride athletic scholarship. This type of parent devotes all their family’s free time and resources to having their child compete on multiple teams, including a travel sports team. And of course, they do it all in the name of getting “free college,” even though their family spends thousands of dollars each year on equipment, hotel stays, gas and fast food along the way.
It’s all going to be worth it when their kid gets a full-ride and their anticipated college costs drop to $0, right? Right?!?!
Unfortunately, most parents who live this way are in for a painful reality check. The fact is, most high school athletes don’t go on to play sports in college at all, and an even smaller percentage qualify for full-ride athletic scholarships to pay for school.
Let’s put fantasies about our kids making it “big time” aside for a moment and dive into the facts. The actual data points to some painful truths — chances are good your kid won’t get an athletic scholarship for college, or that it won’t be enough to cover the full costs of higher education if they do.
College Athletic Scholarship Realities
According to NCSA College Recruiting, a non-profit organization that connects student athletes with college coaches, fewer than 2% of high school athletes get an athletic scholarship to help pay for college. That said, athletic scholarships handed out are worth up to $2.7 billion dollars annually, so the money for athletic scholarships definitely exists.
The thing is, most athletic scholarships are not full-rides, and many times scholarship money is handed out evenly to multiple college athletes in order to recruit as many high-quality students as possible.
NCSA College Recruiting says that, based on their figures, only 1% of college athletes get a full-ride to play sports in college. They also point out that full-rides are typically reserved for revenue sports (D1 basketball and D1-A football for men, D1 basketball, tennis, volleyball and gymnastics for women). Everyone else who gets a scholarship should only plan on having part of their college tuition and fees paid for, and they and their families will have to come up with the rest.
And, what about athletes that don’t qualify for the highest division of competition (Division 1)? Certified Educational Planner Laurie Kopp Weingarten of One-Stop College Counseling says she frequently speaks with parents who believe their 8th or 9th grader is going to be recruited in the next few years, even if it’s “only for D3,” and that the scholarship money will follow.
The thing is, parents need to be aware that Division 3 athletes don’t get athletic scholarships. Also, D3 does not mean a kid has average athletic ability, so your kid can be really good at their sport and still not qualify to compete at a higher level.
“Most D3 players are talented athletes,” said Weingarten.
Other Athletic Scholarship Issues
It’s also worth noting that many full-ride college scholarships are only one-year agreements, and that anything can happen within or after that first year. In addition to that, financial advisor and Certified College Financial Consultant Danny Cieniewicz of Hyperion Financial points out that athletic scholarships are contingent on a student being able to play the sport all through school.
“An injury or poor athletic performance can lead to a scholarship being pulled for the fortunate few who receive a scholarship in the first place,” said Cieniewicz. “With injuries being common, and sometimes pressure to perform while dealing with other factors of being a college student, athletic scholarships are not guaranteed while the student is in school.”
Cieniewicz adds that many families will invest their potential college money upfront into club sport fees, travel and other expenses without saving for funding shortfalls (in the case of a partial athletic scholarship) or the kid being unable to complete the four full years.
Any of these can “lead to a surprise that is unexpected,” he says.
College consultant Marc-André Alexandre of H&C Education adds that athletic scholarships don’t always cover all the costs associated with being a student-athlete anyway.
For example, tuition and room and board can be covered by the scholarship but this is not always a guarantee. Even so, Alexandre points out that there are “other costs such as school materials and personal expenses for food, clothing, and experiences that need to be considered which are not covered by athletic scholarships.”
This means parents who don’t set any money aside may have to make up for the rest while their kid is in college, or that the athlete may be forced to take out student loans to fill the funding gap.
This isn’t the end of the world, but families need to be realistic about how much scholarship money they will get (if any), how long it will last, and having some back-up plans. Because, as we all know, it’s much more difficult to cover the costs of higher education when you don’t take the time to prepare.
The Bottom Line
At the end of the day, betting the farm on your kid getting an athletic scholarship is probably a bad idea — especially when this type of aid has not been offered yet. And even then, you have to realize athletic scholarship money may not be enough to cover the full costs of higher education, and that your kid may wind up injured or unable to participate in their chosen sport for all four years required to earn a bachelor’s degree.
With that in mind, Alexandre recommends putting some money aside to help pay for your child’s post-secondary education and doing some research to find other types of aid, including scholarships and grants. Finally, manage your expectations, and be willing to look at different schools and athletic programs to find the right financial fit.
“Exploring the various options and building out a list of colleges with their pros and cons can help set a clearer picture of what is possible and manageable,” he said.
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