Hoping for a Sports Scholarship? How Likely Are You to Score a Free Ride to College?
March 28, 2014

Are you working hard to balance football and academics hoping to get a full ride to college on an athletic scholarship? If not football, are you pounding the hardwoods playing hoops, brandishing netted sticks on the lacrosse field or keeping your softball glove oiled and in shape? If so, are you sacrificing your academics in any way in pursuit of your sport or missing out on being well-rounded with other clubs and activities? Millions of students each year vie for athletic scholarships, but how many will actually be offered a scholarship and, of those, how many will get a free ride?

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We have some advice if you’re aiming for a sports scholarship to pay for college.

Some parents begin the sports push early, shuttling their kids to tee ball and pee-wee football, keeping stats on performance and tons of Gatorade on-hand. And while there’s little dispute that athletics are great for kids, the benefits of sports don’t necessarily include cheap or free college for the vast majority of student athletes. According to CBS News, the odds of getting an NCAA sports scholarship are staggeringly low at just 2%.

And depending on the sport you play, even if you get a scholarship offer, it may not be a full ride. Comprehensive scholarships are only offered for football, basketball, volleyball, tennis and women’s gymnastics. All the other sports that are commonly played in high school such as track, lacrosse, soccer swimming or golf will result in a small scholarship, if any at all – but most likely none at all. So should you give up on your athletic endeavors altogether? Of course not.

But if you’re a parent and this is your college financial plan, you should think twice, set up a 529 account right away and start setting money aside. If you are one of the lucky 2% to get any money at all, the New York Times polled NCAA research and found these statistics:

Men vs Women – Men get 57% of scholarship funds

Best Money – Ice hockey (for either sex) offered the highest dollar scholarship amounts

Worst Money – Men’s riflery, men’s baseball and women’s bowling offered the least amounts

Myles Brand, former President of the NCAA, told the NY Times, “The youth sports culture is overly aggressive, and while the opportunity for an athletic scholarship is not trivial, it’s easy for the opportunity to be overexaggerated by parents and advisers. That can skew behavior and, based on the numbers, lead to unrealistic expectations.”

And if you do get an athletic scholarship, even a paltry one, you can expect to spend a huge chunk of your time working out, practicing and playing. This can greatly reduce your academic performance in school and since the odds of going on to play pro after college are easily smaller than the chance of getting a scholarship to play to start with, the smart money is on your academics, both in high school and college.

Certainly enjoy your athletic experience in high school, but don’t neglect your academics. Your odds of getting an academic scholarship are much greater and will build the habits you need to succeed in college and life.

If you don’t get the scholarships you were hoping for – academic or athletic – you’ll likely need to turn to student loans. This is the case for the vast majority of borrowers and that’s okay so long as you borrow wisely, understand your debt and repay as promised. To help keep on track of your debt, sign up for Tuition.io’s free student loan tool so you always know what you owe.