The most competitive and well known athletic awards are the NCAA scholarships. Unfortunately, only a small percentage of high school athletes are talented enough to participate at such a level. The good news is there are other national athletic organizations that provide scholarships such as the NAIA and NJCAA. If you are willing to compete at a smaller college or university, your chances of receiving an athletic scholarship to pay for your school are greater. Having good academic progress in high school, a passion for your game and connecting with college coaches will put you in the best position to get all or part of your college paid for. This article will give you the run down on athletic scholarships and give tips on earning one.
The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA), and the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) all offer athletic scholarships to their student-athletes. Each has their own eligibility rules and regulations for competing, which include firm academic criteria that must be met. NAIA and NJCAA scholarships many times go under-advertised and are just not as well known because the schools that participate are the smaller colleges. Some have the impression that a smaller school is not as good as a big well known school, and because of that, they might miss out on a free ride.
The NCAA is the largest collegiate athletic association with over 1,000 participating schools in the U.S. Within the NCAA there are three divisions: division I, division II, and division III. Usually the divisions are determined by the schools size and the size of their athletic program. Both divisions I and II schools offer athletic scholarships, but Division III schools do not. The NCAA division I and II athletics are known for being extremely competitive and attract the best talent.
The NAIA schools include about 300 college institutions throughout the United States and Canada. Within the NAIA there are three divisions: Division I, Division II, and Division III. The NAIA generally sponsors athletes who’s playing abilities fall outside the scope of the NCAA. The colleges tend to be smaller and only include about a dozen different sports. Many NAIA Division I and II schools offer athletic scholarships.
The NJCAA represents two year colleges and they offer athletic scholarships, called grant in aid. Scholarships are offered at the participating Division I and II levels in most competitive men’s and women’s sports. Many Junior Colleges throughout the country are extremely competitive and prepare student-athletes to transfer to four year schools. Some exceptional athletes that did not meet the academic criteria to earn a NCAA scholarship go to Junior Colleges first to improve their grades, and then transfer to NCAA schools for their remaining two years.
Full Scholarships and Partial Scholarships
Athletic scholarships fall into one of two categories: full scholarships or partial scholarships. Typically the big money maker sports like football and basketball offer their players full scholarships, while other sports like baseball, softball, and golf offer partial scholarships. Full scholarships usually include tuition, books, transportation, room and board, and other expenses, whereas partial scholarships cover a portion of these expenses. So for example, one athlete might receive a full scholarship that covers 100% of their college expenses and another athlete might receive a partial scholarship that covers 60% of their expenses.
The Super Star Myth
You don’t have to be a super star like Michael Jordan to earn an athletic scholarship. Since the likelihood of playing at a huge division I NCAA School is slim to none, it makes more since to direct your attention to the other opportunities that exist. Even if you don’t excel at one of the major sports like basketball, football or baseball, there are still many other sports that offer scholarships like lacrosse, badminton, rowing, archery and volleyball. There are even scholarships available for emerging sports like bowling and rodeo. This is not to say that you don’t have to shine at your sport, but by no means do you have to be the best in the country. You just have to stand out to one of the many coaches that are looking to give away a free education to good athletes.
Tips on Earning an Athletic Scholarship
As promised here are some tips on how to help you get that athletic scholarship you have always dreamed of.
- Start Early: Begin thinking about your college athletic plans your sophomore year in high school.
- Get Good Grades: In order to earn a scholarship you have to meet the GPA requirements or you won’t be eligible. Also, college coaches don’t want to take a chance on someone who is on the boarder academically because they don’t need too. There are great athletes everywhere and they are going to choose the one with the better grades.
- Play On A Summer Team: If you’re an athlete, then you know playing your sport during the off season is one of the most important things you can do. There are various summer leagues throughout the country that host tournaments for the sole purpose of getting you exposure to college recruits.
- Talk With Your High School Coach: Your high school coach can help you by contacting college coaches on your behalf and sending them your playing films. There are rules that college coaches must follow in regards to when they are able to have contact with you and when they are not able.
- Apply To The Colleges of Interest: College coaches will take more of an interest in you once you have applied to their school. That way they know you have a serious interest in their school.
- Know The Rules: Each association (NCAA, NAIA, NJCAA) has different rules and regulations for obtaining a scholarship. You should know what the rules are which includes knowing what GPA they require.
- Show Your Passion: You don’t have to be the best at your sport, but if you are passionate and work hard you will be a coach’s dream.
Additional Athletic Scholarship Resources
For some additional information on athletic scholarships and grants, check out these links:
- Breakthrough Basketball Blog: This blog has some great tips on how to get a basketball scholarship and gives information on summer basketball.
- Sports Scholarships: Provides important information on each sport that offers scholarships.
- Fin Aid: A guide to scholarships and financial aid for student athletes.
- College Scholarships: Gives information about grant programs that are available to athletes.
Published or updated May 29, 2011.