Can This Student Win an Athletic Scholarhip?


I wanted to share an email from a dad who is interested in his son getting an athletic scholarship.

Goucher College in Maryland is looking for my son to play soccer, but it is expensive. Here is my question: How should I approach the college about an athletic scholarship?

The Scoop on Athletic Scholarships

There is no need to approach Goucher College or any other Division III about athletic scholarships. Division III schools, which are primarily private colleges and universities, do not give out athletic scholarships.  That, however, should not be a deal breaker.

These  schools routinely offer merit scholarships to their students and/or need-based financial aid. Being an athlete can make a student more attractive to a Division III school. These schools care deeply about their teams and are eager to attract good players.

What many parents don’t understand is that in the vast majority of cases, merit scholarships are bigger than athletic scholarships. If your child earns a merit scholarship he enjoys a financial advantage because whether or not he plays soccer, basketball, lacrosse or any other sport, he will still keep his merit scholarship (some schools have a requirement that a scholarship recipient must maintain a certain GPA such as a 3.0).

In contrast, if your son gets an athletic scholarship from a Division I or II school, he could lose it if the coach no longer finds him valuable footballto the team. There are no four-year sports scholarships.

Merit vs. Athletic Scholarships

The average merit scholarship (non-need based aid) at Goucher College is $13,867, which is bigger than the average NCCA athletic scholarship of $11,000. You can check these merit aid statistics yourself by looking at an institution’s profile on the College Board. Most parents should not just focus on merit aid because the more expensive the school is, the more likely the student would qualify for need-based aid.

What families also don’t realize is how difficult it is to secure any kind of athletic scholarship whether it’s football, basketball, swimming, lacrosse or all the other sports. Roughly 2% of high school athletes capture an athletic scholarship.

And what about the odds for a soccer scholarships?

It’s grim. According to the most recent figures that I can find, about 330,000 boys compete in high school soccer, but there were  just 2,357 soccer scholarships available. These scholarships were split among 6,047 students. The average award was just $8,533.

Bottom Line:

Families often end up shopping for athletic scholarships rather than for schools that represent a good academic fit.

If you are a gifted athlete or the parent of one, I’d recommend that you first identify schools that would be a match academically and then inquire about the sports. Getting a college education is infinitely more important than playing a sports. And remember, the money you receive for academic accomplishments is usually more than a sports scholarship.



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  1. Great points. It is often difficult for the high school athlete to accept that they should look first for a good fit academically before a fit on a college sports program. I had friend who insisted on going to a private division III school because they wanted him to walk on to the basketball team. However, the school didn’t even offer the academic program that he wanted to major in (engineering) but he was set on playing basketball in college. Unfortunately, he graduated with a lot of debt and a degree that he didn’t end up using in his field. He had a great time playing college basketball but now regrets his choice.

  2. This is very true. My child was offered a merit scholarship to swim at a DIII school which was much higher than the merit + athletic scholarship offered at a DI school. Our out of pocket is much lower at the DIII even though the tuition+ at the DI is $10k lower than the DIII.

    Unless your kid has the grades, the merit scholarship offers are not going to come from the schools higher in the rankings and popularity. Both of the colleges in the above example are not well-known and none of the higher ranked schools made any offers at all to my kid, who is a varsity state and sectional qualifier.