The Odds of Getting a Sports Scholarship: Part II

Since there is so much interest in sports scholarships, I decided to devote another college blog post to the subject. If you missed yesterday’s post, here it is:

The Odds of Getting an Athletic Scholarship

I’ve met many parents who ask about particular sports and the odds of winning an athletic scholarship. I’m afraid a lot of families think that there are overlooked sports where pots of gold are hiding.

Sorry folks, that’s not the case.

Why Full-Rides Are Scarce

Yesterday I mentioned that the odds of a high school athlete getting a sports scholarships is 2%, but the odds are far worse on getting a full-ride.  Here’s the explanation for why that is which I pulled from the athletic chapter in my new edition of The College Solution:

And Then There’s the Equivalency Sports

All the other sports, including soccer, baseball, lacrosse, golf, swimming and every other one not among the six head-count sports are classified as equivalency sports. The NCAA dictates the maximum number of scholarships allowed per sport, but full-ride aren’t required. Coaches in the equivalency sports can divide up their scholarships to attract as many promising athletes as they can. Slicing and dicing scholarships often leads to some pretty dinky awards. Smaller awards, by the way, than you would routinely get for merit scholarships!

The New York Times ran a story back in 2008 that tracked the number of scholarships offered nationwide in each sport along with the number of sliced-and-diced scholarships. I couldn’t obtain a more current list from the NCAA and I assume that the numbers are still in the ball park. Here’s a couple of examples that I pulled from the research:

More than 600,000 girls competed in track and field in high school while there were only 4,506 scholarships. These scholarships were split among 9,888 athletes and the average award was $8,105.

More than 330,000 boys played soccer in high school while there were 2,357 soccer scholarships. These soccer scholarships were split among 6,047 students and the average award was $8,533.

These are dreadful odds.

Women’s Rowing

The only sport that I’ve found where there is almost as many participants as there are scholarships is women’s rowing. I attribute that to the fact that not many high schools have rowing teams. About 2,360 girls rowed on high school teams and there were 958 rowing scholarships divided among 2,295 athletes. The average rowing scholarship was $9,723. Actually, this even might be misleading because many teenagers out here in San Diego, at least, only row at private clubs so the number of high school rowers could be artificially low.

The New York Times article had a chart that listed the number of scholarships and the average amount by sport. Here is the article:

Expectations Lose to Reality of Sports Scholarships

In the article’s side bar, you can find a list of the NCAA sports by their average scholarship amount.

Bottom Line:

It’s best if families assume that an athletic scholarship isn’t going to happen. Instead students should focus on being the best students they can and, if they do, they will increase their chances of earning academic merit award where the odds of receiving one are far higher and the awards are far greater.

Lynn O’Shaughnessy is the author of The College Solution: A Guide for Everyone Looking for the Right School at the Right Price.



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  1. Great post Lynn. As the parent of 3 children, I have witnessed so many folks focus on the sports side, and pour untold funds into “camps, “clubs” and “clinics”, all to no avail. I have dedicated a Blog to Athletic Scholarships, to provide parents and their children information on the topic. I went through the process with my oldest son, and he was fortunate enough to receive a high percentage scholarship to Duke.

    Info about my experience here: Info for Parents and Children on Athletic Scholarships

    I will definitely link to this article in the “reality” section. Thanks 😉

  2. My child has played a club sport for many years. It has never interfered with her academics … until now. In order to make it on the high school team, participation on club during high school off-season is necessary due to the competition. With getting out of high school practices after 4pm daily and then trying to make it to club practices 2 to 3 times a week until 9pm, left little time for homework. Then throw in games on weekends, and missing school for away tournaments, not only affected her academically, but also her ability to participate in other activities. We found out that most kids on her teams did not take many, if any, honors nor AP classes, so time for homework wasn’t an issue for them. She talked to and heard stories from older college athletes. She realized for some, their love of the sport was more important than the college they went too. For others, they dropped out of Division 1 sports due to the sport’s commitment over the education and life experiences at college. For those who obtained the “full ride,” that meant paying full fare afterward at that college. Other kids had to switch schools since they determined that they did not like their college well enough to stay without the sport. She loves the sport and is very good; but she has determined that it will be primarily her academics that will get her into a college she wants (maybe with a merit scholarship) and not her sport. This has led her to the decision to drop the sport, for now, in order to have the time for honors and AP classes and other activities. We hear of other kids doing the opposite, taking less academic classes in order to leave more time for sports. I guess it is a personal decision based upon each high school sports’ situation, different academic and college goals for each child.

  3. This is good information. My second child is dreaming of a field hockey scholarship. I keep reminding her that the realistic approach is to take Honors and AP classes, get good grades and *then* play well. Her sport could help her get accepted to a good school.
    She’s already decided that Ivies are out for her since they don’t give athletic scholarships but she has a bit farther to go in understanding the reality of how it all works. But at least I haven’t been drinking to Kool Aid, so I hope we have a shot of her having good options without too much disappointment.

  4. My son plays in one of the worst sports for athletic scholarships-baseball. I can’t tell you how many parents we met who were sure that baseball was a smart investment for college. That lasted usually until they would get what I call the 11.7 reality check. 11.7 is the number of scholarships a d1 school can give for baseball. People initially think that the number is per year but it’s for the entire team. Most teams carry more than 11 pitchers alone.

    There are a lot of people out there willing to take your money telling you it will help your kid make it into college. But very few of them explain the realities of scholarships and the steps necessary to get to recruited. It’s amazing how many parents don’t know that D3 is usually the largest division in terms of teams or players and the schools can’t offer athletic scholarships.

    The smart players are the ones who use their athletic skills to help them get into more competitive colleges or use the structure/discipline demanded by athlethics to help focus their studies. My son really wanted to play baseball but first identified schools that met his academic and financial needs. He ultimately found his school, received a very nice merit scholarship, and is playing in the conference tournament. Unfortunately, Beloit just lost14-0 and is now in the losers bracket.

    1. Hi Michelle,

      It’s astounding to me that high school and club coaches don’t bother to share just how few scholarships there are for student athletes. Is it ignorance or they don’t want families to know about the dreadful odds! I agree that being an athlete can help boost a chances to get into a school, but it’s not going to get most of them athletic money. Frankly, the academic scholarships are more valuable and you don’t have to be an overworked employee of the school to qualify for this cash.

      Lynn O’Shaughnessy

    2. I almost decided on Beloit College, but I chose UW-Whitewater. Where are you from?
      p.s. happy mothers day!

      1. Thanks Daytona. I live in San Diego. Good luck at University of Wisconsin – Whitewater.

        Lynn O’Shaughenessy

  5. Lynn,
    Great stats! Years ago, there was an article in the OC Register which concluded that it was better to put your money into a passbook savings account and use it for college, than to spend it on training, private clubs, and other sports, in hopes to get a scholarship. As you accurately pointed out, there are too few (an low $$ amount) scholarships for students who go to college, and spend 4 years of servitude in exchange for a few bucks, when they could just as well get merit scholarships and enjoy intramural sports.

    But, as a parent of 3 boys, how they love sports! So, we had to be diligent in spending in the early years while still letting them have fun. Also, participation in sports creates competition skills that will eventually emerge in college and business. And they don’t end up unhealthy, couch potatoes!

    1. Dave – Thanks for sharing. I love that passbook savings example.

      By the way, I have nothing against college athletics. My daughter played on the varsity soccer team at her school as a starter beginning her freshman year, but we would never have sought an athletic scholarship. Not when merit money was readily available.

      Lynn O’Shaughnessy

      1. I didn’t think you did. I remember you mentioning it awhile ago. I’m glad she did. That’s a great way to start college with built-in friendships, even if one doesn’t go all 4 years in sports.

        One thing most students should consider is that Merit goes a long way with athletics at D-2 schools, and admission, too! Think of all the lower division schools that have “upper division” education programs. Such as Chicago, Georgetown, Cal-Tech, and others which parents would die to have their students attend.

        They can find the same within the top 100-200 universities. Good grades and athletic skills open a lot of doors for admission to many schools. Do you think they have merit money in lieu of athletics money, in a D-3 school like UChicago?