Winning College Scholarships Without Being an Athletic SuperStar

I think everybody assumes that winning a college athletic scholarship is extremely difficult. And that’s certainly the case if you expect your kid to earn a full-ride scholarship from a Division I or Division II school.

But there are other ways to shrink the cost of college even if your child isn’t a superstar athlete.

My daughter Caitlin is a prime example. When she was younger, Caitlin was a so-so soccer player, but eventually her speed (she was on the varsity track team in high school), her height (5’10”) and her aggression (she didn’t mind knocking other girls over) turned her into a very good (not great) player by the time she was in high school.

To our surprise we ultimately discovered that Division III liberal arts schools were very interested in her. But the key, from my perspective, was that Caitlin let schools know that she existed.

So many teenagers assume that they have to wait to be discovered by a coach who attends a tournament or through word-of-mouth. I don’t think that happens nearly as much as families assume.

So what did Caitlin do?

She made sure that before our visits that she contacted the soccer coach at each respective school and sent him/her a packet that included her soccer resume (she Googled for examples), a couple of endorsements from past club coaches and a short video. She also arranged an interview with the coach of each school before the campus visit.

Now you might think that she needed a slick video to show coaches, but that’s so not true. For weeks my husband had used our video camera to try to record Caitlin scoring goals for footage for this video. You can’t appreciate how hard this can be until you’ve tried to record a soccer game in 105 degree heat, nearly hurricane-gale winds (really) and other crummy conditions.

One time my husband Bruce was so excited about Caitlin streaking to the goal that he raised up the camera to see better and, of course, he missed the shot. The day he forgot his camera she scored five times. It was unbelievably frustrating.

Despite all the botched video — that resulted in just one goal recorded — Caitlin patched the film together into an entertaining video that she put together on her iMac. She also narrated the video and ended the tape by holding up an impressive clutch of tournament medals that she kept in her room.

The video was only 8 minutes long, but it was a big hit with coaches who saw enough to be interested.

Division III schools don’t give athletic scholarships, but they are free to hand out scholarships to athletes as long as they aren’t called “athletic.” I’m not suggesting that Caitlin was offered five scholarships from Division III schools because of her athletic ability, she is also a smart girl. Her soccer playing, however, made her an even more attractive candidate.

As a freshman at Juniata College in Pennsylvania, Caitlin was the top scorer at her school and she is on track to score even more goals this year.

Bottom line: As a student athlete, you can slash the cost of college without ever receiving an official athletic scholarship. And frankly, at a smaller school you’ll probably have more fun playing the sport you love.

If you’re interested in playing athletics in college read my two previous posts about college sports, including one on the specific odds of getting a athletic scholarship, as well as a web site call

Lynn O’Shaughnessy is the author of The College Solution.

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