Athletic scholarships are among the most competitive scholarships there are. Typically they’re reserved for talented athletes, or at least that is what everyone is lead to believe. But did you know that there are many athletic scholarships offered for students who are willing to play for small colleges? When it comes to earning an athletic scholarship, the key isn’t necessary talent but passion. A winning athlete isn’t always the most talented, but they must be the most passionate about their game. If you’re an effective player with passion for your sport, there’s a high likelihood that you’ll be able to find a college and a scholarship that meets your expectations.
With over 1,200 college athletic programs nationwide and 35,000 college coaches, the recruiting process today is very different and much more competitive than it used to be. Unless you’re the most talented athlete in your field, you’ll need to be very proactive in your search for coaches, athletic programs and atheltic scholarships that meet your criteria. The majority of athletes who are successful in their scholarship search start visiting colleges and getting in contact with coaches years before they graduate high school.
The first step to successfully landing an athletic scholarship is to put together a plan. Do you know when the recruiting process starts for your sport? Do you know how many scholarships are awarded? Do you know how many applicants there are each year? Do you know how good you must be to qualify for an athletic scholarship in your field?
National Athletic Organizations: NCAA, NAIA, NJCAA
While there are several college athletic organizations, the three main national athletic organizations are the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA), and the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA). These organizations provide eligibility rules and strick bylaws for college level competition in a number of sports.
All three of these organizations include colleges that offer a number of athletic scholarships. NCAA scholarships are by far the most well-known, popular and competitive but there are literally thousands of other athletic awards and scholarships offered at NAIA and NJCAA schools that not as well publicized.
NCAA Scholarships and Awards
With over 1,200 member colleges, the NCAA is the largest, and most popular, collegiate athletic organization in the United States. College level athletic programs are classified as division I, II, and III. NCAA scholarships are extended to athletes for division I and II schools only. Athletes playing for division III schools are not eligible for NCAA awards. If you’re interested in a NCAA scholarship you’ll want to check out the NCAA Elegibility Basics and get registered via the NCAA Eligibility Center web application.
Top athletic talent is usually recruited by division I and II schools, yet positions are still extremely competitive. While division III schools cannot offer NCAA scholarships, their athletic programs are still very competitive.
NCAA offers a few other scholarships that are related to athletics but are not based on athletic ability. These include the Freedom Forum NCAA Sports Journalistm Scholarship program, designed for students interested in pursuing a career in sports journalism, and the NCAA Ethnic Minority and Women’s Enhancement Postgraduate Scholarship program, intended for graduate students interested in a career in sports administration, coaching or a related career field.
NAIA Scholarships and Awards
In contrast to the NCAA, which represents over 1000 colleges and universities, the NAIA represents around 300. The NAIA sponsors schools with division I, II and III athletic programs. The programs that NAIA sponsors are typically outside the scope of NCAA division I programs and the NAIA focus a lot more on the academic record of students as well as their athletic ability. Only NAIA division I and II programs are eligible to offer athletic scholarships.
NJCAA Scholarships and Awards
The National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) represents two-year community and junior colleges throughout the United States. NJCAA schools can offer athletic scholarships, referred to as “grant-in-aid”, via division I and II sports programs. NJCAA represents a limited number of athletic programs for men and women. NJCAA scholarship eligible sports for men include basketball, baseball, golf, outdoor track and field, cross country, tennis and soccer. NJCAA scholarship eligible sports for women include basketball, softball, soccer, tennis, track and field, and volleyball. Athletes who are not ready to attend a four-year college should serious consider a two-year athletic program. Community college athletics is very competitive and can prepare you to qualify for an athletic program at a four-year college or university.
Categories of Scholarships
There are essentially two categories of scholarships: full scholarships and partial scholarships. As their names suggest, full scholarships are more comprehensive than partial scholarships. Full athletic scholarships typically cover tutition, books, transporation, room and board, and other expenses. Partial scholarships cover only some expenses, typically half of college tuition. Each individual college determines how many full or partial scholarships they’ll offer in a given academic year.
Division III Scholarships. There Is Such A Thing.
We know. We just got done telling you that the NCAA, NAIA and NJCAA do not allow division III schools to offer students athletic scholarships. We’ll tt’s true, but not exactly. Division III schools can’t officially offer “athletic scholarships” but they can offer really attractive academic scholarships to athletes that have good academic records. In fact, this how many division III schools attract athletic talent. Before you write off getting an athletic scholarship and before you right off attending a division III school, do your research. Contact all the division III colleges you’re interested in attending and learn more about their athletic programs, their admissions process and scholarship opportunities. Division III schools take their athletic programs very serious.
Paid Recruiting Services Aren’t What You Think
As you get involved in the recruiting process, you’re sure to come across recruiting services that will claim to have the ability to promote you and your athletic talent to all the big schools more effectively than you can promote yourself. While some of these recruiting services are legit, many are just in the business of taking your money. If you plan on using a recruiting service make sure you thoroughly research the company. Talk to people in the industry and find out which recruiters are reputable and which aren’t. Get referrals from others and ask for references from any recruiter you’re considering to use.
The reality is that if you’ve got the athletic talent, ability, and passion a school is looking for, you shouldn’t have to hire anyone to campaign for you.