How to Get Recruited
How to Get Recruited
Athletic Scholarship Facts

Athletic Scholarship Facts

Familiarize yourself with the types of athletic scholarships offered, as well as which schools provide them.

Athletic scholarships are one of the least understood aspects of the recruiting process. Athletic scholarships can be either full-ride or partial scholarships. Keep in mind that only some students-athletes will receive an athletic scholarship. Only 2% of high school athletes are awarded some form of athletics scholarship to compete in college, and all athletic scholarships must be renewed and are not guaranteed year to year. Let’s break down exactly what comes with an athletic scholarship, how to facilitate a conversation about athletic aid, and all the ins and outs surrounding athletic scholarships. 

What are the Different Types of Athletic Scholarships?

There are two different types of athletic scholarships, Headcount and Equivalency. An athlete who receives a scholarship for a “Headcount” sport is given a full-ride scholarship. In contrast, an athlete who gets a scholarship for an “Equivalency” sport may not receive a full ride, but rather a percentage or specific amount. This amount will depend on the program's budget for athletic scholarships and how much the coach wants to give the student-athlete.

Headcount Sport

Headcount scholarships must be “full-ride” or full tuition, which cover the cost of tuition, room and board, and books. The NCAA sets the amount of scholarships available per program. There is no such thing as a “half athletic scholarship” in head count sports. Below is a list of NCAA headcount sports and the amount of individual scholarships each program in the sport is allowed:

What Does This Mean?

If a Men’s Basketball roster consisted of 16 athletes, then at most 13 could be on a “full-ride” scholarship. The remaining 3 athletes could receive financial aid elsewhere, such as need-based or academic merit-based aid, but they cannot receive any athletic aid. If an athlete with one of these 13 scholarships transfers mid-season, his scholarship is not eligible to be redistributed until the following year. 

Put into Perspective 

College coaches are limited by the amount of scholarships they can award. A scholarship in a headcount sport is very powerful, and allocating even one scholarship to an undeserving or underqualified recruit can jeopardize that program’s success. Therefore, coaches in these sports invest a substantial amount of time and effort towards ensuring they bring in the right student-athletes for their program. 

Do not expect to be offered a scholarship in a headcount sport if you have only had one or two conversations with that program’s coaching staff. Coaches reserve scholarships for individuals they have thoroughly vetted and developed a strong relationship with through many conversations.

Equivalency Sport 

In equivalency sports, athletic scholarships are also measured by the total number of scholarships available to each team. However, an individual scholarship can be divided across multiple student-athletes. This “scholarship amount” can be divided however a coach decides, amongst as many athletes as they want. This is long as the total scholarship awarded does not exceed the limit set by the NCAA per sport. Below is a list of NCAA equivalency sports and the amount of scholarships available per sport in each NCAA Division:

What Does This Mean?

Let’s say a Division I Women’s Lacrosse roster consisted of 30 athletes. The coach could choose to distribute the 12 scholarships amongst those 30 athletes however they choose, as long as the total value of scholarships distributed does not exceed 12. Full scholarships could be given to 12 athletes, while the other 18 could receive no scholarship (highly unlikely). Half-scholarships could be awarded to 24 athletes, while the other 6 receive nothing. 

Realistically, equivalency totals are often split such that a small share of rostered athletes are on full scholarships and a much larger share are on low-to-mid size scholarships. Therefore, the remaining student-athletes on these teams do not receive any athletic scholarships, but can find tuition assistance elsewhere.

Put into Perspective 

In equivalency sports, college coaches can be more strategic with the scholarships they award. They can award a large portion of the equivalency to the highly sought-after recruits and a small portion to the less sought-after, but still desired recruits. A full scholarship in an equivalency sport is rare and should never be expected. 

You certainly will see some student-athletes receive a full scholarship. These student-athletes are the most heavily recruited and rank the highest on a school’s list. They are also often reserved for certain positions - a football quarterback, a baseball pitcher, etc.

Note: These are maximums, and some underfunded sports may not be able to offer the maximum number of scholarships. For example, some lacrosse programs only divide up 6 scholarships for a team of 40 out of the 12.6 scholarship maximum. 

Which Schools Offer Athletic Scholarships? 

NCAA Scholarships

NCAA Division I and Division II can give out athletic scholarships. In Division III, there are no athletic scholarships at all. Colleges will replace this athletic aid with financial and merit-based grants. According to the NCAA, 82% of all student-athletes receive some form of academic grant or need-based scholarship.

NAIA Scholarships

The NAIA gives out equivalency athletic scholarships. There are a certain number of scholarships available per sport that can be broken down into smaller scholarships for multiple students. Check out our article NAIA vs. NCAA to learn more about NAIA scholarships. 

Ivy League Scholarships

Ivy League schools do not offer athletic scholarships. However, other forms of scholarships and aid are available at these colleges and universities. The Ivy League schools offer academic scholarships, merit-based scholarships, and other forms of need-based financial aid

How Can You Be Eligible for an Athletic Scholarship?

You will need your NCAA Eligibility Number to be eligible for an NCAA DI or DII scholarship. This number ensures that you are academically eligible and still have your amateur status. 

As you narrow down your Target List of Schools and go on official and unofficial visits, you will start discussing the possibility of athletic scholarships. This conversation will usually come up organically with the coaching staff. If it does not, ask the coach for a financial pre-read. With a financial pre-read, coaches can talk to financial aid to see what you will be expected to pay and what you will receive in financial aid, academic scholarships, or merit-based scholarships. 

Refrain from bringing up scholarships when you first meet a coach. This is something that the coach will eventually bring up to you as they are preparing to give you an offer. 

What Do Athletic Scholarships Cover?

An athletic scholarship could cover your tuition, fees, books, room and board, etc. If you receive a full-ride scholarship, then all of this will be covered. If you receive an equivalency scholarship, it could cover a portion of your cost for college. 

Do You Need a Scholarship to Be Part of the Program? 

You can be part of the roster without being awarded a scholarship. There are usually more spots on the team than scholarships available, as there are scholarship limits. Therefore, only some people on the team will receive an athletic scholarship.

Also, it's important to note that you are not guaranteed a scholarship for all four years if you receive one in your Freshman Year. Your athletic scholarship will be reviewed every year. If you continue to keep up your grades and improve your athletic skills, you will likely continue to receive your athletic scholarship. 

When Are Athletic Scholarships Taken Away?

An athletic scholarship can be taken away for a few reasons.

  • Underperforming 
  • Injury
  • Coaching Change
  • Poor Academic Standing

If you feel like you are at risk of losing your athletic scholarship, it is important to talk to your coaching staff.

What other Aid is Available to Student-Athletes? 

As we have discussed, not every student-athlete will receive an athletic scholarship. In fact, most student-athletes will not receive athletic aid. However, there are various other opportunities for student-athletes to receive financial assistance for college. There are academic scholarships, merit-based scholarships, or even need-based scholarships, depending on your college. You are also able to take out student loans. 

Learn more about scholarships available and how to pay for college beyond athletic scholarships here.


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