Finding Alternative Scholarships for Student Athletes


Going to college on an athletic scholarship is a dream for many high school athletes, particularly if it means studying in and playing for their preferred school. However, statistics show that student athletes often find it difficult to receive full scholarships on athletic merits alone. Fortunately, alternative scholarships exist that allow students to receive their education while nurturing their athletic talents.

To learn more, check out the infographic below created by Ohio University’s Online Masters in Coaching program.

Statistics on Student Athletes

College athletic scholarships are a necessity for many student athletes. Majority of students and their families simply do not have the financial capacity to pay for a college education, considering that about 86% of athletes in college live below the poverty line. The average athlete playing for the NCAA pays around $3,000 in school-related costs every year. Any compensation they receive is usually given as cost-of-living stipends (ranging from $2,000 – $5,000 per year), hardship funds for emergencies and travel, and athletic scholarships. If the student’s family earns $35,000 a year, they can only contribute around $2,600 to cover for college costs annually. Compare this amount to annual college expenses that can easily top $20,000.

What Student Athletes Can Expect About Athletic Scholarships

A student athlete is not exactly guaranteed to receive a college education on an athletic scholarship. Even the numbers are not exactly encouraging. For example, an estimated 8 million students participate in athletics during high school. Of these, only around 500,000 will play at NCAA schools. From here, students hope to get a shot to compete in the major leagues but only a small percentage of college athletes will make the transition from NCAA to become professional athletes.

The NCAA Divisions

Colleges and universities are classified under one of three divisions in the NCAA or National Collegiate Athletics Association in the U.S. Of the three divisions, Division I or D-I is considered the highest intercollegiate athletics label under the NCAA. It includes 346 colleges and universities with 176,00 student athletes. Around 56% receive financial aid.

Division II or D-II, is represented by 307 colleges and universities. It has 118,000 student athletes, with 61% receiving athletics aid. By far the largest of the divisions is Division III or D-III, which includes 439 colleges and universities. This division has 187,000 student athletes, 82% of whom receive academic grants.

Typically, D-III schools are composed of smaller universities and private schools. As expected, the admissions requirements and academic levels expected from students are different from those required by D-I and D-II schools. Many of the most popular D-III schools are located in the Midwestern, Southern and Northeastern states.

Playing in the NCAA

Among high school seniors who play NCAA level basketball, only 3.3% are male and around 3.7% are female. Of these athletes, about 130,000 will be awarded either partial or full athletic scholarships. In 2008, an estimated 1 million young men played football in American high schools, and yet, around 28,000 of them were given a sports scholarship to pursue higher education in either a Division I or a Division II college.

A Look at the Figures

Many student athletes hope to receive a sports scholarship to get them through college but current figures suggest it may not always be enough. The average amount of athletic scholarship that a student can hope to receive is only around $10,400. If basketball and football are excluded, a student athlete can expect an athletic scholarship assistance to average at only around $8,700.

It is not a walk in the park for student athletes on sports scholarships, either. Once they become recipients of a sports scholarship, students are expected to work to keep it. Athletes who play for Division I colleges, for example, spend plenty of time in the court or on the field. Student athletes who play football, baseball and basketball can expect to spend as much as 40 hours a week playing, practicing and competing.

Why Choosing Division III Schools is a Good Option

Student athletes who attend D-III schools are not as focused on sports as students who pursue their education at D-I and D-II schools. Many student athletes who compete under the D-III banner do so because they love the sport and relish the competition. The prestige of playing for major D-I and D-II colleges and universities may not be present, but student athletes still enjoy an exciting learning environment where they can pursue higher education while participating in the sport they excel at. D-III schools host a wide number of sports, including the more popular ones such as basketball, baseball, volleyball and football, and less popular sports such as bowling, water polo, rowing and ice hockey.

Benefits of Playing for Division III Schools

Division III is like the youngest sibling in the NCAA and yet, it has become the largest college sports division. It currently has the most number of institutions and student athletes under its wing. In spite of these figures, Division III schools are viewed as the institutions where student athletes who failed to make the senior high school varsity team enroll in. The truth is that students go to Division III colleges may have different priorities and access to opportunities. Due to less pressure in upping their sports performance to keep a scholarship, D-III student athletes can focus on both academics and their preferred sport while interacting with other students in a community-like environment.

The main difference about Division III colleges and universities is that they do not grant athletic scholarships. As such, students who enroll in these schools need to build their credentials based on other forms of merit and not just in sports. Although sports-based financial aid is not available, students can expect to receive financial aid to cover their education costs via needs-based assistance and leadership grants. As such, student athletes with very good showing in academics and have other key accomplishments can still expect excellent financial support from these schools.

D-III schools are considered the lowest level in terms of competition but many D-II level and even D-I level athletes are enrolled here. Although some student athletes prefer D-III schools for the academics, many also consider the overall aid package these schools offer to be better. In fact, some D-III schools offer academics-based merit awards and other accomplishment-based aid that could reduce tuition costs by as much as 100%. In all, D-III schools offer both financial and academic awards that many student athletes prefer.

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