How to Get an Athletic Scholarship

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Athletic scholarships are some of the most coveted and competitive forms of financial aid available. As a result, you may not have all of your expenses covered, even if you're awarded a partial scholarship. To cover any unmet financial need, sign up for to begin qualifying for hundreds of unique scholarship opportunities!

In the United States, there are about 8 million students who play sports in high school and just over 480,000 will participate in intercollegiate sports. This means that about 17% of high school athletes will become student-athletes at the collegiate level. Out of this small percentage, even fewer college athletes will receive athletic scholarships.

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The NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) awards some $3.6 billion in scholarship money annually to just over 180,000 student-athletes, meaning less than half of all student-athletes receive NCAA athletic scholarships (it is worth noting that NCAA Division III colleges do not provide athletic scholarships, so this only illustrates NCAA Division I and Division II schools).

Athletic scholarships come in two forms: equivalency/partial scholarships and headcount scholarships. In the former, college coaches are given a lump sum of sports scholarship money that they can divide amongst their student-athletes as they see fit. This means that everyone on the team could potentially receive at least a partial scholarship, or it could mean that a few people receive full scholarships while others get nothing. By contrast, a headcount scholarship is when a student-athlete on the team receives a full ride. Coaches are given a set number of full-ride athletic scholarships that they give to players in full.

The type of scholarship a college team may receive depends on the sport. If the sport is a highly popular one that generates a lot of revenue, like football or basketball, then it is more likely to be a headcount sport. Sports that are somewhat less popular are more likely to be partial or equivalency sports.

A common mistake made by student-athletes is to assume that an athletic scholarship can only come from a school or from the NCAA. However, the truth is that you can get an athletic scholarship funded by a third-party source. For instance, on you can quickly make a profile and then use the scholarship search feature to find athletic scholarships. You can even find a list of curated athletic scholarships with upcoming deadlines here.

Additionally, many student-athletes often forget that they can also apply for academic scholarships, need-based scholarships, merit scholarships, and more, so athletic scholarships are not the only available option.

However, if you still plan on getting an athletic scholarship through your university, there are several measures you can take to increase your chances. Read below to learn more about the recruiting process, scholarships, and being a college student-athlete.


If you plan on getting an athletic scholarship to fund your college journey, the first step is to be recruited. The recruiting process may vary slightly between schools, coaches, and sports, but the basics remain the same. Talk with your coach to stay on track with what you should be doing to maximize your chances of being recruited.

Athletic Performance

Most importantly, you must be an excellent student-athlete. College coaches want to recruit athletes that can compete at the collegiate level, so athletic talent is a must. Coaches want players who can match the level of college sports teams and make their athletic program stronger. For certain sports, you can even enter tournaments or attend camps to improve and catch the eye of recruiters. You also must demonstrate the potential, desire, and drive to continuously improve.


Second, many high school student-athletes make the mistake of thinking that their grades don't matter. However, in the college recruiting process, having good grades and test scores can really give you a leg up. Putting effort into your academics in high school shows that you are not only a good athlete and student, but that you are also responsible.

College coaches do not want to recruit players who will be benched on academic probation, and most coaches are proud to have athletes with high GPAs. If you want to receive an athletic scholarship, being not just academically eligible, but academically strong is a good way to demonstrate that you are a deserving recipient.


There are a lot of individual colleges and sports teams to choose from, so conducting research on which school you want to attend is important. In addition to searching online, you can speak with your coach and/or counselor, reach out to current college athletes, and even schedule campus visits.

Not only will this help you get a better understanding of what team you may want to join, but it can even give you the information you need to impress admissions officers when you submit your application (although if you've been recruited as an athlete, you are as good as in).

Getting Help

Getting help during the recruiting process is a great way for athletes to increase their chances of joining college sports programs. Asking your high school coach for help looking into college sports programs and college coaches can help you make connections and network with different teams. This will get your foot in the door so that you can become the next college student-athlete to join the team.

Reaching Out

After getting help from your high school coach, you should have a more solid idea of which coaches, schools, and teams you are interested in. At this point, you should begin to reach out. You are not likely to become a student-athlete if you skip this step, since college coaches are not aware of every player who wants to join the college level. Sometimes recruiters will be present at major high school games or national tournaments, so it is possible to be recruited from that point, but usually, you will have to reach out to college coaches yourself.

There are several ways you can contact coaches. Most easily, you could (and should) email coaches. Introduce yourself and get them interested. You want to present yourself as a strong athlete and a great candidate for their team. After this introduction, you can follow up with phone calls. It's important to remain in contact with the coaches so that you are in their minds come recruiting season. You can update them on your recent successes, show your athletic resume, send them highlight reels of your playing, and even invite them to watch an important game.

Additionally, you should make a recruiting profile on a recruiting website. Here, you can list your stats and even upload more performance highlights to showcase your talents. This is a great place to consolidate information about yourself so that the recruiting process is easier for college coaches who want to access information about you.

Getting a Scholarship

So, the recruiting process is over, you are on your way to leave high school and become a college athlete, and now you want the coveted athletic scholarship. In general, coaches award most athletic scholarships to student-athletes on the basis of their athletic abilities. The better players receive athletic scholarships. However, since you are no longer playing with high school athletes, you will be surrounded entirely by players who already have a strong athletic careers. In addition to becoming the strongest athletic talent possible, there are several measures you can take to ensure that you get an athletic scholarship.

Check out these wrestling scholarships to maximize your financial aid!

Financial Need

If you are an athlete who is heavily relying on getting an athletic scholarship to cover college costs, then you should speak with your coach about your financial aid needs. No coach wants their players to struggle with finances, so having an open and honest conversation with your coach can help them understand your dependence on an athletic scholarship.


Demonstrating leadership skills is also an excellent way to increase your chances of getting the athletic financial aid that you need. When you are an athlete playing sports at the collegiate level, every player is incredibly talented, so leadership abilities will make you stand out. Offer to help out a fellow player or take charge of directing your teammates on the field. Your coach will see your passion for the sport and your dedication to the team.


Playing sports while also attending college courses can be incredibly difficult given the busy schedule. However, many athletes do maintain high GPAs all throughout college. Having good grades and being in good academic standing can make you stand out as an athlete, and will encourage coaches to give you more scholarship money.

Furthermore, having good grades and test scores can even make you eligible for other scholarships if you find yourself in need of extra funds. With good academic standing, you could apply for an academic scholarship, a merit scholarship, a major-specific scholarship, and more, all of which can help you get the funds you need through the end of your senior year.

Frequently Asked Questions About How to Get an Athletic Scholarship

How hard is it to get an athletic scholarship?

Getting an athletic scholarship from a university is a highly competitive process. Student-athletes in high schools all around the country vie for just a handful of scholarships. They compete in tournaments, attend camps, and more, and even so, only a small percentage of students are recruited as athletes and less than half will receive athletic scholarships.

However, it is possible to receive athletic scholarships from third-party sources. While these scholarships are still competitive, they may be slightly less competitive than other athletic-based financial aid.

How do athletes get scholarships?

Athletes receive scholarships through their schools and their coaches. For headcount sports, coaches will receive a set amount of full-ride scholarships to give to whichever players they deem fit. For equivalency sports, coaches receive a lump sum of money that they can divide amongst their athletes in any way. Athletes can increase their chances of receiving scholarship offers by playing to the best of their abilities, demonstrating leadership, discussing financial needs with coaches, and meeting academic requirements with strong grades.

If the financial aid package you're offered doesn't go far enough, don't hesitate to browse through the many scholarship opportunities on! In addition to scholarships for athletes, there are scholarships related to certain majors, demographics, and more!