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College Scholarships for Student Athletes

While it's a dream of many high school athletes to get a "full ride" scholarship to play their sport in college, full ride scholarships are only rewarded to a fortunate few. For example,
more than one million high school boys play football each year, but colleges and universities offer fewer than 20,000 football scholarships annually. Similarly, only about 4,500 track and field scholarships are available for over 600,000 girls who participate in the sport annually.

Student athletes who compete in sports at the collegiate level can receive full or partial scholarships to fund their college education, but this may not cover full tuition or pay for everything a student needs. College expenses, including fees, textbooks, residence hall accommodations, or extra classes, necessitate additional funding resources. Limited funds and restricted opportunities for athletic scholarship options highlight the present need for more secure financial aid through other types of scholarship programs. This guide explores the other ways athletes can fund their education while playing the sport they love in college.

College Athletic Scholarships FAQs

How Many Students Receive Athletic Scholarships to Play Their Sport in College?

Ninety-eight percent of high school student athletes do not receive scholarships to play sports in college. Consequently, high school athletes may not receive enough financial support to cover all costs associated with college. The average NCAA scholarship falls just short of $9,000. Scholarships for sports like baseball can be as low as $2,000. For sports with the highest scholarships factored in, namely football and basketball, the average only increases to between $10,000 and $11,000. Tuition and other college costs at NCAA colleges and universities range from $20,000-$50,000 annually.

Do All College Athletes Receive Scholarships?

Most student athletes do not receive a full scholarship for college and rely on other school-sponsored or private funding. Outside of school-sponsored athletic scholarships, student athletes may qualify for sports scholarships from private companies and sports organizations. Athletes can receive scholarships based on their sport, overall performance in high school, or service to their community.

Colleges and universities offer academic scholarships to student athletes with strong educational backgrounds. They may also provide scholarships to students in certain fields of study or from specific high schools and backgrounds. Additionally, private scholarships, available through corporations, agencies, institutions, or other autonomous entities, offer student athletes financial support for their academic achievements.

Who Is Eligible for a Student Athlete Scholarship?

The NCAA includes three divisions of college sports. Division I and Division II colleges and universities, mostly large public institutions, offer athletic scholarships. Division III schools, primarily small colleges, do not provide financial assistance to student athletes. The National Association of Intercollegiate Athletes (NAIA), includes smaller public and private colleges and universities. The NAIA holds less stringent academic and athletic standards than the NCAA, offering students increased opportunities to play sports but with less exposure and financial support. Students who play junior college sports participate in the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA). Schools in the NJCAA, two-year community colleges, provide moderate amounts of funding to student athletes.

In addition to athletic scholarships through schools in the NCAA, NAIA, and the NJCAA, student athletes may qualify for additional scholarships and funds through the associations themselves. The NCAA offers student athlete awards to student athletes pursuing a graduate degree or completing their undergraduate degree after exhausting all other athletic funding. The NCAA also provides support to Division I schools through its Accelerated Student Access Program to help student athletes in their academic success.

College Scholarship Opportunities for Student Athletes

In addition to sport- and school-specific athletic scholarships, student athletes can apply for scholarships available to all college students. Student athlete scholarships through private companies, nonprofit agencies, and sports organizations deliver aid to students who demonstrate ability in their respective sport. These organizations and agencies also reward students who maintain good grades and participate in community service and other extracurricular activities.

National Strength and Conditioning Association Foundation Minority Scholarship

Who Can Apply: Open to any ethnic minority student majoring in strength and conditioning, the NSCA Minority Scholarship provides funding to undergraduate and graduate students. To apply, students must provide transcript information, letters of recommendation, and a completed application. Applicants must be members of NSCA. Amount: $1,500 What It Covers: Not specified

National Strength and Conditioning Association Foundation Women’s Scholarship

Who Can Apply: The NSCA Women’s Scholarship offers financial assistance to women entering the field of strength and conditioning. Applicants must be 17 years old and enroll in an area of study related to strength and conditioning, including exercise physiology, physical education, and kinesiology. Students must be members of NSCA and submit transcripts, three letters of recommendation, and a formal application for consideration. Amount: $1,500 What It Covers: Not specified

Sports Unlimited Scholarship

Who Can Apply: Sports Unlimited, Inc. offers a scholarship to the student athlete who most inspires them with an essay identifying a piece of sports equipment or gear that can be improved and why. By encouraging students to submit an essay, Sports Unlimited fosters academic and sporting skills, encouraging student athletes to bring together writing and sporting interests. High school seniors and freshmen/sophomores in college can apply by submitting a 500-1,000 word essay. Amount: $1,000 What It Covers: Tuition, room and board, books, etc.

National Strength and Conditioning Association Foundation High School Scholarship

Who Can Apply: High school seniors entering college who intend to study strength and conditioning can apply for the NSCA High School Scholarship. Students must demonstrate their career goals and service to their communities, hold a high school GPA of 3.0 or above, provide three letters of recommendation, and submit a formal application. Amount: $1,500 What It Covers: Not specified

Jerry Martin Memorial Scholarship

Who Can Apply: Established to honor strength and conditioning coach Jerry Martin, this eponymous scholarship offers tuition assistance to students who plan to become strength and conditioning coaches. Applicants for the scholarship, provided through the NSCA, must be members of the NSCA and submit a formal application and transcripts to be considered. Amount: Not specified What It Covers: Tuition

Foot Locker Scholar Athletes Program

Who Can Apply: Foot Locker provides scholarships to student athletes who demonstrate academic success, community involvement, and ability in their sport. Applicants and nominees must participate in high school, intramural, or community sports and hold a minimum 3.0 GPA and intend to pursue a four-year degree at an accredited college or university. Recipients must demonstrate leadership, sportsmanship, and a continued desire to better themselves and their community. Amount: $20,000 to 20 recipients annually What It Covers: Not specified

Positive Coaching Alliance Triple-Impact Competitor Scholarships

Who Can Apply: High school juniors who participate in a high school or club sport and hold a minimum 2.5 GPA can apply for the Triple-Impact Competitor Scholarship. Applicants must demonstrate how they meet the Triple-Impact Competitor standards defined by PCA through a formal application and essay. Applicants must provide letters of recommendation from their coach, mentor, and school administrator and three additional recommendations from individuals in their communities. Amount: $1,000-$2,000 What It Covers: Not specified

BigSun Athletic Scholarship

Who Can Apply: High school seniors or undergraduate students who participate in any sport can apply for the BigSun Athletic Scholarship. Designed to encourage athletic participation and a healthy lifestyle, the scholarship offers applicants the opportunity to write an essay about how participation in sports has influenced their lives, families, and communities. Amount: $500 What It Covers: Not specified

Iron Company Fitness and Education Scholarships

Who Can Apply: Students enrolled in a fitness-related major, including physical education, health, and exercise science, can apply for an Iron Company Fitness and Education Scholarship. Applicants must demonstrate a 3.0 GPA and provide an essay about their passion for fitness. The scholarship supports students planning to pursue a career in fitness and contribute to the fitness industry as a whole. Applicants must be incoming freshmen and plan to complete a four-year degree. Amount: $2,000 What It Covers: Not specified

Wear Action Scholarship

Who Can Apply: Designed to promote a healthy lifestyle, the Wear Action Scholarship rewards students who find value and success in the use of fitness equipment. Applicants should submit an essay on how fitness trackers and other fitness technology has improved their lives. Students must also submit proof of their student status, hold a minimum 3.0 GPA, and be at least 16 years of age. Amount: $500 What It Covers: Any school-related expenses

How to Improve Your Chances of Earning a Scholarship as a Student Athlete

  • Participate in Alternative Extracurriculars

    Students athletes who participate in activities outside of sports increase their chances for receiving scholarships. With active participation in student council or government, Key Club, or other school groups, student athletes show their varied interests and skills. Engaging with other students outside of sports also proves your ability to work with groups of all kind. Additionally, student athletes who participate in more than one sport demonstrate that they can adapt on the field.

  • Excel in the Classroom

    Student athletes with solid performances in the classroom can increase their chances for scholarships. Although student athletes generally spend a significant amount of time and effort on sports, students demonstrating a comparable focus on their studies can prove their abilities on and off the court. Colleges and universities generally offer scholarships to student athletes with high GPAs due to their demonstrated hard work, time management skills, and ability to prioritize. Students can also show their excellence in the classroom by becoming members of academic groups, such as the National Honor Society.

  • Volunteer in Your Community

    Students who volunteer in their communities and help others prove themselves to be caring, well-rounded individuals. Student athletes may volunteer by participating in local camps, youth programs, and sports-centered activities. They may also work within their communities to promote health and wellness. The contributions students make to their neighbors, friends, and others demonstrate to colleges that they want to better their surroundings. Although community service may be a requirement for some scholarships, it never hurts to include more community services projects on your scholarship application.

  • Take Internships and Work Opportunities

    Students who work or participate in internships in their area of study demonstrate their dedication to their goals and future careers. During internships and work opportunities, students learn skills applicable to their majors and prospective careers. By working or completing an internship, student athletes take on additional time commitments beyond the sports arena and classroom and demonstrate dedication to their academic study.