Earning a College Athletic Scholarship

It’s every high school athlete’s dream, earning a college athletic scholarship. But, how in the world does one go about having the opportunity for a paid college education?

First, high school student-athletes and their families need to realize that a relatively small number of athletic scholarships exist. Take college football, for example, where there are 794 schools across the country that offer the sport. At the NCAA Division III level, there are 239 football-playing schools, none of which offer athletic scholarships. There are 120 NCAA Division I-A (now known as FBS) schools that play football and each school may offer 85 full athletic scholarships. A full athletic scholarship will cover the cost of tuition, room, board, fees, and books. Full scholarships are awarded only in football and men’s and women’s basketball. All other sports award partial scholarships.

With that knowledge in mind, recognize that the chances of earning a college athletic scholarship are slim. Roughly two percent of all high school football seniors will earn a full football scholarship. So, the high school athlete better be pretty talented. Of the steps that one can take to help in the recruiting process, the one the athlete has the least control over is his or her God-given abilities.

Student-athletes can help themselves along in the recruiting process by taking the right classes. Eligibility standards continue to evolve with the NCAA and it’s the athlete’s responsibility to make sure he has taken all of the required courses to fulfill the NCAA core course requirements. To ensure a student-athlete is on track, meet with your high school guidance counselor.

One of the big steps an athlete must take is registering with the NCAA. It used to be called the NCAA Clearinghouse, but it’s now just the NCAA Eligibility Center. Students must register to validate their status as an amateur athlete. The process is easy; the athlete needs a social security number and $50 and should complete this step by the end of his/her junior year of high school.

Next, an athlete should begin making lists. Identify the schools that the student/athlete would like to go to, like to play for and separate these schools into three lists. The first is a list of “dream” schools, the second is a list that is more realistic, and the third list is one of fallback schools in case the others fall through.

With the lists made, a student-athlete can begin researching schools for academic programs, location, coaches’ information, etc. This task has become much easier with the advent of the internet. The student-athlete will want to collect email address information for coaching staffs. This information is usually available in a university’s athletic department website.

Before contacting universities, an athlete is going to want to put together a highlight video that features the athlete’s skills and abilities. Videos will differ a little depending upon sport. For example, play-by-play sports like football, baseball, and volleyball generally work best by putting together 15 to 25 highlight plays. Continuous play sports like basketball and soccer should feature 10 to 15 highlight plays along with an entire half of a game to show real-time ability.

Once the video is made and contact information is gathered, a student-athlete can begin contacting schools of interest. The earlier the contact can be made, the better, since this will put the student-athlete on the radar. It used to be that first contacts weren’t made until an athlete’s junior year, but with websites like YouTube, it is not uncommon to see athletes not yet in high school show up on a university’s watch list. Regardless, when making first contact, send a copy of your recruiting video or a link to where it can be viewed, a recruiting resume featuring stats, honors, and academic information, and a short letter explaining who you are and why you are contacting them.

One final thing an athlete can do to get noticed is to attend off-season camps. Sports camps serve two purposes:

1) to help an athlete get better at his/her sport and

2) to increase the athlete’s exposure to college coaches. Many universities hold their own camps on their own campuses to get a look at potential recruits. If the University of Michigan football coaching staff has their eyes on a young athlete from Detroit, they will invite him to their camp. While there, the athlete hones his skills, but the coaching staff also gets to evaluate him.

If there is a school that a student-athlete has targeted, check to see if the school offers off-season sports camps. It’s an easy way to get noticed by the coaching staff and will help the student-athlete in developing a rapport with the coaching staff. Like any job, recruiting is about networking. Attending a camp may get an athlete noticed and since the coaching fraternity is relatively small, coaches from one school may contact another leading an athlete to an opportunity that he/she had never realized was out there.

The college recruiting process, like anything, is not easy. It is not a perfect science and no one has all the answers. Even so, there are many things a student-athlete and his or her family can do to increase the odds of receiving a college athletic scholarship.


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