The idea of getting a four year full-ride athletic scholarship is the dream for many athletes and families. As the reality of the recruiting process sets in, you realize how rare athletic scholarships are and how infrequently athletes receive full-rides. If you are fortunate enough to be offered scholarship money, you might be surprised how small the scholarship actually is. This leaves many athletes asking “how can I negotiate a better scholarship offer?” I address that question below.
Your Only Leverage is Other Scholarship Offers
Coaches up their scholarship offers for a few reasons, you improve significantly, they get more money available late or they think they are going to lose a recruit to another school. If we are talking about negotiating a better offer late in the recruiting process, they only thing you can really control to improve your offer is to have more schools interested. Too many athletes think that because they have a school show strong, early recruiting interest, the scholarship offer of their dreams will come their senior year, it probably won’t. You should have a minimum of five schools your senior year showing serious interest, any less and you risk being left with only one (or none) offers.
*It is tempting to scramble late in the recruiting process and reach out to schools after you have been committed to a school for several months and you didn’t get the scholarship offer you were hoping for, don’t do this. Coaches are willing to negotiate if an athlete has been regularly talking to several schools, but if you are opening up discussions only after a coach has made their offer, they know you are probably only doing this to try and play that school for more money.
Negotiate on Your Expected Contribution, Not Scholarship Size
Coaches are going to measure their scholarship offers based on how much the athlete will be expected to pay. For example, if two schools are offering a 50% scholarship, but one school costs $20,000 per year and the other costs $30,000, the coach at the cheaper schools is less likely to up their scholarship offer. Always base your scholarship discussions on how much attending that school is going to cost you after the scholarship. If a school is offering a smaller scholarship but will cost the least of all of the schools you are considering, don’t expect the coach to up the offer.
Establish a Timeline on Every Decision
You should leave every conversation with a coach with a clear understanding of what to do next and when it needs to be done. This is most important when it comes to discussing scholarships or financial aid offers. You should know exactly what it takes to get a full financial aid estimate and how long you have to decide on any offers made. Many times coaches are going to make unofficial offers before a school is going to be able to make an official review of an athlete’s financial aid opportunities. Coaches can provide you with a good idea of what kind of costs you will be looking at, but you can’t get an official review from the school until you have applied your senior year.
Trying to get a better scholarship offer is a delicate process where you need to balance not offending the coach making the offer and making sure you look at all of your options. In the end, there is no perfect answer to how to when to negotiate. As long as you have been open and honest with coaches and have been regularly communicating with several schools, you stand the best chance of being able to up your scholarship offer.