Expectations versus Reality: How much do you really want that athletic scholarship?

There’s an old adage that states, no matter how good you are, there’s probably someone better.

In the case of student-athletes, this is true for nearly all of them. For male athletes, 7.6% of high school student-athletes play a sport in college, but only 1.9% of them play Division I, where the most scholarships are offered. For female athletes, the numbers are a little better yet only 2.3% of them play Division I, according to scholarshipstats.com.

The purpose of this article is not to discourage student-athletes, but rather to prepare them for the realities of getting an athletic scholarship.

The myth of the full-ride athletic scholarship

Even the most talented student-athletes do not enjoy a tuition-free education. The No. 1 overall pick in last year’s MLB Draft, Dansby Swanson, needed to take out student loans while playing baseball at Vanderbilt .

Swanson has student debt because Division I baseball is an equivalency sport, where schools must allocate partial scholarships equivalent to 11.7 full scholarships for a maximum of 27 players.

Head-count sports, like football and basketball (both men’s and women’s), can offer full scholarships up to a certain number, but there are much fewer head-count sports than equivalency sports. So, if you don’t play Division I football, basketball or women’s gymnastics, tennis or volleyball, you will have to pay to attend college even with a scholarship.

Division II programs also offer athletic scholarships, but they do not have the money to provide a free education. On average, a DII scholarship is roughly one-third the amount of a DI scholarship for both men’s and women’s sports.

Hit the books

Division III college sports offer the best opportunities for student-athletes to continue their playing careers. However, DIII schools are not allowed to give any athletic scholarships. These programs can only give aid to academically accomplished student-athletes, so grades and test scores are ultimately more important than size and 40 times.

The Ivy League schools also do not offer any athletic scholarships and student-athletes are only offered need-based financial aid.

Despite the myths of full athletic scholarships, the reality is that they are extremely rare. Most student-athletes pay to play in college even if they are talented enough to be on scholarship. The best and most affordable way to play sports in college is to do well academically in order to qualify for grants and financial aid.

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