Athletic scholarships drive college searches more than they should. Some parents seem to think the money they’ve “invested” in training, teams and travel should come back to them by way of college scholarships.
Unfortunately, this isn’t the reality. Athletic scholarships should not drive the college selection process and it’s important to understand the advantages—and disadvantages—of receiving them.
1. Not All Schools Offer Athletic Scholarships
Athletic scholarships are only available at NCAA D1 and D2 schools and some NAIA schools. No athletic scholarships are available at D3 schools.
Even though D1 and D2 schools can offer athletic scholarships, the NCAA limits the number available from them. And even though a D1 and D2 school can offer athletic scholarships, they might not have enough money to fully fund them.
2. Scholarships Are an Investment
Soccer is an equivalency sport at the college level, meaning the coach can divide available scholarship funds between all the players he wants to give scholarships to.
Some coaches look at a scholarship as an investment on which they expect a return. If your goal is to play at a Division 1 school, no matter what, understand that the coach has a vested interest in the scholarship players. He’s made a bet that those players will be the core of his team, and they might see more playing time than those who didn’t receive a scholarship, regardless of their abilities on the field.
If you’re a D1 player who didn’t receive a scholarship, it might affect your playing time, and not in the way you’d like.
3. Your Scholarship Can Vary from Year to Year
At some schools, the amount of money a player receives from one year to the next can vary, depending on the money the coach wants to give to better incoming athletes.
In addition, some schools/coaches give players a small scholarship to start and increase or decrease it year by year based on performance. That means you can’t count on receiving a specific amount of money each year. Find out a coach’s policies on this before accepting an offer.
4. Injuries Can Affect Your Scholarship
If you’re lucky enough to be offered an athletic scholarship, find out what happens if you’re injured. Do you lose the scholarship? Does it continue? You might think you’ll never tear an ACL or get a serious concussion, but it can happen. Find out ahead of time what will happen to your scholarship if you’re injured.
5. Money Shouldn’t Be a Deciding Factor When Choosing A School
You might think the size of the scholarship you receive is the main deciding factor when choosing a school, but it shouldn’t be. After all, you might decide to stop playing.
You might not like the coach, find the requirements on your time too demanding, or decide you’d like more free time to enjoy your last year at school. But if you drop off the team, you’ll lose the scholarship. This might not be a consideration if you have another source of tuition money, but if you need the athletic scholarship to stay in school, it will make the decision more difficult.
Is soccer—and a scholarship—a school’s main draw for you? If so, consider how happy you’ll be there if you decide—or have to—quit the team.
6. You Might Receive a Better Package From a D3 School
D3 schools can be more expensive than D1 or D2 state schools and they can’t offer athletic scholarships, but they might offer grants and enough other aid that their total package is better than what you’d receive from a D1 or D2 school with an athletic scholarship. D3 schools can offer money to athletes for other reasons, including financial need.
Some also offer scholarships to international students, which is of interest to international players interested in coming to the United States for college.
7. Athletic Scholarships are Only One Piece in the Funding Puzzle
Schools offer financial aid beyond athletic scholarships. Some, including the Ivies (D1) and some elite D3 schools commit to fully covering your financial need if you’re accepted, regardless of how much you need. So if you have the grades and test scores needed to attend one of these top schools, you might get more financial help than you would at a D1 school that offers only a partial athletic scholarship.
An athletic scholarship is only one part of a financial package, no matter the school or which division it’s in, so it’s only one thing to consider when looking at schools.
8. You Can Receive Scholarships from Other Sources
Many organizations and companies offer scholarships. Your local league or club might offer a scholarship to players who grew up through their program. The company your parents work for might also offer scholarships. Investigate sources of financial aid beyond the college or university. Taken individually they might be small, but they can add up.
9. Playing One School Off Another Is Not a Good Idea
If you’re talking to several schools in the hopes of upping the offers, keep in mind that college soccer coaches often know each other, and if the coaches from the schools you’re in negotiations with happen to talk, you might wind up with no scholarship at all.