Part 6: Athletic Scholarships vs Merit Awards for Student-Athletes

katie-andersenThis is the sixth and final blog from our guest blogger Katie Andersen. Katie has provided a very comprehensive series of blogs on counseling the student athlete. To wrap up this series, GuidedPath is hosting a webinar on this topic of guiding student athletes.  Register now for “College Bound Student Athletes” presented by Katie Andersen, Wed., August 19 at 10 am PDT/ 1 pm EDT.

Pay to Play

When I talk to my student-athletes and their families about the financial side of college, we start with a discussion about how athletic scholarships work for NCAA Div I, II, III, and NAIA. The NCAA and NAIA place limits on the number of scholarships available at each level for each sport and how that money is allowed to be distributed among team members.

Athletic scholarships may cover tuition, fees, room, board, and books. A new NCAA rule passed in January 2015 allows for additional stipends for Division I schools.

NCAA Division 1 

NCAA Division I sports are divided into “Head-count Sports” and “Equivalency Sports”.

Head Count Sports
-Head-count sports provide 1 full athletic scholarship for each athlete up to the maximum number dictated per team by the NCAA.
-Head-count sports for men are football and basketball and for women include volleyball, basketball, gymnastics, and tennis.

Equivalency Sports
All other sports in NCAA Division I, II, and NAIA are equivalency sports which means that the coach is allowed to divide athletic scholarships among his or her student-athletes. Not all teams may be fully-funded, so it is important to ask specific questions regarding funding when student-athletes start talking seriously about scholarships with a coach.

National Letter of Intent

When a Division I or Division II school offers an athletic scholarship to a student-athlete, the student-athlete signs a National Letter of Intent ( Signing an NLI formally ends the recruiting process and serves as a written commitment between the school and the student-athlete. The student-athlete attends the school for 1 academic year and the school provides 1 academic year of athletics financial aid.

Division III Limitations

Division III schools do not offer athletic scholarships, but they offer merit awards and need-based aid to student-athletes. Division III schools are a fantastic opportunity for student-athletes who want to prioritize their academic goals, but also continue to compete as athletes.  These schools tend to be small private schools and many of them have expensive price tags. When I develop a list of Division III schools for my students, I highlight those schools where the student-athlete has the best chance for the most need-based aid and merit aid based on academic performance. Division III schools don’t have big recruiting budgets, so student-athletes need to be very proactive with these coaches to demonstrate interest.

Great Read on Division III Athletics

One of my favorite books about Division III athletics called Tales from the Small Time by Jim Moore. This book is a quick read and it’s available on Jim Moore was the Sports Information Director at Chapman University in the 1980’s and he recalls his memories of the coaches, athletes, and events during a time when Chapman transitioned from a hybrid Division I / Division II school and gave up $750,000 in athletic scholarships in order join Division III and start 6 new sports, including football.

Final Words of Advise

Many student-athletes fall into the Division II and Division III categories, so I feel it’s important to help families understand the landscape of college athletics and the various opportunities that may be available athletically, academically, and financially.

Missed Katie’s other posts? View them here:

1.  Part 1: Assess Student-Athlete’s Priorities
2.  Part 2: Determine Academic Eligibility & Level of Athletic Competition
.  Part 3:  Evaluate Academic Fit for Student Athletes
4.  Part 4:  Add Context to Recruiting List and Target the Level of Competition
5.  Part 5:  Contact Coaches and Follow-Up

Don’t Miss the Webinar: Student Athlete Spotlight


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *