How do athletic scholarships work? There’s some basic info to know.

Athletic scholarships are a great way to cover college costs. Know how to get one and keep it. They’re found in NCAA Divisions I and II, where more than 150,000 athletes get more than $2.7 billion each year. Some sports, “head count” sports, offer only full rides—it’s all or nothing. Other sports, “equivalency” sports, use both partial and (rarely) full scholarships. Your scholarship is likely year-to-year, but in Division I it’s possible to get a multi-year offer. There are courses to take and grades to get so you keep your aid. If a coach ever reduces it, then you’re able to appeal that call.

You want to explore every way to pay for school. An athletic scholarship is one of many paths to think about. There’s a lot of athletic aid out there—colleges in NCAA Divisions I and II give more than $2.7 billion to more than 150,000 athletes each year. If you choose a college in Division III, which doesn’t use athletic scholarships, then look at other forms of aid. But in Divisions I and II, your sports skills can help with college bills.

Getting an athletic scholarship doesn’t mean you get a full ride. Partials are far more common, though rules are different for each sport. Some Division I sports are “head count” sports. They’re based entirely on full rides: a coach with 18 scholarships gives full rides to 18 players. Other sports are “equivalency” sports: a coach might split the total value of 12 scholarships among 25 players. If you play an equivalency sport, it’s rare but still possible to get a full ride.

The six “head count” sports are in Division I. Basketball is the one sport using the “head count” model for both the men’s and women’s game. Other “head count” sports are men’s football and women’s gymnastics, tennis, and volleyball. The rest of Division I, and all of Division II, uses the “equivalency” system.

Most scholarships work on a year-by-year system (though some Division I programs use multi-year offers). Coaches decide each year if they should to remove, reduce, or renew your offer. These choices are based on anything from your injuries to your play. If your scholarship isn’t renewed, you as the athlete are allowed by the NCAA to appeal that decision. To keep your aid, there are core courses you have to take and a GPA—it’s good to talk with coaches and athletic staff members about those rules.

Athletic aid is just one way you’re able to cover school costs. But it’s a great possibility to pursue. The key thing is to find a college team that’s awesome for you and then look at every way to make the finances easy for you and your family.

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