What You Should Know About Walk-Ons

According to NCAA data, 51% of Division I athletes receive some level of financial aid. By extension, that means 49% of DI student-athletes are walk-ons. Though Division II programs have fewer scholarships, their partial scholarship model means more athletes get some form of financial aid which leads to a lower percentage of walk-ons. And if you’ve been told you may have to walk-on if you want to play in college, here’s a few things you need to know about the walk-on experience.

What’s A “Walk-On”?

If you’re designated a college “walk-on,” it basically means you’re on the team without any form of athletic scholarship or financial aid. The common assumption is that walk-ons weren’t recruited, landed on the team through an open tryout, and will likely never get off the bench.

While that may sometimes be the case, other walk-ons have been highly recruited, and a few may have even turned down scholarship offers from other schools so that they could walk-on with another program. The most extreme example of this is Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield, who rejected four offers from Division I schools to walk-on at Texas Tech. After earning the starting job in his freshman season, but not receiving a scholarship offer, Mayfield left Texas Tech and walked-on at the University of Oklahoma. Three record-breaking seasons and a Heisman Trophy later, Mayfield was the overall No. 1 pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. 

Finally, while the term may have originated from a player or players who simply “walked on” to the practice field and joined the team, today’s walk-on still needs to coordinate with the team’s coaching staff to ensure they can join the squad. 

Can A Walk-On Earn A Scholarship?

While there aren’t statistics kept on walk-ons who went on to earn scholarships, it does happen. It is most common for walk-ons who have worked hard for several years and earned a role on the team. In rare cases, it’s even a full-ride scholarship, though most scholarships awarded to walk-ons are partial scholarships. But don’t be discouraged, because it happens every year in every sport. Be patient, be persistent, and your hard work could pay off. 

What Are The Different Types Of Walk-Ons?

As mentioned above, the term “walk-on” might have originated when a non-scholarship athlete randomly showed up at practice. In today’s recruiting process, however, the term has evolved and there are now several tiers of walk-on status.

  • A Preferred Walk-On is considered the top level of walk-on. In most cases, preferred walk-ons are guaranteed a spot on the team roster and are provided the same support as those team members on scholarship.
  • A Recruited Walk-On is an ideal option for those who want to play at the highest level possible. While you’re not guaranteed a spot on the team, you may redshirt your first year, and you may even have to try out, recruited walk-ons are still valued by college coaches. 

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