Combining Athletic Scholarships and Financial Aid: Is It Possible?

Scholarship programs from various sources like the federal government and colleges differ.

There are need-based scholarships for degree-seeking students from low-income households, and there are merit-based scholarships for high-performing or talented students.

Athletic scholarships are a type of merit-based scholarships designed for exceptional student-athletes.

Every year, NCAA Division I and Division II colleges and universities award over $3.6 billion in athletic scholarship awards to more than 180,000 student-athletes.

The majority of athletic scholarships are partial scholarships — full-ride athletic scholarships are hard to come by.

So, can you get an academic and athletic scholarship at the same time?

Yes, you can receive both academic and athletic scholarships at once and use them toward your education.

Combining athletic scholarships with scholarships and grants from the federal government, state government, colleges, and private providers is very much a possibility to lower college costs.

As a matter of fact, that’s how many student-athletes are able to afford college.

football scholarship

How Much Athletic Scholarship Awardees Get

On average, a student-athlete receives $17,142 per year in athletic scholarships.

The amount of an athletic scholarship award depends on various factors, such as the kind of sports the student participates in or which division the college associates itself with, such as:

  • The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA)
  • The National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA)
  • The National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA)

Of course, the kind of athletic scholarship dictates how much money the recipient gets.

Not All Student-Athletes Get Athletic Scholarships

The NCAA says there are more than 190,000 Division I athletes.

Annually, only 85 full-ride athletic scholarships are available to D1 colleges and universities, which means that only 0.04% of them are likely to receive aid that covers all college-related costs.

The rest have to make do with federal and/or institutional aid awards, and probably have to pay for uniforms, equipment, food, training, hotel accommodations, and other essentials out of pocket!

At D2 colleges, even fewer full-ride athletic scholarships are available each year.

Most student-athletes receive athletic scholarship awards not enough to take care of all college expenditures.

According to Scholarship Stats, the following are the average amount of men’s athletic scholarship awards and the average number of awards by team at NCAA Division I schools:

SportsAverage Awards Per SchoolAverage Amount Per Award
Football (FBS)88$36,070
Football (FCS)81$20,706
Ice Hockey22$31,756
Swimming and Diving22$16,695
Track and Field29$11,260

Related Article: Average Track and Field Scholarship Amounts

Meanwhile, here are the average amount of women’s athletic scholarship awards and the average number of awards by team at NCAA Division I schools, still according to the same source:

SportsAverage Awards Per SchoolAverage Amount Per Award
Field Hockey20$18,331
Ice Hockey20$41,693
Swimming and Diving25$18,794
Track and Field32$14,574

Full and Partial Athletic Scholarship Terms

The terms and duration of full-ride athletic scholarships can vary.

They can differ not only from college to college but also from student-athlete to student-athlete — if you are lucky enough to receive it, ensure that you carefully check the details.

Similar to most other scholarship programs, full-ride athletic scholarships are usually good for only one year.

It’s either the student-athlete must reapply the following year or the scholarship automatically renews itself.

Most of the time, you should encounter no problem in renewing yours if you remain eligible to keep receiving your full-ride athletic scholarship year after year.

Still, it’s wise to check — it may cover all four years of college or only one, two, or three years.

The same applies to partial athletic scholarships, which means you should determine whether or not you should reapply for yours every academic year and maintain eligibility for it.

Many colleges and universities award partial athletic scholarship programs so that more student-athletes can participate.

How many partial scholarship awards are available for student-athletes depends on the amount of funds coaches receive — yes, the coaches decide which student-athletes are worthy of scholarships!

Athletic scholarship terms can also vary from sport to sport.

For instance, NAIA baseball scholarships may have different terms from NAIA basketball or tennis scholarships.

Head Count vs. Equivalency Sports

Not all types of athletic scholarships are available for all types of sports.

For instance, full-ride athletic scholarships are only for six Division I NCAA sports — athletes in other D1 sports, needless to say, are not eligible for them.

This is when the importance of knowing the difference between head count and equivalency sports comes in.

Generally, head count sports are sports that allow colleges and universities to rake in profits.

There are only six NCAA head count sports:

  • Baseball
  • Men’s basketball
  • Women’s basketball
  • Gymnastics
  • Tennis
  • Volleyball

If you are a college head count athlete and offered a scholarship, it would be a full-ride.

Then there are equivalency sports.

None of the student-athletes playing equivalency sports are eligible for full-ride athletic scholarships — what they are eligible for are the so-called equivalency or partial athletic scholarships.

Some examples of equivalency sports, which are also known as non-revenue sports, include:

  • Golf
  • Ice hockey
  • Lacrosse
  • Soccer
  • Softball
  • Track and field
baseball scholarship

Athletic Awards Based on Athletic Program Classification

You must be strategic with your college selection if you want to maximize athletic scholarship opportunities.

Generally speaking, Division I schools offer the most competitive scholarships for student-athletes.

Not all colleges participating in the NCAA offer athletic scholarships — no matter how wonderful an athlete you are, you will get no athletic scholarship attending one of those.

There are three divisions the NCAA recognizes:

Division I

D-I or D1 schools have the most generous athletic scholarships. They award lots of them, too.

As a matter of fact, the 340+ Division I institutions in the United States receive the majority of athletic scholarship funding the NCAA distributes every academic year.

According to the NCAA, more than 106,530 student-athletes at D1 schools get some kind of athletic scholarship.

It goes without saying that you should attend a D1 school if you want to win the highest possible scholarship award designed for an athletic student like you.

Division II

Compared to D-I schools, most D-II or D2 schools are smaller and less selective.

They also offer fewer and less competitive athletic scholarships than their Division I counterparts.

Over 300 colleges and universities in the land fall under the D-II category, and only around 71,000 of their student-athletes receive some kind of athletic scholarship.

As a D2 school student-athlete, you may have to explore other financial aid options to lower your family’s contribution.

Division III

D-III or D3 schools are the least competitive among all NCAA participants.

Still, many of these postsecondary institutions have robust athletic programs and field competitive teams.

So, do D3 schools give athletic scholarships despite their low competitiveness?

Unfortunately, the NCAA forbids D3 schools from providing athletic scholarships — student-athletes in these colleges have to rely on other forms of scholarships to lower the cost of their undergraduate studies.

There are nearly 440 Division III institutions, and they have around 187,800 student-athletes combined.

NAIA Schools

There are only two NAIA divisions: Division I and Division II.

Student-athletes considering attending small colleges that participate in the NAIA can’t help but wonder:

Can NAIA schools give athletic scholarships?

NAIA colleges can give athletic scholarships — some of them have strong athletic programs that provide approximately $450 million annually to students eligible for athletic scholarships.

Due to their small size, many assume that NAIA schools do not offer athletic scholarships.

However, contrary to popular belief, almost 25% of NAIA students receive scholarships for athletes.

It’s worth pointing out that, unlike NCAA D1 and D2 schools, NAIA schools can award any amount of money they can to student-athletes since no rules set a limit.

This means that athletic scholarship awards can vary tremendously in amount from one student-athlete to the next.

If you are thinking about attending one of the 240+ NAIA schools and looking to win an athletic scholarship to help fund your college education, ensure that you note these matters.

NJCAA Schools

Do NJCAA schools give athletic scholarships?

Like many NCAA and NAIA schools, institutions participating in the NJCAA award athletic scholarships.

As a matter of fact, Division I schools may grant their student-athletes full scholarships that cover tuition, fees, dorm, meals, books, supplies, and transportation costs.

However, each sport has a limit on how many athletic scholarships it can award.

Division II schools in the NJCAA may give athletic scholarships, too, but the scope is limited.

In most instances, scholarships for student-athletes are limited to tuition, fees, books, and certain supplies, and the number of awards awarded per sport has a limit.

Meanwhile, Division III schools are prohibited from distributing athletic scholarships.

Private Athletic Scholarships

Colleges and athletic associations are not the only sources of athletic scholarships.

There are also private organizations that offer scholarship programs to student-athletes.

Two types of athletic students may take advantage of those:

  • High school student-athletes who intend to play in college
  • High school student-athletes with no plans of playing in college

Either way, remember that you must apply for the right private athletic scholarship to be eligible for one.

Speaking of which, different private scholarships for student-athletes have varying eligibility requirements.

For instance, most of them require that you play a certain sport, attend a high school in a certain district, be in a particular level in high school, or meet the minimum cumulative GPA requirement.

Here are some third-party athletic scholarship providers and the average amount they award:

Athletic Scholarship ProviderAverage Award
Charles T. Stoner Law Scholarship$1,000
Dixie Youth Baseball Scholarship$2,000
Donald de la Haye$5,000
First-Generation College Student Scholarship$500
Michael Moody$1,500
NCSA Foundation$2,000
Positive Coaching Alliance$1,000
RAD Scholarship$2,000
Sara Scholarship$2,000
The BigSun Organization$500
The Columbus Rotary Foundation$2,500
TrophyCentral Sportsmanship Scholarship Award$1,000

Related Article: Here’s How Hard It Is to Get a Scholarship for College

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the College Reality Check.

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