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Looking For A FULL RIDE?


I hear all the time from parents who think their child is going to get an athletic scholarship for college. Every high-level athlete wants an athletic scholarship, but not everyone gets offered one!

There are many misconceptions regarding athletic scholarships that come from movies like The Blindside showing college coaches banging down your door. In an effort to help you understand the realities of athletic scholarships, I'm honored to invite a veteran coach to provide insight into the topic on my blog. 

In addition to being an NCAA Compliance Director overseeing 13 sports, Coach Renee Lopez was a college soccer coach for 14 years across NCAA Division I, II, III, and NAIA. She has been honored with Coach of the Year, Sportsmanship, and Academic Awards, as well as producing 3 All-Americans and over 30 All-Conference players. Now as the CEO of her own business in leadership development and sport education, she regularly provides seminars across the country on the college recruiting process.

In early 2018, Coach Renee will release her book, Looking For A FULL RIDE?: An Insider’s Recruiting Guide/How To Quadruple Your Chances At An Athletic Scholarship”. In the research for her book, she has interviewed 35 college coaches across all divisions and sports. She regularly consults with families on finding the right fit of athletic, academic, and social environments for their college program. She has been featured on SiriusXM and ESPN Radio for her knowledge on the college recruiting process.  With her vast knowledge on the subject, I have asked Coach Renee to address a few of the myths regarding athletic scholarships.

Debunking Five Athletic Scholarship Myths 

Highly skilled athletes at the high school level may get the opportunity to continue with their sport in college. However, since college coaches receive hundreds and sometimes, thousands of emails per month, they evaluate a prospect on a combination of factors beyond the X’s and O’s. They evaluate GPAs, test scores, character, references, and the team’s positional needs. However, it is important to understand only about 4-8% on average (depending on the sport) of high school athletes receive an offer to be a part of a college team, and even fewer receive athletic scholarships.

I would like to address 5 of the athletic scholarship myths I hear most often:

  • Everyone on a college athletic team gets a FULL RIDE athletic scholarship.

FALSE. This actually depends on the amount of financial commitment the university has made to their athletic programs. NCAA Division III programs are not allowed to offer athletic scholarships. In NCAA Division I, II, NAIA, and Junior College athletic programs, they can offer full or partial scholarships to potential recruits. In many cases, there are athletes who are titled “walk-ons” who receive no athletic scholarship, yet still have a roster spot.

The amount of scholarship offered to a potential recruit depends on a number of factors including: 

  1. how much scholarship is opening up from a graduating senior or transferring students
  2. the number of returning students that will compete for a position
  3. how well funded the athletic department is from the university
  4. if the sport is a “head count” sport, meaning only a certain number of athletes can be on athletic aid vs.  an “equivalency” sport, meaning a certain amount of full tuition scholarships are allowed by the governing body

For example, in Division I Women’s Soccer (an equivalency sport), the NCAA allows 14 total scholarships across their entire roster of typically 25-35 athletes. A few of these full scholarships may be offered, but a majority of the 14 scholarships would be broken up for more athletes to receive aid within the team. In NCAA Division II Women’s Soccer, a program could offer 9.9 total athletic scholarships across their entire team. These examples both would be describing a fully funded athletic program, which is often not the case in many universities. There can also be a huge differentiation in athletic scholarships across universities, even within the same conference. For example, one Division II Conference has a school that only offers 3.5 athletic scholarships versus a conference foe that has 9.9 athletic scholarships. (I am guessing most of you can guess who typically wins these conference match-ups!)

  • If you are a great athlete in high school, you will get an athletic scholarship.

FALSE. There are a variety of factors a coach uses to discern which athletes should receive athletic aid. In addition to athletic ability, college coaches are looking for athletes who are academically strong, involved in community service, have good character, and demonstrate leadership characteristics on the field/court, in the classroom, and especially on their social media.  FREE Special Report: Leadership Characteristics College Coaches Look For In A Recruit

It is important that if a high school student is interested in a particular college, they should market themselves to the college coach early in their high school career. Many student-athletes believe their senior year is the time to start looking. However, if they wait until senior year, many will find that their recruiting class offers went out much earlier. Some sports and top conferences are making offers even in the 8th grade! You can’t just wait for the coach to come to you. Instead, you should start initiating emails to prospective schools very early in your high school years. FREE Special Report: Strategies to Emailing A College Coach

  • There are more athletic scholarships available for women. 

TRUE & FALSE. This would depend on the sport and individual college. Using the soccer example described above of 9.9 scholarships equivalencies in NCAA Division II women’s soccer, in comparison, men’s soccer in NCAA Division II has 9.0 scholarship equivalencies. Obviously, there are also sports such as NCAA Division I Football which is a head count sport and does not have a corresponding female sport. Again, it is important to know the amount of available scholarships offered for your specific sport through the NCAA, NAIA, and Junior College Associations.

If you haven’t been offered as much athletic scholarship as you wish, it is imperative that you also look into what other academic merit scholarships, grants, and need-based financial aid is available.

  • Athletic Scholarships are always for four years!  

TRUE & FALSE. Although some rule changes have allowed for this in the more recent years, typically college coaches will offer only one year renewable scholarships. It allows a coach an “out” if a student-athlete demonstrates inappropriate behavior or does not meet academic standards. In recent years, there are numerous cases of student-athlete’s behavior on social media or getting in trouble with the law has often resulted in scholarships not being renewed.

  • Once a coach has VERBALLY offered an athletic scholarship, it is 100% binding.

FALSE. Until an athlete has officially signed a National Letter of Intent (NCAA Division I & II) or Letter of Intent (NAIA), a verbal commitment from the coach or the student-athlete is non-binding.  These signing letters are also contingent upon the student-athlete being accepted into the university, graduating from high school, following team rules, and being certified eligible through the NCAA/NAIA Eligibility Center.

Verbal scholarship offers are regularly being made months or years before a signing date in their senior year. This can place a lot of pressure on a young person to make a decision, especially if they have not done a lot of research on the schools making the offer. It is highly recommended you do not verbally commit to a college until you: 

  1. know how much your overall financial aid package will be including federal aid, loans, grants, and academic scholarships 
  2. can confirm you are on track academically to meet the GPA and ACT/SAT test scores the school requires for acceptance
  3. have been on campus to tour the school, meet with future teammates 
  4. make certain the school provides the right academic, social, and athletic atmosphere you are looking for during the next four years of your life. 

It is valuable to research many schools at all levels from Junior College up through NCAA Division I programs to sort through which programs might be the best for you and provide the most athletic scholarship opportunity.

Coach Renee runs a FREE Parent Facebook Group that you can join here https://www.facebook.com/groups/parentsofhsathleteswantingtoplayincollege/?ref=group_cover

About the Author:

A seventeen-year coaching veteran, Renee Lopez has been successful both in business and sports. She has been a college soccer coach for 14 years and high school varsity coach for 3 years. In addition to being the CEO of her own leadership development and coaching education academy consulting service, she is the author of an upcoming book on the college recruiting process for student-athletes titled “Looking For A FULL RIDE? An Insider’s Recruiting Guide”. (www.lookingforafullride.com

She regularly speaks as a keynote and teaches seminars with Fortune 500 companies, sports organizations, non-for-profits, and community groups. In addition to being a guest blogger, on podcasts, and radio, she has also recently been featured on ESPN Radio. As a coach, she developed 3 All-Americans, was named Coach of the Year, and regularly led her teams to Regional Championships. Her undergraduate degree is in Elementary Education and her graduate work from the University of Florida is in Exercise Sport Science (Sport Management/Pedagogy). She is also a certified speaker, trainer, and coach with the John Maxwell Team, Jon Gordon Company, 3Dimensional Coaching, and Positive Coaching Alliance. You can find more about her www.rlopezcoaching.com or email her at info@lookingforafullride.com.