Playing sports at the collegiate level and nabbing athletic scholarships are huge accomplishments.
As you look for college sports scholarships, you might be surprised to learn that your awards likely won’t cover the full cost of attending college. In fact, many student-athletes also have to take out student loans to pay their tuition and other expenses.
Figuring out how athletic scholarships work and what your options are if you received a partial athletic scholarship can help make your athletic and academic dreams a reality. Here’s what you need to know.
Full-ride vs. partial athletic scholarships
Not every scholarship is created equal. When it comes to athletic scholarships, you must understand the difference between head count and equivalency sports.
Only a handful of sports offer full-ride scholarships to student-athletes. They also are known as head count sports; think men’s football and basketball, and women’s basketball, volleyball, tennis, and gymnastics.
For head count sports, a school can give a certain amount of scholarships per year, and only one athlete can receive each award. If a school has 65 scholarships to dole out, only 65 athletes may receive them.
These awards are considered full-ride scholarships, although they can fall short of covering the true cost of attending school when you factor in other expenses such as living off campus or commuting to school.
In equivalency sports, including baseball and soccer, the available scholarships can be shared by multiple athletes. Administrators can give several students financial aid that is equivalent to a certain amount of full-ride scholarships, but they don’t have to give full scholarships to each player. This allows teams to stretch their financial aid dollars.
In men’s baseball, for example, Division II schools are allowed to offer nine equivalencies. Instead of offering full-ride scholarships to nine baseball players, administrators can divide that scholarship money among the entire team. Some athletes might get more money and others might have less. Hence, partial scholarships.
Students who receive partial sports scholarships will need to find a way to cover the remaining cost of attending school. Here’s how to do it.
How to estimate the cost of attending school
If you’re offered a partial athletic scholarship, your next step should be to estimate the total cost of attending school. You should add several elements to your estimate when you’re figuring out the cost of your degree.
1. Determine your tuition and fee costs
Your first step should be to review your school’s tuition and fee costs. Most schools list this information on their website, but you also can contact their financial aid offices for more information.
This estimate of costs is particularly important if you’re offered a partial scholarship because it’s the only way to accurately evaluate your scholarship offer. For example:
- If one school costs $40,000 per year and you have a 50% scholarship, the school will pay $20,000 and you’ll pay $20,000 per year.
- If another school costs $17,000 per year and you have a 10% scholarship, the school will pay $1,700 and you’ll pay $15,300.
Even though the scholarship amount in the first example is bigger, so is the gap between the offer and the school costs. You’ll be personally responsible for covering a lower gap if you go to the second school.
2. Factor in living expenses
If you’re living in a dorm, living expenses such as rent, internet, and utilities might be included in one bill.
If you move off campus, you must account for all those costs in your estimate of college costs, plus expenses such as transportation to campus and home furnishings.
3. Include school supplies in your estimate
Athletes on full-ride athletic scholarships usually have their books and a certain amount of school supplies paid for by their scholarship money.
If you’re on a partial scholarship, you’ll have to get your own books each semester, as well as buy a laptop and other supplies you need, so include those costs in your budget estimate.
What to do if your scholarship doesn’t cover everything
Partial college sports scholarships are a huge accomplishment, and playing your sport at a collegiate level is an experience you’ll cherish. Here’s how you can cover the rest of your college costs if your scholarship doesn’t cover everything.
1. Don’t do anything that would put you out of compliance
You can’t be careful enough when it comes to staying on the right side of the NCAA’s rules about extra benefits. An extra benefit is something offered to a student-athlete that wouldn’t be offered to any other student at your school.
For example, you can’t receive unauthorized help with your rent, transportation, food, or school supplies from a university employee. Before you accept any benefit or gift, make sure you clear it with your school’s compliance officials.
2. Apply for federal student loans
Most student-athletes are eligible for federal student loans, which often have lower interest rates than private student loans and don’t require a credit check. These loans also offer unique benefits such as income-driven repayment plans, which can make them easier to repay when you graduate.
In order to be eligible for a federal student loan, you need to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid to determine how much aid you’ll receive from the government.
3. Consider private student loans
If you don’t receive enough money in loans from the government to cover college costs, consider private student loans. These loans are offered by credit unions, banks, and online lenders. However, you must have good credit and a solid income to qualify. If you don’t meet those requirements, adding a cosigner to your application could help.
Before you sign up for any loans, estimate the cost of repaying them by using our online calculator. Then you’ll have a better picture of the college you can afford, which might impact where you live, the major you pursue, and how quickly you try to finish your degree.
Enjoy the accomplishments you’ve earned
Athletic scholarships of any kind, even partial ones, are something to be excited about. You’ve put in the hard work to become a valuable athlete, so playing a college sport can set you up for success after your degree.
Finding the right solution to pay for the rest of your education will help you take advantage of the exciting opportunities you’ve created for yourself.
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