Which Sport Is Easiest to Get a Scholarship For? Here’s How To Get Athletic Scholarships

 June 23, 2019
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Just 6% of high school athletes — or approximately 480,000 out of 8 million — go on to play Division I, II or III sports in college, according to estimates by the NCAA.

Only 2%, or about 160,000 students, however, score full or partial scholarships.

With the competition fierce for athletic financial aid, you might be wondering about the easiest sports scholarships to get.

“It’s not easy to get an athletic scholarship in any sport,” said Patrick O’Rourke, a certified public accountant who started ScholarshipStats.com to understand his son’s sport-by-sport chances.

O’Rourke’s data gathering leads him to believe the NCAA slightly overestimates its scholarship success rate.

“The overall percentage of high school athletes receiving athletically related assistance in their sport during college is around 1.3% for male athletes and 1.6% for female athletes,” he said.

Handicapping the easiest sports scholarships to get

With a stat like that, there is no direct path to winning athletic aid, unless you’re a celebrity parent allegedly bribing coaches for a roster spot. You could increase your chances, though, by putting up gaudy numbers on the field, sending highly produced recruiting videos to coaches or posting high marks in the classroom.

It also helps to play a sport that takes a significant percentage of prep athletes to the next level.

Percent of male high school athletes playing NCAA Division I, II or III sports
Sport Chance
Lacrosse 12.6%
Ice hockey 12.1%
Baseball 7.3%
Football 7.1%
Swimming 7.0%
Golf 6.0%
Soccer 5.5%
Cross country 5.3%
Tennis 5.0%
Track and field 4.8%
Water polo 4.7%
Volleyball 3.5%
Basketball 3.4%
Wrestling 2.9%
Percent of female high school athletes playing NCAA Division I, II or III sports
Sport Chance
Ice hockey 25.0%
Lacrosse 12.4%
Field hockey 10.2%
Swimming 7.3%
Soccer 7.1%
Cross country 7.0%
Golf 6.8%
Track and field 6.1%
Water polo 5.8%
Softball 5.5%
Tennis 4.5%
Basketball 4.0%
Volleyball 3.9%

If you (or your child) are a men’s lacrosse star or women’s ice hockey phenom, you might have already clicked off this page, giddy about your college prospects.

Unfortunately, these percentages only tell a small part of the story — you should also consider the number of scholarships being offered by sport. For example, more men’s tennis players (5%) make it to the college ranks than basketball players (3.4%), but they’re fighting for about a third of the amount of varsity roster spots.

“If I had to pick a sport with the best odds, football would be it,” said O’Rourke, noting that Division I Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) teams have 85 full-ride scholarship offers to make annually. “Even given that, only about 2% of high school football players end up receiving an athletic scholarship from a D1 school.”

Still, say you’re less concerned with the bright lights of a nationally ranked school and squad, or you plan to participate in a lesser-known sport. Student-athletes pursuing aid at lower-division, National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics or two-year schools face a different set of scholarship chances depending on their sport.

According to O’Rourke’s data analysis, baseball (male, 3.2%) and water polo (female, 2.7%) players have the best chance at competing at the junior college level, for example. Still, scholarships to non-four-year schools can be just as hard to come by.

Strategies to score an athletic scholarship for college

Unfortunately, there’s no straightforward answer to the question “What’s the easiest sport to get a scholarship in?”

There are, however, strategies to increase your odds of playing college baseball or whatever sport you love — and receiving a small slice of the $3 billion to $4 billion scholarship pie.

Compete at the highest level possible

If you’re intent on playing a sport in college, you should be playing it where you’re most likely to be under the microscope of recruiters.

Depending on your sport, the ideal environs might not be (just) your school. Nine of 10 gymnasts that made it to the college ranks, for example, competed exclusively on club teams as preps, according to the NCAA. Similarly, 85% of college baseball players once played for their high school and a club team simultaneously.

Put up high marks in the classroom, too

Did you know that Division III programs don’t offer athletic scholarships? While that’s true, they can provide grants and other gift aid to student-athletes that deserve them.

Similarly, Ivy League sports scholarships don’t exist. Coaches at these prestigious schools could help connect you with financial aid, but your eligibility would be determined by your level of need, not skill. If you’re not so needy, you might have to consider federal and private student loans.

Be open-minded to alternative financial aid

Unless you play a sport that drives athletic department revenue — football and men’s basketball, as well as women’s basketball, tennis, gymnastics and volleyball — you’ll likely only receive a partial scholarship.

With full-ride scholarships reserved for so few, it’s not abnormal for the majority of student-athletes to rely on student loans or other forms of financial aid to meet their cost of attendance.

Don’t wait for the phone to ring

Unless you’re a five-star recruit and have coaches lining up around the block, you must advocate for yourself during the recruitment process.

Contacting coaches and sending them your grades and highlight videos can get you started, but be prepared to drive the process to the finish line.

With some effort off the field of play, you can begin nudging the odds in your favor, even if they’ll still be stacked against you. After all, playing a sport in college — and getting a (partially) free education to do it — is a rare opportunity.

If you’re unable to snag the recruiting offer you’re seeking, keep in mind that there are other ways for student-athletes to pay for school. Hey, you could always pursue an academic scholarship, too.

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