College Sport Scholarships – Play Sports and Study in the US

Playing any kind of sport in the United States can help you get into a top university. Moreover, that can even secure enough money for your tuition and other living expenses. But how can students do that?

The answer is simple—by winning college sport scholarships. Of course, it is not easy to get a scholarship. In fact, there is a lot of planning involved, and it starts with an official recruitment process, frequent visits, scouting reports, negotiation, and eligibility. It will also be required to fill out all necessary college applications, just like any other student.

The benefits of being a student-athlete at a United States college are numerous. You do not even have to be on top of your game in order to make your dreams a reality.

Facts About College Athletic Scholarships (Editor’s Choice)

  • There are a total of 2,197 basketball teams participating in college athletics.
  • The second most played sport is cross country, with 2,065 teams participating.
  • Sports with the least number of teams participating are bowling and sand volleyball.
  • The NCAA currently oversees a staggering 460,000 amateur student-athletes.
  • According to the NCAA, only 2% of all high school athletes are awarded scholarships. 
  • In 2017, about 181,306 students received a sports scholarship.
  • 6.7% of high school students managed to become NCAA student-athletes.
  • $2.9 billion is awarded annually by the NCAA to over 150,000 student-athletes.

All You Need to Know About College Scholarships

college sport scholarships - football

College education in the United States can be the most rewarding thing for every student-athlete. However, if you want to find a suitable scholarship, you will need to be extremely willing to promote yourself. There are three divisions of schools that provide scholarships annually.

1. Approximately 179,200 student-athletes in Division I are enrolled in 351 colleges and universities.


Division I schools have the highest enrollment rate and manage the highest athletics budget available. These schools provide great opportunities to excel and a wide array of academic programs. For student-athletes, this is the best option as the chances to be awarded full college athletic scholarships are the highest.

2. Division II consists of about 121,900 student-athletes enrolled in 308 colleges and universities.


While Division I may have the highest enrollment rate, Division II offers fantastic growth opportunities. Many participants in these schools often end up as first-generation college students, and this is mostly obtained through academic achievements, community engagement, and, of course, high-level athletics competitions.

3. The highest number of student-athletes are in Division III, with up to 190,900 students enrolled in 443 colleges and universities.


While Division I and Division II are priorities among student-athletes due to the highest college sports scholarship financial aid, Division III is also a good choice. The experience in these schools provides a different perspective, as the focus is shifted toward academic success while at the same time offering competitive opportunities for all athletes and non-athletes.

4. 59% of all Division I student-athletes receive some sort of financial aid.


Even though there are reports that student-athletes are given full scholarships, about 31% do not receive any kind of financial aid. However, that does not discourage students from achieving their dreams, with college students statistics showing 87% of graduation success rate among Division I students. 

5. About 62% of all Division II student-athletes receive some sort of financial aid.


Statistics on collegiate athletic scholarships show that the chances of receiving any kind of financial aid are almost the same for Division I and Division II. For this to be true, both Divisions need to enroll the same number of students, as it is reported that Division II enrolls about 30% fewer students compared to Division I.

6. 80% of all Division III student-athletes receive some form of an academic grant.


Compared to Division I and II, student-athletes in Division III schools do not receive the same financial support. Instead, the financial aid these students receive comes in the form of need-based scholarships or grants.

The average amount of money that goes for the athletic scholarship in Division II is about $17,000 in the form of institutional gift aid.

7. Division I enrolls the majority of undergraduates, while Division II and Division III enroll about three times fewer.


Among the three divisions, Division I enrolls the highest number of undergraduates. It is reported that these numbers amount to 9,629 undergraduates in Division I, 2,485 undergraduates in Division II, and 1,748 undergraduates in Division III.

8. Less than 2% of all NCAA student-athletes make it as professionals.


Education is important, as it is reported that many student-athletes depend more on college achievements than sports to succeed in life after college. That also confirms the fact that the NCAA has strict graduation and scholarship requirements.

9. 6% of all high school graduates move to the NCAA with basketball as the sport with the lowest percentages.


Out of all high school graduates who move to NCAA, 3.4% of men and 3.9% of women compete in basketball. That means that the toughest sport to compete in and get a scholarship for is basketball.

10. Ice Hockey is the sport with the highest percentage of high school players making the cut in college.

(Scholarship Stats)

There are 108 female ice hockey programs across the three divisions, with 18.1% that make the cut at the college level. Therefore, ice hockey is the easiest sport for a girl to get a scholarship.

Which Sports Are the Best for Scholarships?

college sport scholarships - quarterback

According to the United States Census Bureau, there is a lot more interest in sports among children and teenagers compared to 15 years ago. The percentage of children under 18 who show interest in sports rose to 42%, as participation in sports and other extracurricular activities are seen as a way to help improve children’s social skills. 

The NCAA reports around eight million high school students and student-athletes in the United States all vying for the best college scholarships out there, but only 6% make the cut to play a sport for an NCAA school.

11. The most coveted sport is football, with 1,122,024 high school athletes competing for a scholarship.

(Scholarship Stats)

Football remains one of the most sought after sporting opportunities. Out of all students competing, only 25,918 students are awarded scholarships. The number of high school athletes to a full scholarship ratio is 43:1. 

12. Lowest collegiate athletic scholarships are given to volleyball athletes with a ratio of 177:1.

(Scholarship Stats)

Volleyball is the least awarded sport out of all, with 52,149 high school athletes competing and only 294 receiving athletic scholarships. Women account for the majority of players with an estimated number of 476,640 high school athletes compared to 66,908 male volleyball players. 

13. Basketball and baseball are the most popular sports in the United States with excellent ratios of 57:1 and 60:1, respectively.

(Scholarship Stats)

These are two of the easiest sports scholarships to get, simply because basketball and baseball players have a higher chance of being drafted and becoming pros. The number of high school athletes to one scholarship ratio is 57:1 for basketball and 60:1 for baseball.

14. The sport with the best high school athletes to college scholarships ratio is gymnastics.

(Scholarship Stats)

Gymnastics has recorded the best ratio out of all sports, with 20:1 chance of getting a scholarship. Out of 1,995 high school athletes, 101 received a scholarship making it the best sport to compete in to get a scholarship.

Athletic Scholarships Requirements

college sport scholarships - photo

There are a lot of advantages of being a student-athlete like having a private tutor, various counselors, and opportunities to travel.

Additionally, you will be able to gain access to some of the best training facilities in the world.  Also, you will get the chance to work with top coaches and fitness staff and stay on top of your game with the help of the best physiotherapists, physicians, and nutritionists. Of course, those benefits do not end after you graduate. In fact, you also have a chance to become a professional athlete. 

It is important to know that college sport scholarships are not only given to would-be pros.

15. There are three types of students who are eligible to receive funding to play a sport at any United States college.

(Crimson Education)

Professional athletes, student-athletes, and recreational athletes are all qualified to receive any sort of funding. As a professional athlete, you will have access to the best facilities and trainers in order to have a higher chance of becoming a professional. Also, you will be in the best position to receive a college sports scholarship.

Having the brains and brawn, as a student-athlete, you can skyrocket your chances of getting into the Ivy League schools. 

Not everyone is participating to win, and many students just want to experience the college lifestyle. If you happen to be that person, then you are definitely a recreational athlete. There are scholarships up for grabs for recreational athletes, too. 

16. The NCAA oversees more than 460,000 students who are competing in 24 different sports.


In case you are wondering how many college athletes are out there, the NCAA oversees the largest portion with reported numbers close to half a million. Not only that, but the NCAA is also in charge of regulating games, and it funds over 90 championships.

17. NCAA has created three organized divisions for all its students: Division I, II, and III.


Division I schools are usually large national universities that typically have a hefty sum of financial aid to spend on sports facilities and scholarships.

Division II schools are regional universities that are smaller in size. They usually have limited assets that can be spent on any type of college sport scholarships.

Division III schools are the smallest type of universities that do not offer scholarships, but other forms of financial aid.

18. The NCAA has strict criteria that every student-athlete must meet.


When it comes to the criteria, not only is the NCAA strict, but it also does not make any kind of exception. Students need to be amateur athletes who have not signed any professional contract. They can reach out to any coach at any time without restrictions.

Up until June 15th or September 1st is the time when colleges can offer athletic scholarships, depending on the start of the athlete’s junior year.

19. NCAA academic requirements differ for Division I and Division II students.


For Division I, a prospective student-athlete needs to complete a total of 16 subjects. 10 of these 16 subjects need to be completed before the final year. The potential candidate will also need to maintain a minimum 2.3 GPA during all four years of high school.

For Division II, a prospective student-athlete needs to complete a total of 16 subjects, as well as maintain a minimum 2.2 GPA during all four years of high school.

Who Pays for Athletic Scholarships?

college sport scholarships - athletics

Schools offer two types of scholarships—full scholarships and partial scholarships. Division I and Division II colleges are the ones that provide the most with the reported amount of $2.9 billion annually. Even though these figures show an incredible amount of money given to 150,000 students, it is important to note that full scholarships are not mandatory. 

How much money students receive depends mostly on the sport they play. The funding for athletic scholarships comes from the athletic department of each school. The maximum number of athletic scholarships that are given each year is 177,599 but how many end up in students’ hands depends on the performance and sport.

Universities are trying to attract top talent by allocating a budget that is designated for scholarships in an attempt to convince high school athletes to join their college.

20. Division I and Division II schools spend about $1 billion on 126,000 students annually.

(How Stuff Works)

Division I schools are larger and have a more prominent sports culture. Therefore, they receive more funding. Division II schools usually receive less funding due to the fact that these schools do not experience as much pressure on the field as Division I schools.

21. 2017 statistics showed a staggering $2.3 billion in Pell Grants that went unclaimed.

(Scholarship Owl)

Even though the number of scholarships that go unclaimed is small, there are reports that some do go unclaimed. That is uncommon but possible because sometimes high school seniors do not fill out their free application in time for college enrollment.

22. The Ivy League reserves from 13% to 18% of funding for potential athletes.

(Market Watch)

These schools do not offer full or partial scholarships. Instead, they reserve part of their funding for the recruitment of athletes who have the possibility of receiving college athletic scholarships.

23. Full-ride athletic scholarships are rare, with reports showing a small number of receivers.

(College Sports Madness)

The statistics show that sports career is the number one priority for athletes in college. However, athletes can only hope to become eligible and pay their way through college. Full scholarships are renewed every year, often at the coach’s discretion. The maximum period is six years, so it is safe to assume that athletic scholarships are guaranteed for four years.

Even though the risk of injury is always present, if a student gets injured, he or she may lose the scholarship.

24. Scholarship statistics show that $18,000 is the average amount of money per student-athlete.

(USA News)

While $18,000 is not a small amount at all, it is still not enough to cover all annual college costs. The student needs to pay tuition fees and save money for books, food, and housing that can amount to thousands of dollars per year.

Can You Get an Academic and Athletic Scholarship?

college sport scholarships - sports

The NCAA allows the combination of both academic and athletic scholarships, but an individual needs to earn both in the classroom.

25. To meet the Division I requirements, students need to be in the top 10% of graduates with a 3.5 cumulative GPA and 1200 SAT score.

(USA Today HSS)

By imposing such requirements, the NCAA prevents schools from using these scholarships in order to attract athletes and have them compete in their schools.

26. To meet the Division II requirements, students need to be in the top 20% of graduates with a 3.5 cumulative GPA and 1140 SAT score.

(USA Today HSS)

Athletes who excel academically and athletically will be awarded scholarships based on the requirements mentioned above.

People Also Ask

How do you get a sports scholarship for college?

Coaches award sports scholarships based on their opinion and students’ performance. For students, this means an incredible opportunity to pay for college. However, winning a scholarship can be difficult, and you need to take specific steps to increase your chances. That said, one of the most important steps you can take is to start early and begin looking for scholarship opportunities.

Next, you might want to consider getting a professional assessment before you even venture into applying for a sports scholarship. Afterward, while researching the college you want to apply for, you will also have to take into account the eligibility rules, such as academic performance. 

Last but not least, contact the coaches and send a cover letter explaining why you want to join their school and program.

What sports give scholarships?

There are over 24 different sports to play in order to get a scholarship. NCAA covers most of them, but playing basketball and baseball will enable easier access to scholarships. 

Since these players have the best opportunity to become pros, these two sports are also highly competitive compared to others. For girls, the easiest way to get a scholarship is by playing ice hockey.

Students can also choose gymnastics, fencing, football, golf, or soccer, where chances of winning a scholarship are higher. Volleyball, wrestling, water polo, and many others are a bit tougher when it comes to getting a scholarship.

Do NAIA schools offer full athletic scholarships?

The NAIA offers scholarships to schools in Division I and II, but not in Division III. That is because the association has fewer scholarships and also less strict rules compared to the NCAA.

Each school determines how much is spent on an individual athlete. There are very few NAIA schools that offer full athletic scholarships, with partial ones being the most common type of funding. The number of scholarships given to student-athletes is impossible to determine as the NAIA does not have a central database. 

What colleges give full-ride scholarships?

A full-ride scholarship is a type of scholarship that covers every expense related to college. The goal is to reduce any additional need for financial aid. Getting a scholarship to pay for college expenses is the dream of every young individual. Parents are also hopeful that their children will receive a full-ride scholarship because a lot of parents struggle to pay for college. 

But many people wonder, what exactly does a full-ride athletic scholarship cover? In short, it covers tuition, fees, accommodation, and course material.

Full-ride scholarships are less common, especially if the school ranks higher. For this reason, many students are surprised at how disappointingly small the number of awarded full-ride scholarships is.

Even though the number is small, there are a lot of schools to choose from. In addition to that, here is a list of 82 colleges that offer full-ride scholarships.

What college sports offer full scholarships?

Anyone can be eligible for a full scholarship, but it mostly depends on the background, skills, or expertise. Typically, full scholarships are given to students with the best academic history, leadership skills, or athletic prowess. However, other types of scholarships can be given by different schools for different reasons.

If students want to increase their chances of winning full scholarships, they should choose football, basketball, tennis, volleyball, or women’s gymnastics.

What is the average scholarship for a college athlete?

Not every athlete is guaranteed a scholarship. Moreover, not every scholarship that is given is a full-ride one. Coaches can make walk-on offers as well, meaning the reward may come in the form of a guaranteed roster spot. 

The average scholarship for a college athlete is worth about $17,400 per year. Students can be offered four types of scholarships that typically have different criteria for academic and sporting purposes.

What is the average athletic scholarship amount?

Athletic scholarships are indeed rare. About 1% to 2% of undergraduate students with a bachelor’s degree receive scholarships. Do note that not everyone receives a full-ride scholarship, but mostly a partial one. 

The average scholarship for an athlete that is given by the schools is worth $6,283 for men and $7,541 for women. While these may seem like small amounts, such scholarships can play a huge role in helping families get through the college years. 

Do NCAA Division II schools give athletic scholarships?

Yes, Division II schools give athletic scholarships. Division II schools are typically smaller colleges and universities that are less competitive and offer fewer scholarships compared to Division I schools.

The majority of these schools offer partial scholarships since they use the equivalency system. With that in mind, it is still possible to get a full-ride scholarship, although they are less common in Division II.


Every year, there are millions of parents that enroll their children in various youth sports programs with the hope of them developing skills that will be required to compete for a scholarship that pays for college. The requirements differ for each school and division. We mentioned the most important facts, the best schools that offer the best scholarships, the types of colleges, and who pays for them.

College sport scholarships are the ultimate prize for high school graduates giving them an incredible opportunity to play sports and study at the same time.

Keep in mind that when you start thinking about applying, you need to be prepared for one of the most challenging experiences in your life and certainly one that will make you stronger and more resilient even if you do not get accepted.

Hopefully, the information we provided will be helpful when the time comes to apply for a college scholarship.