The following information will provide a high-level overview for the student-athlete to provide insight on navigating the college athletic recruiting experience within all levels of collegiate competition (NCAA DI, DII, DIII, NAIA, and NJCAA). Specifically, this information will detail financial aid through athletic, academic, and financial need-based scholarships and grants. This document will also share information that distinguishes the important differences of how athletes and collegiate coaches can interact throughout the recruiting process.
Sources of Financial Aid
Financial aid is available to the student-athlete in several ways, including various combinations of any of the sources referenced below.
- Athletic Scholarship – financial aid awarded to students based on exceptional performance in a particular sport. The amount is discretionary based on the level of competition, individual performance, and the amount of university funding each particular sport has received.
- Academic Scholarship – financial aid awarded to students based solely upon their academic success, and maintained upon the basis of keeping good grades.
- State and Federal Aid – money that is used to help pay for college or career school based on financial need. Aid can come from the U.S. federal government, the state in which you live, the college you attend, or a nonprofit or private organization.
- Community Scholarships – scholarships that are given by businesses, organizations, and groups in the community. Typically high school guidance counselors have lists of potential scholarship opportunities within the community or state.
Levels of Competitive Play
National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA)
- The NCAA is the governing body for around 1,200 schools
- It consists of three divisions with 23 sports represented
- Divisions I and II both offer athletic scholarships, with over 126,000 student-athletes receiving partial or full athletic scholarships
- Division III student-athletes can only receive academic or non-athletic scholarships – no athletic scholarships are allowed
- Annually, there is over $2 billion in athletic scholarships awarded
Athletic scholarships are awarded to athletes with exceptional talent. These scholarships are independent of and in addition to any potential financial aid received on the basis of academic accomplishments or financial need. When an athlete signs his/her Letter of Intent, he/she promises to enroll in that university and withdrawal all other applications.
The NCAA created a Clearinghouse for recruiting and establishing student eligibility. Division I and II recruits who plan to go on official visits where some or all of the expenses (travel, meals, accommodations) are paid for by the college or university MUST register with the NCAA Clearinghouse prior to visiting.
Student-athletes hoping to get recruited by NCAA Division I and II schools should register during the summer prior to their junior year of high school. All student-athletes enrolled and who are planning to compete at an NCAA school must register with the Clearinghouse.
NCAA Division I Scholarships
- Full athletic scholarships are rare. They cover tuition and fees, room and board and course-related books and materials.
- Partial scholarships are more common than full scholarships. Most student-athletes who receive an athletic scholarship, receive an amount of money that covers a partial amount of the total cost to attend the institution.
- In addition to athletic scholarships, many student-athletes also benefit from academic scholarships. NCAA financial aid programs such as the NCAA Division I Student-Athlete Opportunity Fund and need-based aid such as Federal Pell Grants are other resources for student-athletes.
- Division I schools may provide student-athletes with multiyear scholarships; however, athletic scholarships are not guaranteed and could change due to injury, academic performance, and even athletic performance.
- Division I schools may pay for student-athletes to finish their bachelor's or master's degrees after they finish playing NCAA sports.
- If a school plans to reduce or not renew a student-athlete's scholarship, the school must notify the student-athlete in writing by July 1st and provide an opportunity to for the athlete to appeal. Coaches determine which athletes will receive scholarships and if and when they will be renewed.
NCAA Division II Scholarships
- Full athletic scholarships are extremely rare
- Division II relies on a partial-scholarship model to administer athletics-based financial aid
- Very few of the 110,000 student-athletes competing in Division II will receive a full athletics grant that covers all of their expenses, but most of them will receive some athletics-based financial aid to help pay for school
- Student-athletes use academic scholarships, student loans, and community scholarships to help pay for expenses
NCAA Division III Scholarships
- Many small Division III colleges do not offer athletic scholarships, but many of the same recruiting rules still apply
- Division III schools/coaches are more likely to allow athletes to compete in multiple sports (example: basketball and soccer)
National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA)
The NAIA is an athletic association that organizes college and university-level athletic programs, primarily across the United States. These universities often represent smaller private schools and could carry more expensive tuition than some public colleges/universities.
- The NAIA consists of nearly 250 schools across the country and 60,000 students
- The NAIA includes two divisions, Division I and II, which are organized geographically to compete across several conferences
- Over 90% of schools in the NAIA offer scholarships and NAIA athletes receive an average of $7,000 of financial aid
- NAIA colleges and universities determine how much financial aid is awarded to a student-athlete. Each institution controls athletic scholarships, grants-in-aid, and student loans through the same process that handles general student loans and scholarships.
- Financial aid given to student-athletes is limited to the actual cost of tuition, mandatory fees, books and supplies required for coursework, and room and board.
National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA)
The National Junior College Athletic Association is an association of community college and junior colleges throughout the United States. Athletes can participate at an NJCAA school for two athletic seasons (freshman & sophomore) and then compete at an NCAA or NAIA school for two more seasons (junior & senior). The NJCAA is divided into three divisions and conferences typically based upon regional location. Scholarship money available may vary widely depending on the funding of each particular sport and each individual school.
NJCAA Division I Scholarships
- Colleges may grant full athletic scholarships (tuition, books, fees, room & board), up to $250 in course required supplies, and transportation costs one time per academic year to-and-from the college by a direct route. Each sport has limits on the number of scholarships that can be granted.
NJCAA Division II Scholarships
- Colleges may grant athletic scholarships, but scholarships are limited to tuition, books, fees and up to $250 in course required supplies. Each sport has limits on the number of scholarships that can be granted.
NJCAA Division III Scholarships
- Colleges are not permitted to offer any athletic scholarships.
National Letter of Intent
The National Letter of Intent (LOI) is an agreement to exchange athletic aid for commitment to enroll at the institution for one year. For more questions, please call 205-458-3013 or visit www.national-letter.org.
NCAA Rules of Engagement
The following rules are specific to student-athletes, their parents, and university coaches and staff. University coaches and staff may engage with the athlete's high school and club coaches at any time.
For the most current year's dead period and sport-specific calendars consult the NCAA website.
An official visit is paid for by the college or university. Each student-athlete gets one visit per college and student-athletes are allowed five official visits total. Each visit may not exceed 48 hours.
An unofficial visit is taken at the athlete's expense. The athlete may take unlimited trips and pay for them in their entirety.
A contact occurs any time a college coach says more than hello during face-to-face contact with a college-bound student-athlete or his or her parents off the college's campus.
During a contact period , a college coach may have face-to-face contact with college-bound student-athletes or their parents, watch student-athletes compete or visit their high schools and write or telephone student-athletes or their parents.
During an evaluation period , a college coach may watch college-bound student-athletes compete, visit their high schools and write or telephone student-athletes or their parents. However, a college coach may not have face-to-face contact with college-bound student-athletes or their parents off the college's campus during an evaluation period.
During a quiet period , a college coach may not have any in-person contact with the athlete or their parents off the college's campus. The coach may not watch an athlete play or visit their high school during this period. The athlete and possibly their parents may visit a college campus during this time. A coach may write or telephone an athlete or his/her parents during this time.
During a dead period , a college coach may not, at any time, have any in-person contact on or off campus with an athlete or his/her parents. The coach may, however, write or telephone the athlete or his/her parents during this period. College visits are not permissible during this period.
NAIA Contact Rules
The NAIA does not regulate the contact between a coach and a current high school athlete. NAIA regulates campus visits and tryouts. Athletes are allowed a maximum of TWO days of tryouts throughout their entire career which cannot interfere with school time. These tryouts must occur on an NAIA college/university campus. As an association, the NAIA does NOT have a letter of intent (LOI) program in which students are required to sign a binding agreement. Some NAIA conferences require member schools to recognize letters of intent signed within that specific conference. Check with your prospective school to see if these rules apply.