You’ve spent countless years, dollars and weekends on your child’s sports camps, travel teams, private athletic training and equipment.

And now you’re hopeful that an athletic scholarship is on its way.

While it’s certainly possible that colleges will offer your child financial aid in this form, the awards may not be as generous as you think. Here’s what you really need to know going in.

Fewer Students Earn Athletic Scholarships Than You Think

According to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), only about two percent of high-school athletes earn some kind of athletic scholarship, most of which don’t cover the full cost of school. This allocation rate means that an applicant has a better chance of getting accepted to Harvard, Princeton, Stanford or Yale than earning an athletic scholarship.

Full-Ride Scholarships Are Even Rarer

Only six college sports offer scholarships that cover a student-athlete’s entire college bill, including tuition, room and board, books and, occasionally, living expenses:

  • Men’s football
  • Men’s basketball
  • Women’s basketball
  • Women’s gymnastics
  • Women’s tennis
  • Women’s volleyball

Athletes are also only eligible for full-ride scholarships at Division I and II schools, which are the most athletically competitive of the bunch.

Sports Scholarships Are Not One and Done

Some academic scholarships are guaranteed for four years, provided the student maintains the minimum requirements. However, sports scholarships must be renewed every year; they require student-athletes to keep both a certain GPA and level of excellence in their sport. If the student suffers an injury that affects their ability to play, their scholarship may also be at risk.

College Sports Can Limit Everything Else

Scholarship athletes must dedicate significant time to practices, games and sometimes even public appearances. Combined with travel schedules that often make it tough for them to attend all of their classes, this can make it difficult to maintain the minimum GPA required to keep their scholarships. In order to stay organized and on top of their schoolwork, some athletes spend almost as much time studying with team tutors as they do with actual professors in college classrooms. This only further minimizes time for social activities, volunteer projects, part-time jobs, study abroad programs and other extracurriculars.

It’s Crucial to Get Offers in Writing

If a student is lucky enough to be recruited by a college sports team, the coach may generously offer scholarship aid and other accommodations. However, be aware that those verbal promises are not guarantees. Nothing is official until it comes in writing in the college’s official financial aid award letter.

So What?

It’s true that sports scholarships can be a wonderful way for students to get a reduced or free college education. However, since those instances are rare, the vast majority of families will find that other financing and financial aid options may be more realistic. Check with college admissions representatives about other scholarships and complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) to determine eligibility for financial aid.

FAFSA is a registered service mark of the U.S. Department of Education.