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Frequently Asked Questions About Combining Athletic and Academic Scholarships


If you’re nervous about whether you can accept an academic scholarship or not, contact the college or universities’ compliance office to work through the situation.

College is expensive. And the more scholarship money you can get, the easier it is to pay for your education. While athletic scholarships are a great way to help foot the bill, the typical athletic scholarship only covers a portion of the cost. Combining athletic and academic scholarships is a great way to get the most bang for your buck.

However, there are some misconceptions about how combining scholarships works, so we’ve answered the most-asked questions to help you better navigate the process.

Can student-athletes combine athletic and academic scholarships?

The short answer is yes — but it depends. The NCAA has a few specific rules about how Division I and Division II student-athletes should handle non-athletic financial aid. To accept an academic scholarship as an incoming freshman, student-athletes need to meet the following criteria:

Division I

  • Be in the top 10 percent of their high school graduating class

  • Achieve a cumulative high school GPA of at least 3.50

  • Score 1,200 or higher on the SAT or ACT sum score of at least 105

Division II

  • Be in the top 20 percent of high school graduating class

  • Achieve a 3.5 cumulative GPA out of 4.00

  • Have an ACT Sum score of 100 or SAT of 1,140

The student must also show that being an athlete was not a requirement during the application process for the non-athletic scholarship. If colleges could give athletes academic or merit-based scholarships freely, then there would be no limit on the amount of money they could offer athletes to compete at their school.

By imposing these rules, the NCAA is ensuring that athletes who receive academic scholarships are getting them based on their academics, not their athletics.

If you’re nervous about whether you can accept an academic scholarship, contact the college or universities’ compliance office to work through the situation. If the scholarship is truly based on your academics, you should be in the clear.  

What are the differences between an athletic and academic scholarship?

Scholarship requirements: The criteria for receiving an academic scholarship are usually quite clear. Typically, they are based on achieving a certain GPA and standardized test score, and they might ask for an essay. To receive an athletic scholarship, the criteria are less black and white, as college coaches have different requirements based on roster needs and division level.

Number of scholarships: The number of athletic scholarships available and the way they are given out depends on the particular sport and division level. The majority of sports are equivalency sports, in which coaches have a certain number of scholarships that they can divide up however they want. Higher value recruits will get more money, while lower-level recruits will get less.

Most academic scholarships will be partial scholarships, paying for a portion of a student’s tuition and fees. However, there is no limit to how many academic scholarships one student can receive, and just a few partial scholarships can add up.

Longevity of scholarship: Most athletic scholarships are guaranteed for one year, and must be renewed by the athlete and the coach every year. If athletes are injured, not contributing to the team enough, struggling to maintain their grades, etc., they can lose their scholarship. Most academic scholarships are guaranteed all four years, provided the student maintains a certain GPA and is in good standing with the school.

If the coach sees I have an academic scholarship, will I receive a smaller athletic scholarship?

Some athletes are under the impression that having an academic scholarship might hurt their chances of maximizing their athletic scholarship amount. The answer here, once again – it depends.

Each athlete on a team is worth is a certain amount of money to the coach. The coach will offer athletic scholarship money based on the amount they believe is competitive for that athlete.

If a coach sees that an athlete has an academic scholarship that covers a portion of his or her cost, they will use athletic scholarship money to make up the difference. That way, the coach has a little extra money left over to recruit more high-quality athletes. In other words, recruits are worth a certain amount to coaches. It’s better for coaches if recruits receive academic scholarships to get to that number so coaches can stretch their scholarship dollars a little further.

After you factor in scholarships and other forms of financial aid, compare schools based on your expected family contribution and not scholarship amount. Your athlete may receive a larger scholarship at one school, but you could still end up paying more if the tuition costs are much higher than the other schools you’re considering.

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