Being considered a walk-on is far more common in college sports than most families and athletes realize.
According to the latest NCAA information, 46 percent of Division I athletes are walk-ons and 39 percent of Division II athletes are walk-ons. Division III athletes are not eligible to receive athletic scholarships, so walk-on status is not calculated.
Here are the five most commonly asked questions about being a college walk-on:
1. What is a walk-on?
Being a college walk-on simply means you are on the college team and receive no form of athletic financial aid (athletic scholarship). Most people assume a walk-on is someone who wasn’t recruited, and they got on the team by making it into the school on their own and making it through a grueling tryout process.
There are walk-on athletes who have this experience, but there are also highly-recruited walk-ons who may have even turned down scholarship offers from other schools.
2. Do walk-ons get scholarships?
There are no hard numbers on athletes who went from being a walk-on to receiving an athletic scholarship. That said, it is far more common that a walk-on athlete eventually gets some amount of an athletic scholarship if they are on the team for multiple years. But don’t expect your scholarships to be a full-ride — most are partial scholarships.
3. What’s the difference between preferred walk-on versus walk-on?
There are many different classifications of walk-ons:
Preferred Walk-On – This is the highest status as a walk-on. You are guaranteed a spot on the team and are going to receive all the support of normal scholarship athletes.
Walk-On (Recruited) – If you aren’t receiving preferred status, that simply means your position on the team isn’t guaranteed. You may be required to tryout once on campus or maybe the coach is expecting you to redshirt your first year. This is still a great option for athletes, especially those looking to play at the highest division level they can.
Walk-On (Unrecruited) – This is the typical walk-on story where athletes make it into the school on their own and find a way on the team through an open tryout. The truth is, this is much less common than families think, as most athletes have at least talked to a coach before enrolling and confirmed they can tryout.
4. What’s it like to be a college walk-on?
Given the wide range of walk-on statuses, and the fact each program uses walk-ons differently, there is no single way to best describe it. But here are a few common experiences that might give you a better idea:
Playing time is harder to come by: There is no denying the fact that a coach is going to have a bias toward playing the athletes who are given scholarship money. You will have to earn your time by first proving it in practice and through your limited game time.
You might not receive the full support of the athletic department: Depending on what type of walk-on you are, you might not have access to the same academic and training support of scholarship athletes. If you are a preferred or recruited walk-on, you likely won’t experience this, but unrecruited walk-ons might not have access to things like preferred enrollment, etc.
Some athletes feel they are treated unfairly: No conversation about walk-ons can avoid the fact some athletes think they are treated as second-class members of the team. Mostly it has to do with issues around playing and practice time. While this is far less common, it can happen and it is usually experienced by the unrecruited walk-ons.
When you do break though, success will be sweeter: Earning your spot on a college team will be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life. Walking on is very challenging, but when it works out, there is nothing better.
5. Should I become a walk-on?
It depends! If you are an athlete who is used to being a starter and getting a lot of playing time, the transition to being a walk-on can be very difficult.
However, if you want to play at the highest level you can and have the character and work ethic needed to make it as a college walk-on, it could just be the perfect fit for you.