Navigating Sports Scholarships


If you’re hoping your young athlete will get a sports scholarship at a college or university, it’s important to know the differences in scholarship choices before you begin your research.

Let’s quickly review the types of scholarships that the NCAA awards. We’ll also look at the sports to which they are given. In collegiate athletics, there are two kinds of scholarships; a full scholarship and a partial scholarship. 

Regardless of what scholarship your child may get, know that they’re extremely rare. Only 2% of high school athletes are awarded a sports scholarship4!

What are Full Scholarships?

According to the NCAA, a full scholarship “covers tuition and fees, room, board, and course related books.”1 Due to its “full ride” nature of the scholarship, it is the rarest and most sought after scholarship.

A full scholarship can be awarded to only a certain number of athletes on a team (excluding walk-ons). Due to this, the full scholarship is also referred to as a “headcount scholarship”. Head count sports generally produce a lot of revenue for a college or university (think tennis, football, basketball). Not everyone on the team for these sports will get a scholarship, but for those who do, it will cover everything.

It’s also important to note that it only exists at the Division 1 level. Other divisions have different disbursement requirements. At the D1 level, only 2 male sports offer full scholarships (football and basketball) and only 4 female sports do (basketball, gymnastics, volleyball and golf2). 

“Headcount” scholarships are one year contracts with no guarantee the same athlete will have it for their entire college term (the most common reasons for losing the scholarships are injury, coaching changes or ineligibility due to academic probation’s/failures). 

What are Partial/Equivalency Scholarships?

The more commonly awarded scholarship is the partial scholarship which covers a percentage of the cost of attendance (fees, tuition, room, board) and like headcount scholarships, are also good for one year. When selecting schools to review, don’t be turned away by a lower percentage covered by a partial scholarship. Coaches are given X amount of money for their whole team, which can be then divided into varying amounts of scholarships for different team members. 

The scholarship, unlike the headcount sports, produce less revenue for a college or university, and are sports like soccer and baseball. 

At first glance, it might appear that a larger percentage covered through a scholarship is a better choice (say 50% vs 15%), but it really depends on how much the tuition costs in relation. For example;

Choice 1: Tuition costs $65,000 per year, the partial scholarship awards 50% (covers $32,500) whereas you’d be responsible for the remaining 50% ($32,500) annually.

Choice 2: Tuition costs $20,000 per year, the partial scholarship awards 15% (covers $3,000) thus you’d be responsible for the remaining 85% ($17,000) annually. 

Yes, less percentage, but also much less tuition/costs in general. 

Scholarships – A Breakdown

Though only a small handful of sports qualify for a “full ride” scholarship at the D1 level, there is much more opportunity in Division 2 and 3 programs. 

At the D2 level, every sport is considered an equivalency sport. At the D3 level, athletic programs do not award athletic-based scholarships to athletes at all.3 

Click on the image below to download our quick reference guide for Total Numbers of Scholarships per Sport.


  1. NCAA. “Scholarships.” NCAA, Accessed June 1, 2020.
  2. O’Shaughnessy, Lynn. “8 Things You Should Know About Sports Scholarships.” CBS New. 20 Sep, 2012.
  3. Pauline, Jeffrey (Syracuse University). “Factor Influencing College Selection by NCAA Division I, II, and III Lacrosse Players.” Journal of Research, 2010.
  4. NCAA. “NCAA Recruiting Facts.” NCAA, accessed June 1, 2020.
  5. NCAA. “2019/20 Division I Manual.” NCAA, accessed June 1, 2020.