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Grants For Athletes

Sports can take you places! Your athletic talent can open up opportunities, most notably in college scholarships. College sports have never been more popular than they are today. In 2015, US colleges awarded more than $3 billion in assistance to athletes, with the average award around $5,500 for men and more than $6,600 for women.[1] That figure does not include private funding awarded to students from outside of their schools.

The sport you play in high school may help you land tuition assistance at many different schools. Most people know about support for athletes in major sports and major schools, but there are many other opportunities for talented athletes.

Let's explore the different funding options available for college athletes.

College-Based Opportunities
The colleges you'd like to attend may offer financial aid for athletes in a number of different sports. You should understand that full ride scholarships are difficult to come by, and usually only are offered for basketball, football, and volleyball. However, many schools will also give scholarships for other competitive sports as well. Volleyball, cross-country running, baseball, tennis, softball, outdoor track and field, rowing, archery, fencing, and may more all receive money. In general, if a sport is found at the Olympics, there's a chance that a school might offer a scholarship for it.

You may also want to consider Division III schools that don't usually award scholarships for sports. These schools may not award you sport-specific aid, but award you a merit grant for personal achievements that include athletics. In some cases, you might see your tuition cut in half.

Individuals enrolled in two-year institutions, such as community colleges, can also receive aid for achievement in other sports as well. It's important to check with your school's finance department to learn about which sports receive aid, and in what amounts.

Finally, also consider sports that are more unusual. While basketball, baseball, soccer, tennis, and volleyball get the most attention, some smaller colleges put a lot of attention on less universally popular sports, such as shooting, equestrian, and even curling.

If you believe that you may be qualified for an athletic scholarship, you should begin planning early, to give coaches an opportunity to assess your performance. Your high school athletic coaches are an excellent starting point and will know a great deal about college programs, so be sure to discuss your plans with them. You'll want to begin contacting prospective college programs as early as your junior year in high school, earlier than you would for programs based on academic performance.

NCAA Programs
While the NCAA dictates how much each school can award in athletic grants, and there's a chance that your award amount may be smaller than you hoped it would be due to coaches splitting the money across a larger number of athletes, the organization has grants of its own as well.

Jim McKay Graduate Scholarship: A $10,000 award to one male and one female with strong academic achievements whose degree focus is in sports communication or sports journalism.

Walter Byers Graduate Scholarship: A $24,000 award to one male and one female student that combine exceptional educational and athletic achievement with strong leadership qualities.

Ethnic Minority and Women's Enhancement Scholarship: A $7,500 grant to 13 ethnic minorities and 13 women heading into their first year of a graduate program in sports management or intercollegiate leadership.

NCAA Postgraduate Scholarship: An award given to 174 student athletes who are in their final year of a sports program. Grants are awarded each season.

Division I Degree Completion Award: This grant is available to student athletes at Division I schools who have completed five years of study, but due to financial hardship may not be able to complete their degree. Applicants must be within 30 semester hours of earning their degree and have received sports financial aid during their previous five years of study.

Division II Degree Completion Award: This grant is available to student athletes at Division II schools who have completed five years of study, but due to financial hardship may not be able to complete their degree. Applicants must be within 32 semester hours of earning their degree and have received sports financial aid during their previous five years of study. Students must have a 2.50 GPA and cannot participate in sports while receiving the award.

Grants from Athletic Associations
Student athletes may be able to obtain assistance from different athletic organizations, such as the following:

United States Tennis Association: USTA offers awards up to $5,000 for eligible students through their Excellence Grants for boys and girls.

United States Bowling Congress: The USBC offers grants up to $1,000 for qualifying applicants.

American Morgan Horse Association: The AMHA offers up to $500 through their Graywood Youth Horsemanship Grant.

National Strength and Conditioning Association: The NSCA offers several opportunities for qualifying graduate and undergraduate students, including non-athletes enrolled in sports medicine and training degrees. Average award amounts are around $1,500.

If there is a sport you already play, consider contacting athletic organizations that oversee that sport. These can vary, and some sports have multiple organizations involved with them. There is a chance those organizations may offer some awards to student athletes, particularly in schools where that sport may not receive funding.

Local Programs
Many local communities offer grants to student athletes. Check with your local government or community organizations to see what's available. Many local communities support student athletes who may help bring attention to their communities, and who give back to the community through community service.

Your high school coaches and guidance counselors are also excellent sources of information on programs specific to your community or state.

The website Unigo offers a good resource for students looking for community-based athletic scholarships.[2]

Women and Minorities
Women and minority students may be eligible for some special assistance programs. For example, the NCAA has a scholarship specifically for minorities and women. By law, schools must offer financial assistance to female athletes in the same manner that they offer them to men.

To find out if there are opportunities available for you, check with the finance department of your prospective school or speak directly to the sports departments. There may be programs specifically available for women and minorities, especially in sports where women and minorities are underrepresented.

How to Apply
Application procedures will depend on the particular grant and that organization's individual requirements. Make sure to check what the requirements are for each specific program. In general, your application process may include:

A GPA requirement (either current GPA or maintaining a specific GPA)

Letters of recommendation

An application essay or personal statement

Proof of financial need (either through FAFSA or other means)

Proof of college admission or current enrollment

Proof of athletic achievements

The application process can take some time, and you will likely have competition. Before fully submitting your application, make sure you have had someone read over your submission materials to ensure the accuracy of the information and to avoid grammatical issues in statements and essays.

Athletic achievement can be a viable route to financial aid, and can even help you with admissions, but don't expect to rely on it exclusively. You'll have a better chance of getting and keeping an athletic scholarship if you keep your high school grades up and prepare yourself for college level academics as well. Even with a scholarship, college won't be just about sports. You'll need to meet academic requirements too! Look into all options, and don't forget to take the FAFSA and apply for other financial aid as well. The more choices you have, the better!