SPUSA 20 years

Scholarships: Not Just for Sport

When it comes to the US college pathway, scholarships are the first topic that everyone wants to know about. Ironically, it also a topic that attracts many misconceptions. It is important to note from the outset that full scholarships are extremely rare and only around one percent of all student-athletes receive them. The most common scholarship offerings to student-athletes combine a range of funding sources, some of which we discuss below:

Athletic Scholarships

Athletic scholarships are offered exclusively by college coaches and are typically based on athletic performance. Oftentimes, coaches will offer larger scholarships to the most high-impact recruits, however college coaches can divide their scholarship budget in any way they choose. Some coaches offer large (potentially full) scholarships to a select few recruits and divide their remaining budget between other athletes on the team. Others distribute their scholarships relatively evenly between all athletes, with everyone receiving some scholarship but no one receiving a full scholarship. Keep in mind, not all colleges are equal in terms of athletic scholarship budget.

Academic Merit Scholarships

Academic scholarships, sometimes referred to as merit scholarships, are awarded to students upon admission based on academic achievement in high school. However, such scholarships are not necessarily for the academically elite. Most colleges offer all students some degree of academic merit scholarship, providing that the student satisfies the minimum academic admission requirements for the institution. Calculated based on a student’s grade point average (GPA) and SAT score, colleges typically have a metric that determines the value of each student’s academic merit scholarship.

Needs-based Financial Aid

Needs-based financial aid is the most common form of US college funding; however, it mainly applies to US citizens (with some exceptions). In order to receive needs-based aid, a student must be able to demonstrate financial need. During the application process, a family will be asked to provide income documentation and other financial information. The university’s financial aid office will then complete an evaluation and determine how much a student can feasibly pay towards the cost of attendance. For those that can demonstrate significant financial hardship, the cost of college may only be nominal. Needs-based financial aid is the primary source of funding available at Ivy League institutions.    

Specialised Scholarships

It is important to do a thorough review of the scholarship section on each college’s website, as there is often a wide range of lesser-known and institution specific scholarships available to students. For example, a college may offer religious, cultural, international, first-generation, and other identity-based scholarships worth thousands of dollars.

Scholarships based on Degree/Program of Study

Scholarships awarded to students undertaking a specific degree may be funded by the college itself, specific academic departments, or by private donors/alumni who wish to encourage students to enrol in a particular area of study. Such scholarships may exist for degrees in Art, Drama, Music, Writing, STEM (science, technology, engineering, math), among many others.

No matter the college, there are scholarships available to student-athletes across a variety of areas. It is important to thoroughly research each college to gain a complete understanding of the scholarship opportunities on offer, which for some may be a key factor during the decision-making process.

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An Aussie's Transformative
US College Journey

By Study & Play Director, Chris Bates