Athletic Scholarships does NOT equal College Savings Plan

May 4th, 2014 | By Marjie No Comments

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My sons played sports in high school. They won conference and district medals and honors, and went into state tournaments more than once. They excelled in baseball and football, and played other sports just for fun and exercise. Both went on to play college ball. Neither had athletic scholarships.

What?? No money for playing sports?? Nope. They both chose an NCAA Division III school that does not provide scholarship money for athletes, even though their school’s athletic programs compete at the national level in several sports.

The bottom line is this: When it comes to paying for college, you simply cannot assume that athletic scholarships are going to pay the bills. More important, it is unwise and even unhealthy to put that kind of pressure on our children. After all, only 2% of college athletes have full or even partial athletic scholarships.

I’ll be honest here. We didn’t have any college-related savings for our boys. They knew up front that scholarships, grants, loans, and jobs were going to pay for their college education. They did have academic scholarships, and they chose a private university that could provide grants and scholarships based on merit, grades, and endowment. They also have loans to pay back, now that they’re graduated. And they have received a wonderful education with degrees that have already helped them find work that is satisfying (and pays the bills!).

The Possible Fantasy…

Our daughter is a fabulous athlete. She is the best in her league, winning MVP honors at every tournament. She’s gone to state in her sport(s) two years in a row, and her coaches tell us she’s one of the best they’ve ever seen. She will attend an NCAA D-I school on a full scholarship, graduate with honors, and land a position with a professional sports team right out of college. She’ll play at the pro level for about 10 years, then retire with a comfortable nest egg and begin working in the field she studied. At that time, she’ll also go on the speaking circuit and make in the six-figures just with public appearances every year. Oh, and she will raise our grandchildren to do the same.

The Probable Reality…

Our son is a fabulous athlete. He is the best in his league, winning MVP honors at every tournament. He’s gone to state in his sport(s) two years in a row, and his coaches tell us he’s one of the best they’ve ever seen. He will attend a college or university with a healthy financial aid package that consists of a combination of grants, loans, scholarships (academic and/or athletic), and work/study, graduate with good grades – maybe even honors, and land a position in a job he is prepared for because of a solid education. He will also coach youth sports because he wants to give kids the chance he had to become athletes and enjoy the thrill and challenge that comes with healthy competition. Oh, and he will raise our grandchildren to do the same.

Can the fantasy play out?

Sure it can. And it does, for a few. About 130,000 students receive some form of scholarship for athletics. For example, of the roughly 1,000,000 boys who play high school, about 28,000 will receive partial scholarships at the NCAA D-I or D-II level. And there are about 15,000 professional athletes in the U.S. That’s the TOTAL number, not the number coming out of college this year. Of those 15,000, the average pay is right at $40,000 per year, about the same as an entry level educator or salesperson.

Should I encourage the fantasy?

Sure you should, IF it’s what your child wants. If your son or daughter is voluntarily and enthusiastically spending four to six hours every day practicing, working out, and focusing on their sport, then absolutely you should encourage the fantasy! Devotion, hard work, and an understanding of what it takes to play at the highest levels … these are good indicators of your kid’s potential to take their athletics to the college venue, and perhaps beyond.

But … and this is a big BUT … unless the dedication comes from the heart of your child, let them enjoy sports, learning a love for play and competition, and understand that it may never earn them a spot on a championship team or a full-ride scholarship to the university of their choice.

Athletes have many opportunities to receive financial aid packages; their awards may not be called “athletic scholarships,” but they can still earn financial support by being a solid student-athlete. Remember my sons, who attended an NCAA D-III school? They both received very competitive financial aid packages, none of which were earmarked for athletics, but that helped them afford a fine university education.

So, how do you and your kids afford college?

First, remember that the goal is to pay for college, not to turn your child into the next athletic prodigy (although that would be fantastic!). Seek schools that offer academic and need-based financial aid, which means they will help your child pay for college based on how much money he needs (according to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA).

Second, apply for EVERY scholarship and grant you believe your child might qualify for; seek out awards for academic, athletic, leadership, participation, citizenship, and other qualities and achievements. Civic and service organizations often award scholarships to local students. Complete the FAFSA as soon as possible after January 1 of the year your child will be attending college.

Third, use the human resources who are easily accessible to you. Neighbors and relatives who have put their own children through college in recent years can be a wealth of information to you. Let them share their own experiences, advice, and guidance with you, applying what sounds feasible to your own situation. In particular, talk with your child’s high school guidance counselor and the admissions counselors at the schools your child is considering attending. They are the experts, and have the most current information available about both the financial aid process and the dollars that are available.

Fourth, let your child shoulder some (or a lot) of the work that is required to finance a college education. If you can simply write a check all four years, great. Your kids will come out of their college experience with no debt. But that is very rarely the case. So if you cannot write that check, be sure your child is engaged in the process. Let him help you complete the FAFSA. Have her complete the myriad scholarship applications and grant profiles. They will have a much greater understanding of the work involved, and they will likely appreciate the awards even more when they receive them.

Keep the dream in the midst of the reality 

Hundreds of thousands of college students play sports. Only a fraction of them receive money for doing so, and just a handful of them end up playing at the professional level. Staying involved in sports at the college level usually results in a more well-rounded university experience and a happier student in the long run. Whether or not your child can help pay for college by playing for college does not have to deter them from being a superstar, on and off the field.

 

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