Scholarship Types

Types of financial aid

Getting help with paying for college is without doubt something everybody seeks. It's a good thing then that there are plenty of scholarship options out there, waiting for you to apply and qualify for. But make no mistake: it's a lot of work and you better understand in great detail what entitles you to receive financial aid offers.

Chances are you're a high school athlete, doing fairly well in your sport and hoping to receive an athletic scholarship offer. But there's a bit more to it – and most importantly, more scholarship types you may qualify for - than just your skill level in your sport

Federal grants & scholarships

Unless you are an International student wanting to study overseas, applying for the Federal Application for Federal Student Aid ("FAFSA") is one of the steps in your recruiting process.

Awards are granted by the U.S. Department of Education, based on families' financial need. The total sum of financial aid amounts to more than 150 billion USD. Note that not all of that money comes in the form of grants (grants are financial aid, which does not need to be repaid).

Follow this link to get more information and get started with your FAFSA Application

Below video explains the types of federal financial aid in more detail and also offers some insights into federal loan options:

Private financial aid

There are a number of outside organizations, which award scholarships to applicants. Awards could be offered due to your performance in high school, achievements in the professional world or volunteering activities. It could also be that you qualify for such private external scholarships due to your family background and demographics.

Usually, such private funding could come from companies, law firms or foundations and start at 1,000 USD scholarships per academic year.

Institutional financial aid

Scholarships awarded by universities and colleges are the main focus of our recruiting platform, of what we do here at Smarthlete. Read up on the various merit-based (athletic scholarships, academic scholarships) and need-based options in more detail below.

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Athletic scholarships

Only the following divisions allow athletic scholarships:

  • NCAA Division 1
  • NCAA Division 2
  • NCAA Division 3
  • NAIA
  • NJCAA Division 1
  • NJCAA Division 2
  • NJCAA Division 3

There are no athletic scholarships offered in NCAA Division 3 or NJCAA Division 3 schools.

On top of the division, how much scholarship budget a coach may award depends on the specific sport, as there is a set maximum amount of scholarship money available to the teams' head coaches.

Depending on the sport, there is a really important difference with athletic scholarships. Most sports are equivalency sports with a few sports counting as headcount sports.

Equivalency sport means nothing less than coaches being allowed to split their budget to their needs as fit. Here's an example:

A volleyball coach (men's) in a NAIA school has a maximum of 8 scholarships to split among his student athletes. The coach could decide to award 8 players with full scholarships or he could award half scholarships to 16 players.
Most likely he will award those athletes who are most valuable to the team with a larger portion of the scholarship cake and the very weakest perhaps close to nothing.

Headcount sport means that the number of athletes on the team receiving a scholarship is limited to the maximum scholarship budget. Here's an example:

Women's NCAA D-2 gymnastics limits the scholarship budget to 6 scholarships. Whereas the volleyball player above could split the budget among as many (or few) players as he would have wanted to, the gymnastics coach can only award 6 players with athletic scholarships.

Recruiting Advice

Select your sport on top of this page and see how many scholarships your sport offers in the various divisions and whether we're talking headcount or equivalency sport.

It's important to understand that the maximum scholarship budget does not mean that all teams are working with the same scholarship budget.
In reality you have teams working with the maximum permissible budget compete against teams with close to no scholarship budget at all.
An extreme example of that is the Ivy league, which for decades has agreed to not award its student athletes with athletic financial aid at all.

Once you get in touch with college coaches, presenting them with your level of play, you will get a feel for their interest very quickly. Do you fit in the team athletically and if so, what scholarship portion would the coach be willing to award to you? Depending on the school, the coach will also know whether you might be able to qualify for academic scholarship money:

Academic scholarships

Many schools have set criteria that would need to be fulfilled by applicants in order to qualify for merit-based financial aid. The criteria are usually a mix of GPA, SAT/ACT scores and other achievements, but for most of the schools they like to keep the exact formula of how they assess applicants more or less a secret.
Receiving academic financial aid may be a harder thing to accomplish at highly selective schools, whereas it might be easier at other colleges.

An ACT of 25 might put you just above the ACT mid-range of a university, in the top 25 percentile of incoming freshmen, whereas you may find yourself at the very low end at another school. Considering you are going for merit-based scholarships, you have to be among the better applicants to attract a more sizeable portion of the academic scholarship budget.

Often, schools have a couple dozen of designated scholarships to award to incoming students. If you happen to meet the criteria, you might be selected to be the recipient of any such award. Think, SAT of at least 1,400 with a GPA of at least 3.8 and your intended major within chemistry or biology. If you meet the criteria and are selected by the admissions office, you end up being the recipient of a “John Doe Foundation Scholarship” with 15,000 USD per academic year.

There are also situations when you are offered an academic scholarship by the school, but the coach does not intend to award you with any athletic aid at all. If you still get an offer to be part of the team, practice and compete this makes you a “walk-on”.

Here's an interesting and somewhat confusing detail:
Receiving an academic scholarship doesn't always mean you can get this on top of any athletic award. It counts towards the coach's scholarship budget, unless... do well in school. Then, the academic scholarship award offered to you by the school may be exempt from counting towards the total athletic limit. Here's an example:

The university offers you 10,000 USD in academic money and so does the coach. 20,000 USD in total merit-based aid. In the books of the coach however it counts as 20,000 USD of his budget, as per the rules, unless … you are a strong student and fulfill certain NCAA/NAIA criteria. Then the coach is able to recruit you for less money.

"Getting recruited becomes so much more fun, if you come to the table with good grades and solid ACT or SAT scores. You actually help the coach recruit you!"

Need-based scholarships

The third option within institutional financial aid is of need-based characteristic and applies similar criteria as the above-described FAFSA. Whereas FAFSA is typically only available to U.S. citizens*, need-based financial aid by universities – though seldomly the case - may also be available to international applicants.

Once the dialogue between prospects and college coaches proceeds, schools' admissions offices are included in the dialogue and instrumental in determining your families' financial needs.

Next Read

Read up on affording college, which costs to account for and how you can manage paying for your university education: Out-Of-Pocket Expenses