Athletic Scholarships

If you are a talented athlete looking for athletic scholarships for 2024, the process is different than many other scholarships. You will want to start the process as early as your freshman year in high school.

College sports are frequently the most prominent social and national events. This makes the student-athletes the most public and visible pool of college applicants who often enjoy special admission consideration. Therefore, many colleges and universities have well-established procedures for recruiting and admission of student-athletes.

Last updated on May 19, 2024 by College Financial Aid Advice.

Athletic Scholarship Associations

Athletic scholarships
There are several college athletic associations. These are non-profit organizations that govern the athletic programs in many colleges and universities in the U.S. and Canada. Furthermore, they set the rules for recruiting, eligibility requirements and athletic scholarships for their member universities. The largest three such associations are NCAA, NAIA and NJCAA which are also called conferences.


National Collegiate Athletic Association

NCAA is the largest and most influential intercollegiate athletic association. The largest colleges and universities are members of the NCAA. Furthermore, NCAA is comprised of three different Divisions I, II and III. Currently there are more than 1,200 different member institutions of higher learning in the NCAA, accommodating more than 444,000 student-athletes, in 23 different sports, who compete on 18,000 different teams in all three Divisions.

Under NCAA regulations, Division I and Division II member universities can award athletic scholarships that are exclusively based on the student applicant’s athletic ability. However, Division III member schools are prohibited from this practice and may only award financial aid based on the student’s financial need or academic merit. Be sure to complete your FAFSA financial aid application, which determines your eligibility for many types of financial aid. There are also many academic Merit Based Scholarships.


National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics

NAIA is a smaller athletic association than NCAA. NAIA members are comprised of smaller 4-year colleges and universities. Furthermore, NAIA consists of two different Divisions I and II athletics. Currently, there are about 300 member institutions, accommodating more than 60,000 student athletes, in 13 different sports in both Divisions.

Under NAIA regulations, all member institutions can offer athletic and sport scholarships on both Division I and II levels. Division I athletics in NAIA is comparable to Division II athletics in NCAA. In general, NAIA eligibility requirements and athletic scholarship rules are not as rigid as those for the NCAA.


National Junior College Athletic Association

NJCAA members consist of Junior (2-year) and community college’s athletic departments in the U.S. NJCAA is the second largest national intercollegiate athletic association. It is divided into three Divisions I, II, and III across 24 geographic Regions. Currently there over 500 member colleges in 43 states, accommodating over 60,000 student-athletes competing in 28 different sports.

Under NJCAA, Division I and II colleges can offer full or partial athletic scholarships. Division III colleges do not offer any funding for the student-athletes. The eligibility requirements and athletic scholarship rules may vary by member colleges. The Student- athletes who are applying to Division III colleges may still qualify for need-based financial aid. Be sure to complete your FAFSA financial aid application, which determines your eligibility for many types of financial aid.

Student Athlete Scholarships

Athletic scholarships
If you are a student with an athletic gift your search starts in your freshman year because the national athletic associations’ academic eligibility requirements start with your 9th grade.

The national athletic associations (e.g. NCAA or NAIA) do not offer athletic scholarships. Rather, individual member institutions do. As such, colleges and universities which are members of NCAA award more than $ 1.5 billion in athletic scholarships every year… And NAIA awards more than $450 million annually in financial aid.

The athletic recruiting standards often depend on whether the institution is recruiting for a revenue-generating sport such as football where they use one set of standards vs. a non-revenue-generating sport such as tennis where they use a higher set of standards.

As a college-bound student-athlete, you should inform your high school counselors and athletic coaches of your college intentions early on and learn to be your own advocate.

Athletic Scholarship Requirements for NCAA institutions

• NCAA institutions do not look at your overall GPA. Instead, they only consider your GPA in core curriculum classes such as English, math and sciences. Certain classes that meet your high school graduation requirements might not be approved by NCAA. Therefore, for a specific list of NCAA approved courses in your high school, you may visit the NCAA website at

• NCAA Divisions I and II require completion of 16 high school core classes. For a comprehensive overview of the NCAA eligibility you may visit the NCAA website.

• The GPA/SAT/ACT scores are based on a sliding scale such that if your core GPA is high, you can have lower SAT/ACT test scores. For example, for the minimum accepted GPA of 2.00, your SAT (verbal & math) and ACT (sum, not composite) scores for NCAA Division I sports must be a minimum of 1010 and 86 respectively (Beginning with 2016-2017 academic year, this SAT score will be raised to 1020). However, if your GPA is 3.50, you can have a lower SAT score of 420 or a lower ACT score of 39 and still be eligible for NCAA Division I sports.

• You may also download a free copy of the current year NCAA publication ‘NCAA Division I Manual by visiting the NCAA publications website at

• Even if you meet the NCAA academic requirements, there is no guaranty that you would be admitted to the college of your choice or receive athletic scholarships. This is because the coaches at most selective colleges and universities, regardless of the Division I, II, or III, have only partial influence in the admission process but do not have control over the final decision.

• If you apply to a school and receive a verbal offer from that school or school’s coach, it is not a guarantee for admission. You should always ask for the offer in writing.

Athletic Scholarships Requirements for NAIA institutions

• NAIA has an eligibility center. All first-time student athletes who are applying to NAIA schools must register with this center. To register, you may visit the NAIA website at

• The minimum non-weighted GPA for NAIA is 3.0 at the end of the student’s junior year or a 2.5 in the middle of the student’s senior year. The minimum SAT (verbal & math) score is 860 and the minimum ACT score is 18. Also, the SAT scores must be from the same testing date.

• When registering with NAIA Eligibility center, you may create a resume of your academic and athletic achievements. You can submit this resume directly to the coaches and the admissions offices of up to 5 schools. This puts you in touch with the NAIA coaches who can contact you directly.

• For more detailed information for playing sports at a NAIA school you may visit their website

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