How Running Will Affect Your Financial Aid Package

Running Will Affect Your Financial Aid Package

From our partner, NCSA

The prospect of financing college can sometimes seem like forcing pieces from different jigsaws into a single shape. If you’re puzzled by the conflicting claims about funding your education with running, this will help.

Here’s the glass half full: More than 460,000 student-athletes participate in NCAA sports, and receive—combined—around $3 billion in athletic scholarships, according to the most recent statistics.

But for many high school students and their families, as CNBC recently reported, the glass looks less than half empty. Less than 10 percent of high school students go on to play in college—just about seven percent of cross country and track and field athletes. And depending on the level of play, the average athletic scholarship ranges from $0 (Division III) to less than $15,000 per year (Division I).

Here’s where it’s important to pierce the confusing cloud of college finances and think strategically to find the best resources for you and your family. To help you do that, we wanted to dispell some of the top misconceptions we often hear from runners who are getting ready for college.

Misconception 1: I thought athletes got full rides to college.

Only certain programs must give full scholarships to their athletes, in a system regulated by the NCAA, which divides sports into two groups: head count sports and equivalency sports. Head count sports include men’s and women’s basketball, the kind of DI football teams you’d see in Bowl games on TV, and women’s gymnastics, tennis and volleyball. Everything else—including cross country and track and field—are equivalency sports, which means college coaches divide the amount of scholarship money among athletes.

Sometimes coaches offer an amount of full scholarships, but more often, several athletes share a portion of one full ride. How much a coach has to offer, and how the funds are distributed among teammates, varies by school.

Misconception 2: I thought I would get a scholarship for running.

If you clicked on the links above, you might have noticed something: Division III schools don’t award athletic scholarships.

That doesn’t mean that runners at those schools are paying for their education out of pocket. The NCAA prohibits scholarships based solely on athletic ability at this level. So for the 5,935 men and 4,316 women who run cross country for DIII schools (according to the latest NCAA report), funds come from a combination of merit- and need-based grants and scholarships.

No matter what division it’s in, a school’s financial aid department looks at your grades, major and academic interests, other extracurricular activities, interest in work-study programs and other aspects of your personal situation (like whether you’re the first person in your family to go to college) to create a financial aid package for you.

Services like NCSA Athletic Recruiting’s [LP link]one-on-one scouting evaluations[/link] can help you determine what kind of schools you should look at based on your times and commitment to running in college.

Misconception 3: I thought my family wouldn’t qualify for aid through FAFSA.

We can’t tell you how much we wish we could go to everyone’s house and look you in the eye when we say this: You should fill out a FAFSA form.

The FAFSA, the NCAA Eligibility Center and a school’s application are arguably the three most important forms you’ll fill out in the recruiting process. You need to apply to get into a school. Similarly, the NCAA Eligibility Center verifies that you’re qualified to run for that school. And the FAFSA determines your family’s expected contrbitution to your college education. If you don’t fill it out, you won’t be considered for a number of programs like Pell Grants, subsidized Stafford Loans or work-study.

Running in college is a transformative experience. But it doesn’t take place in a vacuum. When you’re looking for the perfect fit school, think about where you’ll be able to pursue the major you’re interested in, and what combination of financial aid grants, opportunities and loans will work for you.