When a college football or basketball team wins a championship, the school typically receives a nice boost in applications for admission. No wonder colleges recruit student athletes. But what are the benefits for students?
Preferential treatment in the admissions process is a huge advantage. At many, though not all, Division I schools, if a coach wants an athlete and that student meets NCAA eligibility requirements, the student is admitted. But while athletic prowess may be the ticket for superstar athletes, good grades are still important for the majority of prospective players.
Money is another incentive. Division I schools are usually large flagship universities with the most money to put into athletic scholarships. Division II schools also offer athletic scholarships, but Division III schools do not, though there are certainly advantages to playing sports at a Division III school.
Many people think all recruited athletes are getting a free education, but the number of scholarships is limited by NCAA rules. The average athletic scholarship is $10,409. While football and basketball players get full rides, athletes in less glamorous sports often receive just a few thousand dollars.
Even athletes that get a full ride aren’t really getting anything for free. An intense schedule of training, practice, team meetings, and travel to games makes it challenging to keep up with coursework. Athletes may not be able to take certain classes because of scheduling conflicts or workload. While players form tight bonds with their teammates, they have limited time for social life. Forget about spring break at the beach. Being a Division I athlete is a demanding job.
Of course, if you love playing a sport, the sacrifices may be worth it. You have the joy of the game, the camaraderie of your teammates, and an identity on campus. And you certainly graduate with good time management skills.
While playing sports at a Division I school may be more prestigious, there are advantages to a Division III school. Athletes can still get extra consideration in the admissions office at Division III schools, and even though these colleges don’t offer athletic scholarships, they can offer academic scholarships. Playing for a Division III team might mean more playing time, which is important when you love a sport, and the satisfaction of being a big fish in a small pond. Since Division III schools tend to be smaller colleges, athletes may find more personal attention and smaller classes, and can find it easier to socialize with the rest of the college community.
Students who want to play on a college varsity team should ask their high school or club coach for a realistic assessment of their prospects. Out of over 300,000 high school senior football players, fewer than 18,000 or roughly 6 percent will be NCAA freshmen. In basketball, the high school to NCAA rate is closer to 3 percent for both men and women.
Coaches at Division I schools are usually aware of blue chip athletes and will recruit them. Other students who are interested in playing for a school will need to be more proactive. Ideally, your coach knows college coaches and is willing to contact them on your behalf. There are rules about when college coaches can contact students, but students can call or email coaches, and may want to prepare an athletic resume that includes academic as well as athletic history.
It’s exciting and flattering to be recruited for a team but remember that college is four years of your life. You want to be sure that the school you choose is also a good match for your academic, career and personal goals.