Parents of athletes fork out thousands to cover sports expenses over the years. Many wonder, “Is all this time, effort, and money going to pay off big when this kid gets to college?” Here, the sweaty truth about sports scholarships.
1. The truth about sports scholarships: They can make it next to impossible to succeed academically.
Student athletes are typically required to devote up to 40 hours per week to practices, travel, conditioning, and games. This article by NextStepU calls it “an unbelievable commitment in time and dedication…you may…be practicing at 6 a.m. or midnight or even twice a day.”
If your kid has an important test scheduled at the same time as travel back from a game, he’ll likely be told, “Too bad, you’re on a sports scholarship. Buck up and show that you’re all in on this sport.” Your daughter needs to study? She’ll likely hear, “Bring books and notes and study on the bus on the way.” Lack of quiet study space, pressure to repeatedly skip college classes, and sheer exhaustion from the schedule can wreak havoc with a student’s ability to focus on academics—the very reason he or she is at college in the first place.
Lynn O’Shaughnessy writes this, in Moneywatch:
Officially, D-I teams aren’t supposed to practice more than 20 hours a week though travel and other extra obligations aren’t included. In reality, the time restriction is often a joke. Conditioning or weight lifting, for instance, might be called voluntary, but the coach takes attendance and the kid who spends that time in the library could end up on the bench.
In the consulting work I do at GetIntoMedSchool.com, one of my clients explained his “B” in Organic Chemistry to me this way: “We flew home from a game, and I ran down the concourse and dove into the back of a taxi. I screamed at the driver to rush me to the building where my O Chem final was going on, but I was still 45 minutes late. The professor had no sympathy for my situation, and refused to give me any extra time. She said I should have made it a priority to be at the exam on time.”
2. The truth about sports scholarships: They’re not as lucrative as you think.
The average athletic scholarship totals just $10,400. If your child dedicates 40 hours per week to sports for the 30 weeks of the school year, she’ll be making just $8.60 per hour. Tolerable? Maybe. But beware if she plays a sport other than football or basketball. Scholarship awards tend to be lower in other sports—on average just $8,700. It might be better to work at Starbucks, with its generous tuition reimbursement benefit, than to devote a huge portion of college life to sports in exchange for what amounts to just a paltry $7.25 per hour.
3. The truth about sports scholarships: Athletic scholarship money isn’t guaranteed for all four years.
4. The truth about sports scholarships: Your kid could lose it all due to a repetitive stress injury.
For too many student athletes, the grueling practice, conditioning, and game schedule leads to career-ending injury. When that happens, the athletic scholarship is revoked—and your family could get a huge bill stamped “DUE NOW.” Parents receiving these bills may feel extraordinary pressure to just quickly cosign private student loans to keep the kid in college. For details on why you should do everything in your power to avoid cosigning student loans, read the article I’ve written here.
5. The truth about sports scholarships: Restricted academic choices can mean big problems with future career options.
Recently a mother wrote to me about her son, who loves sports and “definitely wants to play in college.” She said to me, “He does need to line up his expected major with a school team that wants him.” Really? So if this boy is an ideal fit for a future career as an air traffic controller, he should still go to a college that doesn’t even have that program—just because the college promises to put him on a sports team for a few years?
Or here’s an even more disheartening situation.
Imagine that your child would make a great doctor or mechanical engineer—but the coach strongly recommends that he or she choose a major that is less time-intensive, such as interdisciplinary studies, sociology, or one popular major taken by athletes at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas: “university studies.”
I understand that your kid loves sports, but the primary goal of college is to prepare for future career. Never lose sight of that.
The best plan? I strongly recommend that parents have kids clarify future career goal in 10th grade (or as soon as possible after that). How can students do this? By taking three well-respected career assessments and having those assessments converged and interpreted by a certified practitioner. (The lightweight computerized “assessments” given at school are notoriously inaccurate and are not recommended for this purpose.)
Because parents need help with this process, I cover exactly how to clarify career goal and then pick colleges accordingly in chapters 13 and 14 of my book LAUNCH: How to Get Your Kids Through College Debt-Free and Into Jobs They Love Afterward. If sports get sidelined due to attending an ideal fit college and pursing a well-thought through career goal, so be it. There are alternate ways to get involved in sports.
6. The truth about sports scholarships: College “club” sports are way-y-y-y less pressure, and often a whole lot more fun.
Your child loves volleyball, and is determined to play volleyball in college? The college likely has a “club” volleyball team, where students get together to play competitively, but without the stress and pressure of being involved in an official collegiate sport. There’s no scholarship money associated with playing on a club sports team, but look at the bright side. No one ever requires a club volleyball student to miss an Organic Chemistry final in order to play in a game.
7. The truth about sports scholarships: It’s far easier to get an academic or merit aid scholarship than it is an athletic one.
Don’t fall into the trap of believing that academic and merit aid scholarships are only for straight A brainiacs with perfect test scores. Merit aid scholarships can be earned by ordinary students, if their parents will strategize the path to that goal early on.
For clear, step-by-step instruction on how to get your kids through college debt-free without scholarships, it takes only 7 hours to read my book:
You can “Look Inside” the book on Amazon for free by going to:
(Tell your friends.)
You can see why financial planners and wealth managers love LAUNCH, here.
You can see the top 9 questions parents are asking me about LAUNCH, here.
Read just one chapter of LAUNCH every 1–3 months while your child’s in middle school and high school, and you’ll know every viable strategy for debt-free college at exactly the right time to implement it.
And if your child’s already well past middle school? That’s OK; you can run to catch up. But the process of getting your kids through college debt-free goes more smoothly the earlier you start it—especially if you’re not planning to save up any money to pay for college.
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Who is Jeannie Burlowski?
Jeannie is a full-time academic strategist, author, speaker, and podcast host. Her writing, speaking, and podcasting help parents set their kids up to graduate college debt-free and move directly into careers they excel at and love. Her work has been featured in publications such as The Huffington Post, USA Today, NerdWallet, and US News and World Report, and on CBS News.