athletic scholarship options

What Are Your Athletic Scholarship Options?

There are a lot of college athletic scholarship options available to high school athletes. Most people think NCAA Division I schools are the only schools that can offer athletic scholarships. But that isn’t true at all.

We’re not going to knock those institutions because they offer a lot of opportunities for student-athletes, even some former NSR athletes. But we do want to explore all of the athletic scholarship options available for high school athletes.

Almost every competitive high school athlete wants an athletic scholarship. That’s nothing new. A lot of people want a college scholarship to help alleviate the price of tuition. Just like regular students, athletes need to know all of their options to make the best decision possible.

What Are Your Athletic Scholarship Options

Like we previously stated, most people think athletic scholarships are only at the DI level.

But they aren’t the only college athletic scholarship options out there.

According to the NCAA, only 59% of Division I athletes receive an athletic scholarship, whether it’s full or partial. However, between Division II, NAIA, and the NJCAA there are plenty of other athletic scholarship options available.

Here’s a breakdown of all the athletic scholarship options available for student-athletes.

NCAA Division I

Every DI institution can provide athletes an athletic scholarship. Depending on your sport, it could be full, or partial. For example, FBS football, women’s volleyball, men’s and women’s basketball, women’s tennis and women’s gymnastics are all head-count sports.

What does that mean?

A head-count sport is unable to divide their scholarships between athletes. Meaning, they only have a certain amount of scholarship athletes per year. For example, FBS football programs have 85 full-ride scholarships. That means 85 athletes on the team are on a full-ride scholarship.

If you follow college football at all, you know that there are way more than 85 players on a football team. But only 85 of those athletes have an athletic scholarship.

On the other hand, sports that aren’t head-count can divide their scholarships among every athlete on the team. That doesn’t mean every coach does this. But they do have the option to distribute their scholarships if they want to. The NCAA calls this the equivalency scholarship model.

Because of the equivalency model, programs can double, or triple, their roster size by providing small scholarships to prospective student-athletes.

Insider tip: If a head-count sport isn’t fully-funded they have the ability to divide their scholarships up between athletes.

What does fully-funded mean?

Fully-funded means a sport that can provide the maximum amount of scholarships offered by the NCAA. Not every sport or school is fully-funded. It depends on a lot of different things like Title IX, college size, funds, etc. To see the list of fully-funded scholarships per sport, click here.

NCAA Division II

DII schools follow the partial-scholarship model, which makes it easier for athletes to receive an athletic scholarship. Ultimately, like DI equivalency sports, all DII scholarships can be divided.

However, this does not mean that athletes can’t receive a full-ride scholarship from a DII college or university.

The partial-scholarship model shows that a fully-funded DII football program receives 36 full-ride scholarships. Since the partial-scholarship model allows DII programs to divide their scholarships up, football teams can have more than 36 football players on a roster. Additionally, it’s also very common for more than 36 players to receive an athletic scholarship, whether it’s 20%, 50% or books.

The partial-scholarship model makes it easier for athletes to combine academic money with athletic money as well, making it possible for athletes to graduate from college debt free, or at least pretty close.

NCAA Division III

It’s true that there are no Division III athletic scholarships. This situation may be common knowledge, but for those who don’t know, there it is.

However, did you know that 80% of athletes at the DIII level are on some academic scholarship, merit-based grant or need-based aid?

That’s significantly higher than athletes at the DII or DI level. In fact, the DIII level is the largest NCAA division, with 442 colleges or universities across the country.

Also, even though the NCAA doesn’t allow DIII institutions to offer athletic scholarships, athletic departments are still able to play a significant role in getting athletes scholarships or other financial aid to help pay for tuition. Typically, the packages they’re offer exceed the athletic scholarships at the DI or DII level.


A lot of people are unaware of the opportunities at the NAIA level, and often these institutions can offer some very appealing athletic scholarships. The NAIA provides over $500 million in athletic scholarships every year.  All of these scholarships are similar to DII programs in the sense that they can offer full or partial athletic scholarships. As a result, a lot of NAIA athletes are on an athletic scholarship.

Similar to the NCAA, the NAIA places a limit on how many scholarships a fully-funded program may have.

Insider tip: Scholarships for NCAA DI, DII and NAIA institutions are based on fully-funded programs, some programs may not fall under this range, and have fewer scholarships to provide.


All schools at the NJCAA level are two-year athletic programs. Therefore, athletes who compete at this level are only able to play their sport for two seasons.

Usually, athletes play at a JUCO in hopes to transfer to a four-year institution. The NJCAA is the second largest college athletic organization. The organization has 60,000 student-athletes, and 525 member colleges, competing in 28 different sports.

NJCAA member schools are split into three divisions, DI, DII, and DIII.

Each level has different rules on how they can allocate their athletic scholarships. DI programs can offer full or partial scholarships. DII can only offer scholarships funding tuition, fees, and books. Lastly, the DIII division doesn’t provide any athletics-based aid.

Similar to NCAA DI, DII, and NAIA programs, not all sports are fully-funded. To find out how many scholarships a particular program has contact the school’s athletic department.

Overall, there are tons of athletic scholarship options out there for student-athletes. You just have to be aware of all your opportunities and find the fit that’s best for you.


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