It’s not hard to get caught up in the glamour and excitement of big-time college athletics. And when top athletes are being recruited as early as junior high, many parents see athletics as a way for their child to get college paid for.

The reality, however, is that the odds of earning a fully-paid athletic scholarship are extremely slim. For one, consider that over a third of all colleges with sports teams aren’t allowed to offer athletic scholarships. Here’s a closer look at that reality of college athletic scholarships, and why your best bet as a high school student is to strive for far-more-prevalent academic scholarships.

Long Odds

While there are over 1 million boys playing high school football, there are only about 19,500 college football scholarships.

Take another example: of the over 535,000 boys playing high school basketball, only 3.3% will play NCAA basketball. For girls, it’s only slightly higher – 3.7%.

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Athletic Scholarships Aren’t What You Think

Full-ride Division I athletic scholarships are offered in only four sports – football, men’s and women’s basketball, and volleyball. That leaves the average athletic scholarship (for all athletes) at about $10,400. If you exclude men’s and women’s basketball, the average falls by nearly another $2,000.

Scholarships Are Divided Up

College coaches routinely split up the scholarships the NCAA allows them to offer. A Division 1 soccer or wrestling coach may be given 10 scholarships of a certain amount, but they have the freedom to further divide those amounts into as many scholarships as they want.

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Even Division I baseball, which can be a steppingstone for elite players to make it to the professional level, can only offer partial scholarships equaling 11.7 full scholarships. And those needed to be divided among 27 players.

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Scholarships Aren’t Guaranteed

Even if you receive a college athletic scholarship, there’s no guarantee that you’ll have it for four years. That’s because college scholarships must be renewed each year and it’s at the coach’s discretion. That puts extra pressure on students to maintain their scholarship while still trying to earn their college degree.

Athletics Won’t Make Up For Poor Grades

The focus on earning a college athletic scholarship can be all-consuming – and at the expense of high school academics. Many parents, in fact, see the possibility of a college scholarship as a legitimate fall-back when their child’s high school GPA drops.

You will rarely receive an athletic scholarship that will overcome poor grades. Students will generally do much better by earning a competitive financial aid package with merit aid.

You Need to Promote Yourself

Unless you’re a superstar high school athlete, college coaches may not even know that you’re out there. Students need to be proactive by emailing coaches at schools you’d like to attend. Forward all of your relevant contact information (including your coach’s contact info), statistics, and anything else you think is relevant about your high school athletic career. Better yet, put together several minutes of YouTube highlights and send coaches that link.

Athletes Can Often Do Better by Earning Merit Aid

If you’re serious about continuing your athletic career after high school, Division III offers the best opportunities. It’s the largest division of schools and players in the country, but its schools don’t offer anything when it comes to athletic scholarships. They can, however, offer merit aid to academically-accomplished student athletes, which places a far greater emphasis on grades and test scores than athletic prowess.

Tips for Athletes

Some students do receive full-ride athletic scholarships and then go on to play professional sports. This is just not a common trajectory for most student athletes. Make a realistic assessment of your strengths and decide what it is you are ultimately going for.

Enjoy your experience as a high school athlete, but don’t let pressure on achieving an athletic scholarship overwhelm you. Keep up your grades, and be proactive in your search by contacting coaches.

Playing sports has many benefits for students and is often considered favorably when applying for internships and jobs (as long as your grades don’t slip). Learning how to balance your athletic commitmentswith studying and a social life can teach you excellent time management skills.

Make sure you’re getting an education at a school where academics are prioritized as well as athletics. Visit our sports rankings to immediately begin discovering colleges sports programs of all divisions where the athletes succeed in the classroom as well as on the field.

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The article Banking on an Athletic Scholarship? You May Want to Think Again originally appeared on College Factual.

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