Sports scholarships are nearly impossible to win. About 2 percent of students who play high school sports capture a college athletic scholarship. That's the grim news that I shared in my last column.
Every year, however, thousands of students do beat the odds. And why shouldn't some of these lucky student athletes be your clients' gifted teenagers?
To increase their kids' chances of earning an athletic scholarship, here are seven things that your clients could be doing now:
- Reach out to coaches.
Except for the true superstars — and there aren't many of them — teenagers can't wait around to be noticed. Student athletes often believe that they will be discovered if they compete at showcases or tournaments, but that's often not the case. At these sporting events, college coaches are often there to see specific players on their list and they often will block out the other players on a field.
Consequently, students should reach out to coaches on their own. NCAA rules prohibit coaches from contacting a high school student directly before Sept. 1 of his or her junior year in high school. Students, however, are free to initiate contact with coaches at any time.
Club and high school coaches can also act as intermediaries. A college football coach, for instance, might ask a high school coach to let a talented wide receiver who is a sophomore know that he'd like to talk to him.
- Don't wait too long to contact coaches.
Athletes who are interested in Division I sports should often reach out to coaches in their sophomore year. Students should initially express their interest in an email. Here is what the email should include:
- Sport position
- Sports highlights/awards
- Available sports statistics
- Year of high school graduation
- High school name
- Contact information for high school and club coaches.
When coaches express interest, students will want to update them occasionally with their progress as athletes. They should invite the coach to see them play and give dates of tournaments or showcases that they might be participating in.
- Students should create their own buzz.
A great way that students can boost interest among coaches is to create their own websites that focus on their athletic prowess. On a website, they should include a sports bio, coach recommendations, upcoming game schedule and video clip.
Riki-Ann Serrins, a former women's soccer coach at Georgetown and Tulane, says that coaches only need to see seven to eight minutes of action. The video clip doesn't have to be professionally done. In fact, Serrins suggests that students can even record with a Flip Video camera.
Students can post video on YouTube and email the link to college coaches. Coaches actually prefer looking at YouTube videos rather than dealing with DVDs that tend to stack up — unwatched — in their offices.
- Be realistic when pinpointing athletic programs.
Parents often overestimate their teenagers' athletic abilities. Students who aim too high will be wasting their time.
How good do you have to be to earn a sports scholarship at a Division I or top Division II school? Scott Brayton, an independent college counselor in Bellevue, Wash., who has worked with hundreds of teenagers, suggests that parents answer the following three questions:
- Is your teenager the best player on the team?
- Is he or she the best in his or her league or in a tournament?
- Is he or she one of the five best players in his or her position in his or her state and region?
If a parent can't answer yes to each question, her child probably won't be a scholarships recipient in Division I or top Division II programs. The student might still have a shot, however, on teams lower on the pecking order.
- Consider Division III colleges.
Another great alternative for student athletes are Division III sports teams. These colleges don't provide athletic scholarships, but they do offer need-based financial aid and many also award academic merit scholarships for affluent students. This academic money can often exceed the amount of the typical athletic scholarship. Prominent Division III schools include Washington University in St. Louis, Tufts University, University of Chicago, Amherst College and Williams College.
- Don't waste your money on professional athletic recruiters.
Your clients might be wondering if they should hire an athletic recruiting firm to find schools that would give their teens sports scholarships. Tell them not to bother. They are usually an unnecessary waste of time and money.
That's the opinion of many experts who I've talked to including Karen Weaver, the athletic director of a Penn State campus and a commentator for CBS Sports. She has coached field hockey at such institutions as Williams College, Purdue University and Ohio State University.
Weaver accuses sports recruiters of preying on families' emotions so they can “sell the dream” of winning a sports scholarship. While that might not dissuade families, this might: coaches often think recruiters are pests.
“Coaches really don't want recruiters getting into the middle,” she observes.
- Consider NAIA schools for scholarships.
While NCAA institutions attract most of the attention, some schools belong to the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics, which also allows scholarships. Most of the 290 NAIA institutions are smaller private schools. You can find a list of all of the member schools on the NAIA's website at http://naia.cstv.com/.
Lynn O'Shaughnessy is a college consultant, author and speaker. She writes three college blogs for CBSMoneyWatch, U.S. News & World Report and TheCollegeSolutionBlog.com.