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Saturday, January 1, 2011

Athletic Scholarships & Financial Aid

Buying a car is sometimes financially a tough decision. You may only buy a new car every 4-5 years so it is not something you are comfortable doing. You are spending a lot of money, and you are not sure if you are getting as good of a deal as if you went someplace else.

Even worse are the stories about the little old lady who has relied on her husband to buy the family car for decades, he dies, and now she has to figure out how to buy a new car. She may have bought a car for herself when she was 18 but has not done that for 50 years.

In many cases, when parents start into the process of helping their child figure out a college to go to, they are like the little old lady, they are doing something they have either never done, or have not done for 30 years.

Sometimes it helps if parents have gone to college themselves but too often their frame of reference is dated. I had a player who was looking at private colleges ask me, “How much debt did you have when you graduated from Knox?”  I had no debt because Knox comprehensive fee when I started was $3600- my experience is irrelevant.

I am not a college counselor but I have been involved in different degrees with some players as they have gone through the college selection process. I would like to share some of my thoughts, and also have listed some sites you might visit for further information.

Bad News- Good News- For private four year colleges, the average cost has gone up from $21,000 ten years ago to $36,000 today. During the same time frame average incomes have not gone up. The good news is that during that time financial aid has gone up so actual cost of private colleges has not gone up. Advice is to “look at the net cost, not sticker price.”

How Much in Loans- If you are looking at a financial aid package, how much of the package is in a loan? In effect a student loan is deferring your costs from today until a later day- but you are still paying that money.

Athletic Scholarships- If you figure the number of athletic scholarships available, and the number of high school athletes, statistically fewer than 1.8% of high school athletes will receive scholarships. Does that mean a young athlete should not dream about an athletic scholarship- no. But in my years of coaching, none of the girls who actually got DI or DII scholarships entered high school with “getting an athletic scholarship,” as one of their top goals. Their focus was on enjoying and competing in high school, and after colleges showed interest- then it became a goal.

Plan As If- My strongest advice to a young player and to their parents would be to ALWAYS plan for college as if you are not going to get an athletic scholarship. Make decisions that are best for you as a student, not as an athlete.

Athletic Scholarships Aren’t What They Seem- While an athletic scholarship can be very satisfying to an athlete’s ego, or to their parent’s ego, it may not be what they think it will be. In 2008, the average athletic scholarship was worse $8,707. The average financial aid package in America is about $14,000.  At major DI schools (Big Ten, SEC, ACC, etc), they will have some programs which are fully funded, and some that are not fully funded. The “major sports” will be fully funded and will just give “full scholarships” which will cover everything. These sports will vary from school to school. At 117 DI football institutions, you would be likely to find football, men’s basketball, women’s basketball full funded scholarship sports, and other selected sports. So if the NCAA allows them to give 12 scholarships, they give 12 scholarships.

In other sports which are not as high profile, the school will give the coach a certain dollar amount to spend on scholarships. So maybe the tennis coach will be given $50,000 to use as financial aid, and the coach figures out how to spend that to get the best team possible. One player may get $20,000, another $15,000, and others $5,000 in aid. So a player or parent may say they are getting an athletic scholarship but you may not know exactly what that means.

This is why when you look at a sport like men’s basketball which is fully funded in scholarships, you may find the team has players from all over the United States. They don’t worry about out of state tuition- when they give the scholarship, it covers everything. But the programs which are not fully funded and are giving a dollar figure, try to stick with players who will be getting in state tutition.

Difference Between DI, DII, DIII- The difference between DI and DII is in funding amounts, and in number of scholarships. DII is restricted to give fewer scholarships than DI schools are giving. DI schools are places like Wisconsin, WIU, NIU, Illinois, Bradley. DII schools are like EIU, SIU-E, Quincy University. DIII schools are like Knox, Augustana, Beloit, Grinnell. DIII schools CANNOT give aid that is based on athletics. When I was at Knox, a couple freshmen football players bragged they were on a football scholarship- they were getting financial aid that had to be based on financial need or academic ability. A friend of mine recently said a parent told them that their son was going to Cornell College at Mt Vernon, Iowa on a basketball scholarship- not true.

Happiness and Level- If you are unhappy with athletic experience at a DI or DII level, and decide to quit, you lose your scholarship. As far as players sticking with basketball and having a positive experience, about 50% of the kids seem to stick with basketball, no matter what level they are competing.

Junior College- JC’s are financially a good deal. Concerns are to always check out are how well courses transfer into the program you would want to go to at a four year school. If a student is a serious student and does their research, that should not be an issue. We have had students, sadly, who did not do the research on what whould transfer and were not as serious- as a result, we have had a significant number of players play at Juco’s who never got four year degrees. The other caution would be if you choose a Juco to play basketball, look at their roster and a boxscore. Don’t let yourself go to a school that may “stockpile” talent. We had a player who went to a school that had fifteen on the roster, and would then play for 2-3 games, then sit for 2-3 games.  If it is an out of town Juco- what is the housing going to be like?

Private Schools Have Higher Sticker Price- According to  in 2008 the costs were:
Grinnell                    $49,000
Ill. Wesleyan            $44,800
Augustana                  $42,000
Knox                        $42,000
U. of Illinois            $27,000
WIU                        $17,600

FAFSA- This is the program that determines nationally what they think parents can afford to pay for college. Parents fill it out, and then every college in America uses it for determining financial aid. Not all schools when they give aid are going to meet the FAFSA level at 100%. According to, this is the pct. of the FAFSA need that colleges met on the average in 2008:
Grinnell            100% of need met
Knox                 92% of need met
Wesleyan           92% of need met
Augustana          88% of need met
U. of Illinois       71% of need met
WIU                    37% of need met
* A critical question would be what percent of that need was in form of scholarships and in loans.

What Are Net Costs- According to
                        Sticker Price                        Average Aid                        Avg Indebtness at grad
Grinnell            $49,000                        $34,000                        $19,000
Augustana        $42,000                        $26,700                        Not reported
Knox                $42,000                        $26,000                        $24,000
Wesleyan          $44,800                        $25,000                        $26,500
U.of Illinois       $27,000                        $13,000                        $19,000
WIU                  $17,600                        $9,000                          $20,000
* Again, what percentage of aid is in loans.           

My advice:
·      Anything to do with the sport- talk to your coach. Your coach can try to do some research with other coaches, or your coach may actually know the college coaches.
      Talk to your high school counselor. It might be that you would want to set up a meeting with parents, student, and counselor. Make sure to attend the college nights they offer.
T   Try to set up a meeting to talk to a college financial aid counselor. That doesn’t mean you have to go to that school. Ask them info and get as much info as you can. I actually talked to Knox financial aid counselor when my son was 7 years old. Not that I am hyper but just to have a better idea of how they figure parent’s financial need so that I might have a better idea on how to save for college. Just because you talk to a particular school, you don’t have an obligation to go there.
       It may be wise to apply to 2-3 places so you have different aid packages to compare. If you want to go to one school and they don’t have as good aid package, take the better aid package to them and show it to them.

      Ultimately realize that it is likely there may be lots of "right choices" when it comes to college. 

Some internet sources--
Chicago Tribune, “Best Values in Private Colleges”, December 2010

Smart Money Magazine, “10 Things Financial Aid Offices Won’t Say” by David Welive

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