I admit it; I’m an Olympics junkie. Winter, summer, doesn’t matter, I love watching the games. This past week as I’ve watched the Olympic trials I’ve heard the commentators talk about how many of the athletes were on college scholarships. What are the odds of getting an athletic scholarship? Turns out, they are pretty long.
Athletic scholarships, especially the coveted full ride, are rare. In 2011, there were 19.7 million college students, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. According to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) website, $2 billion is provided annually to 126,000 student athletes at its Division I and II schools. Division III schools technically can’t award athletic scholarships though they do offer athletes merit or leadership scholarships. The National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics provides $450,000 annually to 60,000 student athletes. Very few of the scholarships are full rides; most are divided among several athletes to subsidize tuition, books, or fees.
If you put all those numbers together, less than 1% of those students are attending college on athletic scholarships. If you have that one-in-a-hundred child who has the right combination of ability, drive, and passion, there’s a chance he or she can earn a partial scholarship but you need to have a plan for covering the rest of the cost of college. Here are some suggestions:
- When your child is young, establish a college fund using a 529 plan and set up monthly automatic payments to it. Even if the amounts are small, say $50 per month to start, the most important thing is to start. For Colorado, www.collegeinvest.org is the place to begin.
- Control your spending on those sports activities. Between clinics and off-season camps, private coaching, gear, and travel tournaments you can easily spend thousands per year for your child. Take advantage of your team’s fundraising opportunities to keep those costs down. I promise I’ll buy Butter Braids, pies, coupon books or tickets to spaghetti dinners if your athlete asks me. Share travel expenses, make it as efficient as you can. And, sometimes, say no.
- Maximize your own retirement funding. Contributions you make to a Roth IRA can be withdrawn free of tax to pay for college if needed. But don’t sacrifice your own retirement for your child’s sports.
- Focus on academics. In college recruiting, a great student who is a really good athlete stands a better chance of being awarded a scholarship than a great athlete who is a marginal student.
- Make sure that it’s your child who wants to play sports in college, not you. It can be tremendously rewarding but it is a lot of work and a lot of pressure.
Later this month when the London Olympics begin, I hope you enjoy watching. If your child is inspired to train for the 2020 games or beyond, that’s great. Just make sure to tuck funds aside for college, too.