“My Child is an Amazing Athlete! All That Sports Investment Will Really Pay Off in a Division I Full-Ride Scholarship!”
We adore our children and they are all special in their unique ways. In my practice, though, I have met many parents of high school student-athletes who know the endless weekends spent traveling to tournaments, the money spent on travel leagues, private pitching lessons, uniforms, hotel rooms and gas will pay dividends in the form of full-ride Division I scholarships for Susie or Joey. If this sounds like someone you know or perhaps defines your family, you’re not alone. Youth sports is a national craze and loving parents will sacrifice their family time and financial resources to support their children in pastimes in which their children excel.
Let’s look a little closer at the hard facts of how many athletes actually compete in the “Holy Grail” of college sports and, eventually, “go pro”. Your very accomplished daughter is a volleyball hero with her name on the plaque for “Outstanding Athlete” in the trophy case by the gym. In 2020, she joined 461,955 other girls volleyball players and has a 6.0% chance of playing in college. A stand-out in her hometown, her chance of joining a Division I program is 1.1% and she has a 1,435:1 chance of going pro according to ScholarshipStats.com. Your talented son is his basketball conference’s MVP. In 2020, he was one of 547,271 young men playing high school basketball and has a 5.7% chance of playing college ball. He’s pretty great, but the stats say that he has a 0.9% chance of playing Division I and his odds of playing pro are actually 1,920:1.
The other misconception many parents have is that all college athletes get big financial aid awards. Division III schools may offer merit scholarships for grades or other attributes, but they give no financial aid for playing sports. Division II schools offer little to no financial aid for sports in and of themselves. Division I schools do award athletic scholarships. The NCAA’s website details that of a total of 170,000 student-athletes in 2020 in all sports and at all schools, 57% received some scholarship dollars. The pool of dollars at each school, though, must be divided among a number of individuals dictated by the NCAA by sport and it is possible that any one of these outstanding athletes could be awarded a very small sum or nothing at all. Full-ride scholarships are rare rather than the norm.
Your family may receive a better outcome by making a conscious decision to invest fewer dollars in youth sports and funnel those instead to college savings accounts where they can grow in preparation for your child’s college funding needs.