College Info

College Track & Field Scholarships – The Lowdown

October 25, 2021
track and field scholarships

“How do I get a full scholarship?” The burning question on the lips of every athlete going through the track and field recruiting process. Grab a cuppa (tea if you’re American!), a biscuit and enjoy this insight into the most asked question we receive as a college recruiting service.

Let’s strip it back to the raw figures. An NCAA Division I track and field program is permitted to have 12.6 scholarships on the men’s side and 18.0 scholarships on the women’s side. In DII it’s 12.6 for both. There are no athletic scholarships in DIII (a story for another day). You might be wondering, how does 12.6 work? Track and field is an equivalency sport, meaning a scholarship can be divided up into percentages. It is a possibility that a coach can offer you a 60% scholarship. Also note I said “permitted”. Not every team will be fully funded, so their total allotment of scholarships might be less than the max allowable by the NCAA.

These rules work very much like salary caps in professional sports. College track and field programs cannot go above their 12.6 or 18.0 allotments. Average team size is probably 35 men and 35 women. You are now probably thinking you’ve definitely seen colleges that have more than 12 or 18 “full scholarship” calibre athletes. And you’re right, there are plenty! Some teams make their budget go further. We’ll explore two common ways for international student-athletes.

Firstly, the simple art of negotiation – coaches getting athletes to commit for less scholarship money (not RightTrack athletes!) Secondly, by getting help in the form of academic scholarships. Some universities are able to offer academic scholarships to any incoming freshman based on a student’s GPA and/or SAT/ACT score. In some cases an academic scholarship can offset the cost of attendance by 50%, meaning the coach only has to offer you a 50% scholarship for you to be on a “full-ride”. Smart, huh? It’s a win-win for the college and the student-athlete. The coach can stretch their allotment to sign more high calibre athletes, and the athlete is awarded a full scholarship based on their academic and athletic performance.

What about the colleges that don’t offer academic scholarships? They have to be clever in their recruitment. Do you sign 12 or 18 big hitters? Or do you spread that across 24 or 36 half-decent athletes? There’s no wrong answer – every college has their own philosophy when it comes down to scholarships. And we’ve seen both models can be effective.

The million-dollar question – how do you earn an outright full athletic scholarship? Well, let’s put it into professional sports terms. Why did Barcelona make Messi the highest paid footballer? Why did the Chiefs make Mahomes the highest-paid QB? Because their potential contribution to the team far exceeded anyone else’s and they were deemed “worth the investment.” The same is true for college track and field scholarships. A coach will offer a full scholarship if he/she believes the athlete will make a significant contribution at the college level.. “Significant” can be defined in many ways, depending on the college you’re looking at. For some, it’s simply scoring at the conference championships, for others it’s placing top 3 at the conference championships and for the really elites it’s placing top 8 at the NCAA Championships. In one way or another they want to see a return on their investment. Yes, your personal goals are important. But hopefully, they align with the team goals. College track and field is a team sport, and if you’re looking for a full scholarship, be prepared to contribute to the team.

How do I get a full scholarship? Well, firstly become a RightTrack athlete…

I jest! (kind of, but not really)

There’s no flat out simple answer. It’s sadly the worst answer possible – it depends. It depends on your event(s), it depends on your ceiling for improvement, your academic standing, your coachability, the conference and college you’re targeting. The latter two points take significant research. Don’t just blindly contact the top 25 teams in the NCAA. Be honest with yourself and understand where you sit within the spectrum of colleges.

You’ll see I’ve written “event(s)”. I’m about to deliver a killer blow to javelin and hammer throwers (please don’t hit me with your implements!) – one event athletes are the least likely to earn full scholarships. That’s not to say you can’t. We’ve sent out plenty of one event athletes on full scholarships. 1. Because we’re good at what we do and 2. Because these have been exceptional one event athletes. It goes without saying, you’re a more valuable prospect if you’re capable in more than one event. If you’re a sole 48s 400m runner and you’ve emailed Oregon 5 times about a full scholarship, I guarantee you the 6th time will probably still fall on deaf ears. Are there places that would give a 48s guy a full? Absolutely. We’ve done it plenty of times.

We talk so much about money, but honestly scholarship hunting is never the best way to approach this process. First and foremost, you’re there to get a degree, so find a college that suits your academic interests and ability. Find a team that suits who you are athletically. If you’re a low mileage distance runner, does it make sense to sign for a coach who is going to pound you with high mileage, even if they’re offering a full ride? Heck no! In an ideal world the athletic, academic, cultural and financial dots all align. But try to prioritise what’s important to you. A pro tip – college coaches HATE when student-athletes bring up money in the first conversation, so use that to guide your priority list!

At RightTrack our average scholarship awarded is 94%, which equates to about $50,000 per year. While those numbers are great, the more important stat is that our athletes are improving and enjoying their college careers.

Quite clearly, I could talk ALL DAY about scholarships. So if you’re a student-athlete, parent or maybe you’re a college coach who wants to get my thoughts on the financial modelling of a college track team… send me a note at [email protected].

Happy Recruiting!