Last Updated on January 4, 2024
Best Sports Scholarship Guide
In the long term, your degree is likely to pay for itself many times over with higher wages and better career opportunities. In the short term, it can obviously be a major challenge to cover your expenses. This is where scholarships and grants come in to help – they can go a long way toward covering your expenses. They can range in size from a few hundred to tens of thousands of dollars, and they are awarded by government agencies, private citizens, clubs, companies, and even the colleges and universities themselves. Scholarships and grants are awarded for a variety of reasons and for study at all levels, including certificates, associates, bachelor’s degrees, master’s degrees, and PhDs.
In this guide you will find…
The distinction between Scholarships and Grants, and Criteria for Scholarship Awards
How to start your search for scholarships
Using references to help your chances
Tips for customizing your application
The role of mentoring and volunteering
How to cultivate your network
Scholarships and Grants for Sports Degrees
There are some important differences between scholarships and grants, and it is important to understand the differences between the different kinds of aid out there before you get too far down the road. One important difference between scholarships and grants is that scholarships do not need to be paid back by the student under any circumstances, whereas grants may need to be repaid depending on circumstances. For example, some grants need to be partially or fully repaid if the student does not complete a degree in a specified time period. It’s important to know what strings might be attached to any money you accept to help defray tuition, fees, or expenses while you attend college or university, or as you use the funds to pursue graduate studies.
Criteria that will be weighed by organizations awarding scholarships include: your past academic performance, where you live or grew up, accolades (scholar athlete, etc.), your leadership of any teams, clubs, or groups you may be a part of, past or ongoing volunteer work, your or your family’s financial status, being a first generation college student, ethnicity, race, immigration history, gender and sexual orientation, your intended academic and career path, and many other considerations.
If you feel you genuinely need help with college or graduate school and you have faced particular challenges or have gone above and beyond in proving that you are dedicated to success and deserving of assistance, chances are that there are some scholarships out there that closely align with your situation.
How to Start Your Search for Sports Scholarships
As you begin, it is important to understand that it is a process – it will take some time and energy, but with some dedication and hard work it may well prove to be time well spent. You have likely heard the saying “those who don’t ask, don’t get” – this is especially true in the world of scholarships and grants. You will never be awarded any scholarships that you fail to apply for, and the more times you put your names in different hats, the better the chances that you will end up with something.
As you begin the process, be sure to set aside some time to research scholarships to see what is out there. You will likely want to keep track of all basic details in a spreadsheet to stay organized and to be sure that you don’t miss any deadlines. Those dates should be kept along with the scholarship name, amount, and required documents so you can easily see what you need to submit with each application.
Start getting things together as early as possible so that you don’t disqualify yourself by missing dates! Remember that the process is not terribly difficult as long as you begin early and budget your time. If you expect to sit down two days before the deadline and complete everything at once, you will find yourself having a difficult time.
As you collect the documents needed to complete each scholarship, you may find that you need help from your parents or guardian to supply some documentation. Generally speaking, there are two types of financial aid – need-based and merit-based. Need-based scholarships and grants are awarded based on demonstrated financial need, whereas those which are merit-based are awarded for academic, athletic, or other demonstrated excellence. Students applying for need-based scholarships will likely need their parents to supply recent pay stubs and/or tax information to submit along with their application.
In the same way, other scholarships and grants are awarded to specific groups of people, and in some cases, proof might be required to be considered. For example, you may need proof of their employment – there are many scholarships for the children of teachers, farmers, military members, police officers, etc. Whatever the checklist calls for, if you need something from either a parent (or someone at your school) to prove that you are eligible for each grant, be sure to let them know early in the process so they can get the documents together for you with plenty of time to spare.
References – Your Key Supporters
As you move through high school into college/university life into the professional world, one thing that will persist is the need for quality references and letters of recommendation throughout your journey.
These references may be teachers, coaches, professors, school administrators, bosses, colleagues, or other acquaintances – basically, anyone not in your family who can speak positively about your character and your commitment to success, being a leader, and your love for your community and your country.
The first part of the process is deciding who might be able to be a good reference for you. You will want to choose carefully, as the best references are always written by individuals who really know you well. Begin cultivating these relationships very early in the process well before you need a formal reference by doing your very best in a particular area. If your reference is a coach, be sure to always be punctual, be a good listener, and display good leadership qualities.
You will likely find – as you continue to grow up – that these qualities are as important for success as raw talent is. If you plan on asking a teacher, take pride in the quality of your work, show that you are invested in learning and earning a good grade, and don’t be afraid to ask questions before or after class – these are the opportunities for the teacher to really get to know you and your values, so don’t miss these chances! Recent evidence suggests that reference checks help remove about 20% of applicants from consideration, so don’t underestimate this part of the process.
Once you have decided who you would like to ask, the next step is to formally ask the question. Because this is a big deal for you, you want to properly set the tone in order to calmly convey what you are asking for. For example, are you simply asking to list this individual as a reference, you will want to ask them how they prefer to be contacted. However, if you are asking them to write a recommendation letter for you, they will likely need more details about what exactly it is that you need.
In these cases, we recommend letting them know that you will follow up with an email with all of the important details, including what you intend to do (apply for scholarships, use as part of a collegiate application, etc.) and when you need the letter by. Needless to say, if you are asking them to write a formal letter of recommendation, make sure that you are giving them plenty of time – ideally a month or longer – to finish your letter. If possible, you may want to request a letter of recommendation from three different people so that you will have them handy in case you need them for your scholarship applications. With three letters in hand – along with the contact details of your references, should anyone like more information – you will have the reference portion of your applications all but finished!
Customize and Tailer For the Win
Once you have all of your documents together, it’s time to begin customizing your applications. At first glance, many of the questions and essay topics might seem to be asking the same exact thing. However, you will likely find that many of the questions are slightly different and include slight nuances or elements which can be significant.
Rather than using the same exact essay(s) for all of your scholarships and grants, make sure that you take the time to address the uniqueness of each application. It is fine to reuse some of your best work as the core of your responses, but be sure to tailor the introduction and conclusion to say something unique and specific to each application.
Remember that your essays will be considered beside many others – likely hundreds and possibly thousands – so any chance to stand out from the group in a positive way will go a long way toward distinguishing your application. Reading the information carefully and writing unique responses to the questions or essay prompts conveys to the review committee that you have put the time in to learn about their reasons for awarding scholarships and that you are a deserving candidate for their particular award.
Submit applications that are thoughtful, easy to read, well written, and complete. Always read each response out loud to yourself to be sure you are striking the right tone, and to be sure you are writing from the heart. Never make more work for the people who you want help from, and don’t miss this chance to dig deep and share the experiences that have defined who you are as a person.
Taking Your Successes and Learning Opportunities in Stride
Free money is always in heavy demand, so no matter how good your application is, how well you’ve done on the athletic field or on the court, how good your grades or test scores are, or how much you’ve helped your community, you should begin this process expecting to receive lots of rejections. View this as a learning process, take each rejection in stride, and don’t let them ruin your day or sour your mood.
There are always many, many more applicants than awards, and not everyone can win. Get used to disappointment and approach the process as a numbers game—the more thoughtful, complete applications you submit to scholarships you are qualified for, the better your chances of being awarded scholarship money. Use the mindset of an athlete who is determined to persevere – view each defeat as a lesson learned, and make sure that by the time the next opportunity arrives, you have made yourself even tougher to beat.
Mentoring and Volunteering – The “X” Factor
Something that many athletes aren’t able to do much of during their formative years is volunteer their time to give back to the community. Since free time is so limited between academics, practices, games, tournaments, and family obligations, many teenagers playing competitive sports miss out on the chance to volunteer and share their time with those in need. Anyone who has done volunteering and service work can tell you that this is perhaps the best thing you can do to satisfy your soul. Giving back teaches you that there is so much more to life than sports and school, and how easy it is to make a difference in someone else’s life simply by volunteering your time.
Of course, everyone’s lives are busy, and COVID has turned the world upside down, making volunteering much more difficult at present. But if you make sure to find an opportunity to give back even once or twice a month – through your local youth organization, soup kitchen, church, etc. – you will thank yourself later on.
There is always an off-season or an off-week, and even volunteering a few hours here and there can really make a difference. Surprisingly, prominent experts featured in the Harvard Business Review have made the case that volunteering actually makes you feel like you have more time, not less – so rest assured that regardless of how busy you may feel, you have more time than you think.
If you make these activities part of who you are as a person, and you will be able to forge some meaningful connections during your early years. On the other hand, don’t expect things to work out so well if you start volunteering during your senior year or just before you apply for scholarships simply because you think it will look good on your applications. People can sense your motivations, and if you are not in it for the right reasons, you will be wasting your time. It’s easier to find opportunities than you might think, all you need to do is ask around – organizations like your local YMCA or Habitat For Humanity are a great place to start.
Through meaningful service and volunteering, not only will you grow as a person, but you will learn so much from witnessing other perspectives and learning about their lives. Naturally, these types of experiences really help build character, and you will be amazed at how easily they translate to essays about who you are and the person you are working to become. You’ll get better and better at communicating these things over time, but remember that it does take practice and it’s always best to just be yourself. Do your best to write well, but remember that these applications are not writing contests. Honesty, sincerity, and thoughtfulness will win out over perfect grammar or flowery metaphors every time.
Cultivating Your Network
The good news is that you are not in this alone! Ask your guidance counselors, teachers, college admissions contacts, and anyone else you know about scholarships that might be available. If they work with students, chances are they know about scholarships that have been awarded to their students over the years. This is especially true for finding scholarships for people from your town or area – business associations, chambers of commerce, local foundations, and even successful businesses often offer scholarships. Once people know that you are looking for opportunities, they will keep their ear to the ground and let you know if they hear of other interesting opportunities.
While most scholarships out there are designed for high school seniors rising to college, there are a select number of scholarships for students who are already in college or considering master’s degrees as well. We hope that the resources below will help you save some time and get some momentum as you begin your search.
Careeronestop – An excellent resource for scholarships and so much more, provided by the U.S. Department of Labor, Employment, and Training Administration.
EducationUSA – A great place to start for school specific scholarships for student athletes.
Unigo – features an up-to-date, searchable database of scholarships currently being offered.
Foot Locker Scholarships – Awarded to student athletes who are also exceptional leaders in their communities.
Ivy Panda’s Guide to Sports Scholarships and Grants – An up-to-date guide to scholarships, grants, and eligibility for student athletes.
In addition to national scholarships, there are hundreds of locally awarded scholarships like the Norman and Rita Nussbickel Memorial Scholarship, the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts (which alone includes 140 different scholarships), Lee Brennan Memorial Scholarship,
Sports Scholarships FAQs
Not necessarily. Although, it certainly helps. Some scholarships are need-based and look more at the circumstances of the applicant outside of their academic performance. However, in many scholarships, academics is weighted at least a little bit. In general, having commendable grades will not hurt, but it is not necessarily a requirement.
There is no limit! Researching and applying for all scholarships that you are eligible for is a great strategy to offset your tuition as much as possible.
Unfortunately, there are a lot of scams out there. Be mindful of this and be critical of every scholarship description you read. If it is offered by a credible organization, then it is more likely legitimate, but if the scholarship is “guaranteed” or has an application fee, then be weary. A good rule of thumb is that if it is too good to be true, then it probably is!