Athletic Scholarship Study Shows Full Ride May Have Something To Hide

Conventional wisdom in college recruiting is that the best high school student athletes won't have to pay a penny for a college education because they will get full ride scholarships to Division I athletic programs. The premise of a full ride scholarship has always been that the full cost of an education from soup to nuts will be covered by this scholarship.

A recent study by the NCPA (National College Players Association) in conjunction with Ellen J. Staurowsky (Professor and Chair, graduate program of Sports Management at Ithaca College in New York) sheds some doubt on whether there really is such a thing as a full ride scholarship.

Why is this important to you? Because if you are lucky enough to have multiple scholarship offers to choose between, having a more complete picture of the hidden costs you may incur at one school vs. another could influence your decision. In addition, those who assume they will have no financial liability for their child's college education may not be prepared to finance whatever the scholarship doesn't cover. This information can help you better plan for these costs.

Here's what you need to know. The NCAA is very specific about what athletic scholarships can cover: tuition and fees, room and board, and course-related books. Each school reports an estimate of the total cost of attendance (COA). This is typically found on the school's website, and information for the 2008-2009 academic year was used for this study. It was supplemented with data from the United States Department of Education National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES) as well. This study looked at the COA for 336 Division I universities, and compared it to the costs that the NCAA allows a scholarship to cover. They found additional educational expenses across the different schools (not covered by an athletic scholarship) that ranged from $200 per year to $6000 per year, a surprisingly large variation across schools. The average out-of-pocket expenses were $2763 per year. At this rate, over the course of five years, a typical athlete who is redshirted freshman year would have to pay $13,800. At the schools with the highest incidental expenses, a five year tab could exceed $30,000. So much for a free ride.

What constitutes these out of pocket expenses that aren't covered by a scholarship? They vary widely from school to school and could include a student orientation fee, first year program fee, new student fee, continuing student fee, student activity fee, parking fee, loan fee, and numerous other program fees. Apparently, colleges excel at coming up with fees.

Here's what you can do about it. The NCPA has a tool on their website which allows you to calculate the estimated scholarship shortfall for any of 336 Division I universities. Find it at Take a look at the estimated additional costs at the schools you're seriously looking at. And consider this just another important piece of information that can help you zero in on the right college decision.

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Laurie A. Richter, author of Put Me In, Coach: A Parent's Guide to Winning the Game of College Recruiting.