What are Volleyball Scholarships?

There are over half a million high school athletes that play volleyball on their varsity, junior varsity, and/or club volleyball teams. Of those players, only about 1% will go on to play college volleyball at a Division I NCAA program. Despite those odds, there are thousands of college volleyball scholarships available.

A volleyball scholarship is a financial incentive paid by a college or university to a young athlete as an incentive for that athlete to join the athletic program. Volleyball scholarships, like all athletic scholarships are awarded to young athletes based on their skill level. While some scholarships will cover the complete cost associated with attending the university, others will only cover part of the relevant college tuition and living expenses.

While earning a volleyball scholarship to a top NCAA division program is certainly competitive, there are hundreds of different schools offering some sort of volleyball scholarship to players from a wide range of skill levels. Making sure that you are getting the right amount of exposure is essential to earning a volleyball scholarship.

What are the Benefits AND Disadvantages of Being a Scholarship Athlete?

While every athlete dreams of being able to continue playing the sport they love at a high level, there are certain benefits and disadvantages that come with being a scholarship athlete.

The most obvious benefit is that scholarship athletes will continue to be able to compete at higher levels of competition and continue to refine their skills. Furthermore, the financial incentives that come with an athletic scholarship significantly reduce the cost of attending university and receiving a college education. This financial aid is often essential for people who otherwise would not have the financial means to be able to receive a quality college education.

According to recent reports, the average cost of tuition and fees for the 2017–2018 school year was $34,740 at private colleges, $9,970 for state residents at public colleges, and $25,620 for out-of-state residents attending public universities. Even a partial athletic scholarship can certainly help to make tuition and fees more affordable for the student athlete and their families.

On the downside, participating in a college sport means that you will face extra academic challenges. The time dedicated to the sport includes practices (often twice a day), games, and frequent travel. At the same time, to maintain your athletic scholarship, you will have to maintain a minimum grade point average. You can see some of the other educational requirements for student athletes required by the NCAA here.

Another challenge that student athletes will face are stricter rules. While regular students can offer skip a class or two without any negative consequences, in order to maintain their scholarship, student athletes are expected to attend every class session (minus those permitted absences due to games).

Lastly, during tournaments or other trips that require long-term travel, you will most likely miss several classes. While some professors are understanding and supportive, others will often be just as demanding despite the extra effort you put into representing your school as a student athlete.

Scholarship Rules, D1, D2, D3, NAIA

When searching for volleyball scholarships, it is important to know the different rules for the scholarships offered by the school you are planning to attend. There are two main governing bodies for collegiate sports: the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA). The NCAA is further divided into three divisions.

The NCAA is the main governing body for the athletic programs of around 1,200 schools. Divisions I and 2 of the NCAA do offer a wide array of athletic scholarships, while Division 3 only offer academic or other non-athletic scholarships. While some division 3 schools do have volleyball programs, you will have to earn an academic scholarship if you want to receive financial incentive to attend that school and compete on the volleyball team.

In the NAIA is much smaller than the NCAA, but still cover around 300 schools. Around 90% of all NAIA schools offer some sort of athletic scholarship with the average student athlete receiving $7,000 dollars. Once you've learned all you need to know about D1 college recruiting, you'll understand the landscape of a D1 scholarship. 

How Many & Which Colleges Offer Scholarships? 

In both the NCAA and the NAIA, there are different limits on how many athletic scholarships schools can offer. For example, for men’s volleyball programs, colleges that are in the NCAA division I and 2 programs can offer 4.5 full athletic scholarships per year while the NAIA programs do not offer any scholarships. Most schools will then divide those full scholarships up to be shared by different student athletes.

For women´s volleyball programs, NCAA Division I programs can offer 12 full scholarships while Division II programs can offer up to 8 full scholarships. NAIA programs also offer 8 scholarships. For Division I programs, the 12 scholarships available to each team are considered “head count”, meaning that the 12 scholarships cannot be divided up between different athletes.

The top 25 NCAA programs for each division are on this site. To see a complete list of the schools sponsoring varsity volleyball teams, the average scholarship amount, and other relevant information start here: ncaa.com.

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How Does "Walk On" Process Work?

Because of the limited number of volleyball scholarships available, it can be difficult and competitive to receive a scholarship offer during high school. Even if you do not receive an offer from the school of your choice out of high school, there are still other ways that you can participate as a student athlete.

A recruited walk-on is a player (also known as preferred walk-on) is when a player is actively recruited by a coach or volleyball program during high school, but is not offered an athletic scholarship during their freshmen year. Because many programs have a limited number of scholarships to offer, many coaches and volleyball programs will try to recruit players through this strategy. The coaching staff will often offer a roster spot to the freshman player before tryouts and mention the possibility of opting for a scholarship in subsequent years. Recruited walk-ons often hope for scholarship after having the opportunity to display their skill level on the collegiate level.

College Volleyball Tryouts

It is also possible to earn a roster spot as an non-recruited walk-on. Many college volleyball programs will hold open tryouts to athletes at the school who weren't recruited out of high school. If you make the team, you will not be eligible for a scholarship during the first year. However, if you prove your skill level, you might be eligible for scholarships in subsequent years.

It is important to reach out to the coaching staff when you arrive on campus and ask when they will host tryouts. While tryouts are much more common in Division 2 and 3 programs, and NAIA programs, there are examples of Division I programs also offering tryouts. Clay Matthews, the All-Star linebacker who plays for the Green Bay Packers in the NFL, walked on to his college football team at USC.

Earning a Volleyball Scholarship: 6 Steps for Getting Recruitment Exposure

If you are determined to continue your volleyball career at the collegiate level, below we offer six suggestions for how to increase the likelihood of receiving a scholarship offer.

  • Put Together the List: Unless you are a nationally recognized volleyball star, chances are that you are not going to land a scholarship at Florida, Penn State, or any of the other top ranked programs. Ask your coaches to help you put together a list of colleges and universities that is based on your abilities. Then, narrow down that list to the colleges you would prefer to attend and/or the programs you want to play for.
  • Contact the Coaches: Don´t expect coaches and recruiters to appear magically at your games. Once you have settled on the programs you are interested in, contact those coaches and let them know of your interest. Sometimes a short video of your skills can be helpful. Let the coaches know your schedule, the club programs you participate in, and other opportunities where they can see you play and highlight your skills.
  • Go to an EXACT Volleyball Camp: The EXACT volleyball camp is one of the best showcase camps in the country. Over 1,000 coaches and recruiters attend this camp each year, and this is a great opportunity for you to reach out and make meaningful connections with the programs on your list.
  • Play Your Best: You never know when a recruiter or coach might be hidden in the crowd. Thus, it is important to take every game seriously, and play your best to showcase your talent to whoever might be watching.
  • Be a Positive Team Player: Volleyball coaches are obviously interested in your skill level. However, they also want to see how well you play together with a team. Paying attention in the huddle, encouraging your teammates and staying positive throughout the game are some of the secondary things that coaches will be noticing.
  • Stay in Contact: It is important to understand that college coaches and recruiters are most likely evaluating hundreds of players. It is easy for them to forget what they saw during your most recent game. Thus, make an effort to stay in constant contact with the coaches and programs that you are top on your list.

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