Author: Suzie Hinman Locke

Coach, Butler Community College


Prospective student-athletes embark on a treasure hunt for this elusive jackpot known as a full-ride. Unlike Captain Jack Sparrow with his compass or the Goonies with their map, there is no specific road map for athletes to find their treasure. Even with hard work, recruiting services and endless highlight videos, the full-ride athletic scholarship seems to stay a step ahead of even the best and brightest prospects. But there is no need to hang your head, most collegiate athletes do not attend school on an athletic full-ride. In fact, most college athletes use a combination of financial assistance to make their collegiate athletic dreams a reality. The truth of the matter is, if you are waiting for a full-ride you maybe missing other opportunities around you; however, if you want to play sports in college and are willing to put in some effort, there is a place for you.

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Using women’s soccer as the example, let’s debunk the full-ride myth and look at exactly what scholarships are available and help you start your own treasure map to guide you toward your ultimate goal of playing sports in college.

Step 1: Don’t Be Afraid to Think Outside Division I

It is critical to understand that there is much more to collegiate sports than just NCAA Division I programs. The NCAA is an association that governs member school’s athletic rules and regulations. It is important to note that NCAA status is not based on a school's ability to compete, but rather its ability to financially sustain a certain number of sports within specific parameters. Translation: just because the school is an NCAA school that does not mean the athletic program or team is the best of the best.

There are several athletic associations involved in intercollegiate competition. Here are a few you should be familiar with:

  • NCAA - National Collegiate Athletic Association is a non-profit association made up of three membership classifications that are known as Divisions I, II and III (
  • NAIA - National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics is the governing body of small athletic programs that are dedicated to a character driven intercollegiate athletic experience (
  • NJCAA - National Junior College Athletic Association is an association of community college and junior college athletic departments throughout the United States (

Step 2: Know the Numbers*

Each association listed above has a maximum number of scholarships they can award for each sport. No school may exceed those numbers, but schools are also not required to offer this number of scholarships. Many institutions cannot afford to provide the full number of scholarships to their athletic teams, or they may have conference rules that regulate scholarship dollars. Here is an example of how the numbers look for women’s soccer:



# of Programs

# of Full Rides

# of Scholarships

































approx 81








In summary,  there are nearly 1,500  intercollegiate women’s soccer programs offering a total of 11,000 full-rides. On it’s face that seems like a great number, but there is more to it.


Step 3: There is a Big Fight for a Small Treasure*

Unfortunately, you are not alone in your treasure quest. There are are hundreds of thousands of athletes just like you trying to find the prize. Here are some numbers to consider as you move forward:

2011 Soccer Athletes- 371,393

2012 College Soccer Athletes- 35,490

Percentage of HS Players Competing in College- 9.6%

2012 NCAA Freshman Roster Spots- 6,568

Average Roster Size- 25.3

From that data, we see that less than 10% of high school soccer players will play college soccer, but more striking is the information on the athletes who do go on to fulfill their dream. Women’s soccer programs have  an average roster size of 25.3 per team, and with 1,493 programs, that means there are 37,773  athletes.  Nearly  40,000 college soccer players are competing for 11,000 full scholarships. Are you starting to see where the numbers don’t quite add up?

Step 4: Know What You Need

Before you hang up your cleats and decide there is no way you’ll be one of the select few, consider a statement made earlier.

“If you want to play sports in college and are willing to put in some effort, there is a place for you.”

Having the ability to  self-reflect and truly understand what you are hoping to gain from your collegiate athletic experience is critical to your success. Not every soccer player will get to play at North Carolina and not every football player wins a national title at Alabama, but you can find the right fit for you. Be honest with yourself about what your goals are athletically, academically and socially during your college experience. Align those goals with your academic, athletic and financial needs and you should have a general idea of what you are looking for in an institution. Hopefully, once you have focused on your goals and spend some time educating yourself about the different programs available, your treasure map will become more clear.

Step 5: Finding the Easy Money

The last tip for this session is critical. Do not lose sight of the easy money available for your good grades! Academic financial support is one of the most readily available forms of scholarship, and at many institutions, the amount of academic money available is far superior to the athletic funds. Be cognizant of your GPA and what courses you are taking because academic financial support just might be the easiest money you’ll ever make.

*statistics from