The University of Nebraska’s Mikaela Foecke, in black jersey, hits on the block of Stanford’s Tami Alade, left, and Jenna Gray in the 2018 NCAA Division I Women’s Volleyball Championships. Even at this level of college sports, not all players receive scholarships. Overall, few high school athletes receive money to play a sport in college. (Andy Clayton-King/AP)

The college football season has started, so college sports are all over television and in the media.

Lots of kids (and their parents) dream of getting a scholarship to play sports in college. These dreams of receiving scholarship money often drive kids to specialize in one sport or to play on expensive travel teams or attend expensive sports camps.

But how realistic is it for any young athlete to think they will receive a scholarship to play a sport in college?

The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) keeps statistics on the estimated percentage of high school athletes who go on to play in college. So let’s take a look.

Numbers reflect the five most-popular college sports for men and women.

Women Men
Baseball 7.3
Basketball 4.0 3.4
Football 7.1
Soccer 7.1 5.5
Softball 5.5
Track and field 6.1 4.8
Volleyball 3.9

Sources: NCAA/National Federation of State High School AssociationsThe Washington Post

Those numbers make things look pretty tough for kids who want to earn a scholarship to play sports in college. (The numbers are not much better and often worse for “smaller” sports.) But several facts about college athletic scholarships make it even tougher.

First, smaller colleges, called Division III schools, do not give athletic scholarships. Most college athletes play at these schools. So the chances of receiving an athletic scholarship are actually much lower than the percentages listed above.

For example, the percentage of high school athletes who receive a scholarship for men’s college basketball is less than 2 percent and for women’s basketball is less than 2.5 percent.

In addition, NCAA rules limit the number of scholarships a school can give out in any sport. So not everyone on a college team gets a full scholarship. Most athletes in most sports receive only partial scholarships.


The University of Michigan’s Ako Thomas forces out Philip Clarke of Vanderbilt in the finals of the 2019 NCAA College World Series. NCAA rules allow only 11.7 scholarships for DI college baseball teams, which usually have 32 players. (Nati Harnik/AP)

For example, the NCAA allows a Division I baseball team to issue only 11.7 scholarships for its roster. There are usually about 32 players on a team. That means the players have to split the scholarships, and many players do not receive any scholarship money.

It’s the same with sports such as soccer, lacrosse, and track and field. It has been estimated that slightly more than half of the Division I and Division II athletes receive any scholarship money.

So what’s a kid to do? Stop dreaming and stop playing? No, but maybe you should take a more realistic approach to sports. Play to have fun, make friends and to learn to try your hardest no matter what the score is.

But don’t count on an athletic scholarship to college. The numbers show that’s a long shot.