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What Is a Sports Scholarship?

Sports scholarships are financial awards given to athletes who demonstrate exceptional ability. These awards incentivize student-athletes to attend and play for the university that offers the scholarship. Not all athletes who play college sports are guaranteed a scholarship – only deserving students undergo the rigorous recruiting process and secure financial aid. Students are recruited from all over the world to improve a university’s championship-winning ability, and are offered financially lucrative sports scholarships to allow them to play college sport while earning a world-class degree. 

The Different Types of Sports Scholarships


No one should have to stress about finding a college sports scholarship.  The earlier you embark on this journey, the better! This will help to ensure that you fully understand the process and are not rushed into making bad decisions, and it will put you in good stead to find the best scholarship offers available. We recommend that students start looking into college sports at the beginning of Grade 10.

The Plan


Athletic Associations

The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) is the largest sports governing body in the United States. It has over 460,000 student-athletes, 24 different sports, and 1,200-member universities. The NCAA has two main focuses: 1) to ensure that all students put their studies before their sports and 2) to guarantee the fairness of competition by making sure that no student has played sports on a professional level at any time before attending college.

The National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) is a sports governing body that coordinates the sports played between small and medium-sized universities. There are about 300 NAIA member universities and around 60,000 student-athletes. These universities tend to be smaller, private colleges, offering a personalised experience that focuses on academic excellence and competitive athletics. 

The National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) has three divisions, over 500 member institutions, 60,000 student-athletes, and is made up of only junior & community colleges. Students studying here graduate after two years, with many staying only one year before moving across to finish their studies and playing careers at bigger NCAA and NAIA universities.


The NCAA has three divisions – Division I, II, and III. The classification of universities and colleges into these divisions is based on their sports budget, and not on the quality of the university itself. For example, the University of Alabama, known for its all-conquering football team, is a Division I university, while the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is a Division III university, as it prioritizes academic spending over athletic investment.

The NAIA, on the other hand, has only one division for all sports except basketball, for which there are two divisions. This is mainly due to size, as it has far fewer member universities than the NCAA. Competition is no less fierce, as these are often private universities with exceptional facilities.

The NJCAA has three sports divisions. Many of these colleges focus on producing students who have the ability to transfer into four-year universities upon graduating, while others focus on functioning as a finishing school. It’s essential to make sure your junior college degree is accepted at NAIA and NCAA universities. 

Success Stories

Other Forms of Aid

Needs-Based Financial Aid: 

This is a prevalent form of financial assistance at the more prestigious universities. For example, Harvard only wants the best talent, regardless of their economic background. Students will submit in-depth financial information during their application, and Harvard then estimates what they can afford. If, for example, that is 10% of the cost, Harvard will grant 90% needs-based aid for the student, and so on. Students are only notified of this aid once accepted. 

International Diversity Grants: 

Certain universities are looking to have students from outside of the USA attend their college, and therefore provide financial grants based on a student’s immigration status. Colleges do this to increase the diversity of their student bodies, as they believe it positively contributes to the creation of global citizens.

Creative Scholarships:

For the artistic at heart, creative scholarships are available for art, music, and even dance, which usually involve an audition, a monologue, or portfolio submission. Depending on the university, they will let you know precisely what you will need in order to apply.

Can A Professional Win a Sports Scholarship?

No. Professionals athletes cannot be awarded a sports scholarship. The athletic associations mandate that all student-athletes must be amateur to play college sports, and turning professional will end your eligibility to play sport at the university level.

Scholarships per Team

Universities We Have Worked With


7 step scholarship journey

1. Start Early: The earlier you get into the system, the better. Start in grade 10, set yourself goals, and familiarize yourself with the USA college set up. The more comfortable you are with the process, the less stressful your journey is going to be! 

2. Sign Up for an Evaluation: Collect your stats, achievements, report cards, and video footage, and sign up for an evaluation. Even if you think you do not meet the standards, our scouts know where you should be at your age, and will advise you as to whether you are on track or not. If you are not, you will have until your first-year post-high school to reach the standards required for a significant scholarship, and you can set strategic goals to reach them. 

3. Concentrate on Academics: Remember that being the best athlete in your region is fantastic, but you still need to have good marks. Academics come first in the USA, and if you do not meet the requirements, you will not be able to compete. Neglecting your studies in high school is going to end in disappointment. 

4. Build Relationships: You should take 2 or 3 years to build strong relationships with your recruiters and coaches. This process should start in Grade 10, giving you 3 years to build lasting relationships with the people who are investing in your future. If you neglect to do this, chances are you will not receive the funding you deserve. 

5. Take the SAT: Most colleges will require you to take the SAT or ACT exam, either one is acceptable. You should study for these tests in grade 11, and you can take them as many times as you like. An SAT score of 1250 points is a great score and will stand you in good stead for most college scholarships. 

5. Meet the Coaches:  You will want to take time to meet the coaches over video chat or in person. Either option is fine, depending on where you live in the world. The chemistry between an athlete and a coach is crucial to a good college experience. Make sure you like your coaches and have built a strong relationship with them before committing to the team. If the assistant coaches are the only ones talking to you, remember that the head coach makes the ultimate decision. 

6. Visit the Campus: Visiting colleges is something you should try and do, budget permitting. There are thousands of colleges in the USA, many of which you may not have heard of – so don’t write off any schools simply because you don’t know them. Rather take the time to plan an official visit to 4 or 5 colleges who have shown interest in you, and get a good feel for the campus, student life, facilities, and region. 

7. Sign Your Scholarship NLI: Most top athletes will get more than one scholarship offer. While some might be 100%  and all-inclusive, others might not. You need to balance what works best for you with your financial needs. Sometimes a 70% scholarship will be better for you than a 100% offer, so be careful to consider your options before jumping at the lowest cost.

Scholarship Facts

Sports Scholarships: 
USA University Sports Scholarships are only for students who perform well academically in the classroom and who are athletically gifted. There are scholarship opportunities for almost every sport in the NCAA, from Soccer to Water Polo, Golf to Cross Country; however, each university will have its own budget for each sport.

Sports Scholarship Duration:
Sports scholarships are awarded on a year-by-year basis, as most universities don’t offer four-year scholarships. Student-athletes will have a review meeting with their coaches and academic advisors at the end of each year. In this meeting, students will have their performances reviewed, and if deemed sufficient, their scholarships will be renewed.

Renewing Sports Scholarships: 
You will need to maintain a certain GPA and perform in your sport, attend training and win your events. Coaches who have given you substantial sports scholarships will expect you to perform at an elite level. If you perform poorly, didn’t attend training, and you have a bad attitude; there is a high probability that your scholarship won’t be renewed for the following year. However, this is unlikely if you perform to the best of your ability and try your best.

The same thing happens with injuries, if you are in Division 2 and get a career-ending injury; most of the time, your scholarship will be renewed until graduation. In division 1, it depends on the college and the coach. Often you will see injured players joining the support staff to stay apart of the team, and they often keep their scholarships; however, this is not always the case. It is important to realise that you have to be committed and work hard to renew your scholarship yearly.

What Do Sports Scholarships Cover: 
If you win a Full-Ride Scholarship (100% Scholarship), it will cover Housing, Food, Tuition and Books. It won’t cover flights, medical aid, SATs, Visa’s, association fees, courier, and verification fees. These are all third-party fees that will need to be covered by the students. 

Will I Get A Full Scholarship? 
Possibly, but no agency can guarantee you a full scholarship. Your scholarships will be determined by your ability, both in the classroom and on the sports field. Agencies like ours will help you get the best offer possible, based on your wants, needs and abilities. If you have the ability to win a full scholarship, you will.

Can I get a full scholarship to the USA?
It is possible to get a full sports scholarship to the USA, if a student’s ability, both in the classroom and on the sports field is up to the respective college standards. This does not make it easy, as student-athletes who get full scholarships are often nationally or internationally ranked in their sports. It must be noted that most students who go for “free” do not go on a sports scholarship alone, they often receive a combination of a sports scholarship, academic scholarship and other grants, which when added up, cover all the costs associated. If a 100% scholarship is not possible at the division 1 level, many athletes shift their focus to the lower divisions, where they are more likely to receive a full scholarship and then work their way up over time​

​​What Percentage Scholarship Will I Receive For Playing Sports?
​This depends on timing, your natural ability and the level of competition your desired university competes in. If you have been accepted into the Aspire Atlantic Scholarship Programme, you will receive multiple scholarship offers from different USA Universities. You may receive a 50% Scholarship from a Division 1 team or a 100% scholarship from a Division 2 team. It is up to you to make the right choice, based on finances, degree, and university ranking. ​

What If I Don’t Win A Full Scholarship, How Much Do I Need to Budget? 
Most students will need a budget of at least $10,000 to $15,000 per year, to put towards their USA college education. If you cannot afford this, you are going to struggle to find any universities in the USA.

Contrary to popular belief, scholarship-athletes very rarely win scholarships that cover 100% of their total cost of attendance. The majority of scholarships offered to students will cover a portion of the fees, which means you need to have top marks to cover the balance or you should be willing to spend $10,000 to $15,000 per year. 

Can I Negotiate My Scholarship Offer? 
Possibly. The decision to increase a scholarship will depend on how much scholarship is still available, and whether or not your abilities deserve an improved offer. 


Students can get sports scholarships from universities in the USA. The United States is one of the best countries in the world to receive scholarships and is known as the leading provider of university sports scholarships globally. There are over 1 million international students studying in the USA, and despite what you hear in the news, American universities aim to create a diverse and multicultural environment for their student body, which, they believe, enhances the learning process and social understanding of their students.

Men's College Basketball USA


USA Women's College Team Photo

Students can get a sports scholarship to the USA by achieving good marks in high school, competing at the highest level of age-group sports and making sure they have high-quality video footage. Students need to be realistic about their abilities and their chances of getting into colleges on their dream list. They can do this by checking if the university offers their degree, that they meet the academic acceptance requirements and finally making sure the university has the sport they would like to win a scholarship for. You would not believe the time wasted by students who do not go through these basic steps. If you meet all of these requirements, make contact with the coach directly or contact Aspire Atlantic for help.


The chances of getting a sports scholarship to the USA are around 50% if you are a competitive athlete. Being competitive has different meanings for different sports; however, if you excel at the high school, district, regional and national level, you meet the definition of competitive. If you only play for your high school, this is not considered competitive, and you need to branch out and test your skills regionally and at the national level. USA university Sports Scholarships are awarded yearly to student-athletes, as most universities in the USA do not offer four-year scholarships. At Division 1 and 2 levels of university sports, there are approximately $2.7 billion in scholarship funds set aside annually for competitive student-athletes.

Your chances of getting a sports scholarship actually increase if you perform well academically, as universities are more likely to give sports scholarship money to athletes who show a higher propensity in the classroom. The better you do academically, the more chance you have of winning an academic scholarship with your sports scholarship, so there is more motivation to do well in the classroom. Recent statistics indicate that 53% of all D1 athletes and 56% of all D2 athletes are receiving athletic aid. There are no D3 sports scholarships, however, D3 schools do award students with other types of financial aid, and should not be ruled out as an option. 


The requirements for obtaining a sports scholarship to the USA are comprehensive. In the initial stage of the scholarship process, you will need to have a highlight video that demonstrates your skills and athletic ability. You should also collect your high school report cards and transcript and convert them to the USA GPA format. Once you have these documents, build yourself a professional resume, which is very similar to a CV, the only difference being that is must be one page and not any longer. With a great video, your GPA, SAT score and a resume will put you in a great place to start contacting coaches and agencies who can help secure a scholarship to your dream USA university. 

What GPA do you need to get an athletics scholarship?

The minimum GPA score a student-athlete needs to get an athletics scholarship to the USA varies based on the students standardised test scores, the college and the division they want to play in:

  • If an athlete wants to play in the NCAA D1, they can score a min GPA of 2.3 however; they will need to score a minimum of 1010 on the SAT exam also in order to be eligible. The better your GPA, the lower your required SAT score will be. 
  • NCAA D3 schools do not offer athletic scholarships. They only provide academic scholarships, so the higher your GPA, the better.
  • If students take the ACT exam as opposed to the SAT, and they have a 2.3 GPA, they are required to get 86 points on the ACT. The better your GPA, the lower your required ACT score will be.
  • Individual colleges will have their own standardised testing and GPA requirements. Just because you are NCAA qualified does not mean you will get into the college of your choice.

What is the easiest way to get a sports scholarship?

The easiest way to get a sports scholarship is simple. Work hard, get good grades and don’t expect college scouts to come knocking on your door. You need to be proactive in the recruiting process. You will not be discovered by waiting. Hope is not a winning formula.

If you are unsure where to begin, you might want to use a recruiting service or start researching the types of colleges you wish to attend. Once you have identified colleges that you like, select your degree choice and meet your academic ability, begin sending coaches emails in grade 11 and find out what is needed to get into their college and what are the attributes one needs to win a scholarship there. Keep the coaches updated with video footage, stats of your performances and your updated GPA.

If you are not getting the traction you are looking for, reach out to a recruiting service who may be able to assist you with your goals. Generally, they are the easiest way to get a USA university sports scholarship and will steer you in the right direction. However, you need to beware of many agencies. Unfortunately, there are lots of fly by night companies who promise the world and deliver very little, so do your research and request to speak with past students before paying over large sums of money.


It is possible to earn an athletic scholarship for more than one sport. It doesn’t happen very often, especially at the NCAA Division I level. There are more athletes who compete in more than one sport at the Division 2, 3 and NAIA levels.

Having the skill and flexibility to compete in multiple sports in high school is very attractive to college coaches. You have a wider variation of physical strengths and techniques and are trained to be in competition for a majority of the year. However, being involved in more than one sport is also time-consuming, which means you need to have strong time-management skills.

Succeeding in school is much more important than dominating in multiple sports. High school athletes also need to be aware of their physical and mental limits. There is more stress for athletes in multiple sports. If an athlete struggles with the balance, their performance may suffer in both their sport and in the classroom.

As a high school student-athlete, it may seem like a benefit to participate in multiple sports. But in order to earn a college sports scholarship, a student-athlete will likely have to choose just one if they want to be able to focus on their development, win a scholarship and succeed at the collegiate level.

Make sure to take the time to think about which sport you love the most and which sport is going to help you achieve your goals. Without a passion, a love of your sport and the determination to succeed, the rigours of being a full-time student and college athlete, will result in burnout, and you will not excel as a college athlete

How important are marks and sports scholarship?

Marks are an important part of the recruitment process, especially when it comes to winning sports scholarships. Student-athletes that have average academic results may hurt their chances of getting into their dream college. Without meeting the academic requirements of the college, there is no chance of winning a sports scholarship there. Most universities and coaches recruit students based not only on athletic ability but on academic standards and SAT scores too. Universities have higher educational standards than what is required by the NCAA Eligibility Center. The better your marks, the better your chances of receiving a USA sports scholarship from a top university.

What is the best sport to play to get a sport scholarship?

For male athletes, the best sports to play in order to get a USA scholarship are Athletics and Golf. Athletics programmes provide more than 10,600 scholarships to the NCAA, NAIA and NJCAA sports associations every year, while golf offers more than 4,500 scholarships. For women, the best sport to play in order to win a scholarship, barring basketball, is once again Athletics which offers 13,500 scholarship opportunities to the NCAA, NAIA and NJCAA sports associations.

What are the chances of getting an academic and a sports scholarship?

The chances of winning a scholarship to a USA university depends on your sporting and academic ability. In order to win a scholarship to a DI or DII program, student-athletes must meet specific eligibility requirements both from the NCAA and their college of choice. Each will have their own minimum academic standards. However, just meeting the minimum standards of the college you want to attend does not mean that you will get a scholarship. The better your athletics and the stronger your academic reports are, the better the chance is of you winning a scholarship. 

What if I don't get a full scholarship?

In the event a student does not win a full scholarship, they should apply for financial aid or an academic scholarship. It must be noted that most college student-athletes do not have full sports scholarships alone, most of them use their academic ability to receive academic aid to supplement the shortfall and cover the remaining fees. To obtain an academic scholarship, students should get a GPA of 3.5 and an SAT score of 1250.

Glass half full

Which university gives scholarships to international students?

The USA universities which give sports scholarships to international students, usually compete in the NCAA, NAIA or NJCAA athletic associations. Most colleges in these associations will give scholarships to any international student who meets the college’s academic and athletic criteria of the team. There is no discrimination to students based on their country of origin.


How do I qualify for a scholarship?

To qualify for a scholarship to study in the USA, students need to be successful in the right sport and excel academically. Sports that are most successful at receiving scholarships are; Field Hockey, Golf, Soccer, Swimming, Tennis & Athletics. Only excelling at sports, is not enough. Students will go to the United States to study at the end of the day, so being academically strong is critically important, and students should aim to obtain a high Grade Point Average (GPA). A high GPA will increase their chance of being admitted to their university of choice while securing a sports scholarship.


Who gives out the sports scholarships?

The Universities give the students the sports scholarships to compete in the NCAA, the NAIA and the NJCAA  levels. It is important to note that Junior Colleges are less likely to grant sports scholarships, as these institutions are significantly cheaper than their 4-year college and university counterparts. NCAA DIII Universities do not give sports scholarships at all, they only provide academic financial aid.


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