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Think Twice Before Banking on an Athletic Scholarship

Many young athletes dream of one day playing their sport at the college level. However, it is very difficult to make an NCAA team, and winning a full athletic scholarship proves to be even harder. Using lacrosse as a representative example, only about 12% of athletes playing at the high school level continued to play in college, with just 3% playing at the Division I level.* An even smaller fraction received a partial or full scholarship for doing so.

“While we never want to discourage young players from pursuing their dream of playing at the collegiate level, we believe that it is always prudent to have a plan in place to pay for a college education, especially as tuition, room, and board become increasingly expensive,” stated Ann Kitt Carpenetti, Vice President of Lacrosse Operations at US Lacrosse.

According to the College Board, for instance, tuition and fees alone at private, four-year colleges averaged over $34,740 in 2018. Four-year public colleges averaged nearly $10,000 for tuition and fees. Financial aid is always a possibility, of course, but many families simply do not qualify for need-based awards and turn to loans instead. In fact, to manage the high cost of college, student loan debt has grown 186% over the past decade, according to Nerdwallet. Studentloanhero.com reports that the typical 2017 graduate owes more than $39,400 in education loans.

Another point to consider: Even if an athletic scholarship is awarded, it often covers less than 30% of a student’s annual college costs. In 2018, for example, NCAA Division I lacrosse awards averaged $16,408 for men and $17,634 for women, according to scholarshipstats.com. This is approximately half of the average private-school tuition noted above. The number of scholarships available in a given year is limited by NCAA regulations, meaning that many college team members participate without financial assistance. In addition, many Division I and II programs offer only partial scholarships, while still other colleges offer no athletic awards at all.

Many college students seek part-time employment to help with colleges expenses. However, as Kitt Carpenetti notes, “It is very difficult for student athletes to hold a part time job while playing at the collegiate level. The time commitment to practices and such extras as weight training, team community service, and mandatory study hall leaves little time for the demands of a job.” Overnight travel to games further limits an athlete’s opportunities for work.

Thankfully, an athletic scholarship isn’t the only ticket to financing a college education. Prospective student athletes may also have the opportunity to receive academic money, grants, private scholarships, or the financial aid mentioned earlier. “Rather than relying solely on playing ability, strong academics and community involvement can open just as many doors for a prospective athlete,” continued Kitt Carpenetti. “Players seeking to embark on a college career should keep in mind that they may be able to supplement or replace an athletic scholarship by qualifying for merit-based aid.”

Additionally, and perhaps most important, there are numerous savings strategies that, when utilized correctly, can help make financing a college education a reality. The most common savings tool, a 529 Plan, is designed to help families set aside funds for future college costs. 529 Plans have numerous tax advantages, and the account balance can be used for tuition, books, and other education-related expenses at most colleges and universities.

Time can also be a powerful tool for accumulating enough money to pay for college. By saving for educational expenses well before a child reaches the teenage years, you have the opportunity to benefit from compound interest, which can help grow your savings exponentially.

Rather than banking on your child receiving an athletic scholarship, Jemma Financial is here to help you plan ahead and fund your child’s education. If you’re not sure where to start, our team of experienced Financial Advisors can help guide you on the right path toward creating an individualized, well-thought-out savings plan.

*Estimated probability of competing in college athletics, NCAA.org, 2017.

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