College costs continue to increase, making it harder and harder to pay for an education. However, athletes who make a concerted effort to seek financial aid as part of their overall recruiting process have a greater chance of maximizing their financial aid package.
Financial aid is readily available for those who qualify. Most aid is based not on merit or athletic ability but on financial need. Athletic scholarships are also available, but they are limited in number. If you are interested in a program at a particular school, talk to the coach first to determine the institution's policy on providing financial aid.
In institutions that don't offer athletic scholarships or have already awarded their quota, a coach can assist families in getting a financial aid "pre-read." Their feedback can be very helpful in allowing you and your family to predict costs for the first academic year.
Financial aid pre-reads are effective tools for college coaches, who can use them to provide prospects with ballpark estimates of attendance cost. For prospects, it's important to request a pre-read early in the recruiting process, but not before developing sincere interest in the program.
For a family to receive a timely and accurate financial aid pre-read, the following information is typically required:
- Prior year income and taxes paid, with W-2 forms
- Parental divorce/separation paperwork, if applicable
- Completed budget worksheet [provided by the coach]
- Admissions data [standardized test scores, class rank, etc.]
A pre-read takes approximately two weeks to compile, but it should provide a close estimate of financial aid available for the coming term. But take note: financial aid packages can change from year to year, based on changes in school budgets and/or personal and family finances.
As a method of persuasion to convince you to attend, some schools will match financial aid offers from other institutions. When this occurs, it's usually between similar schools, such as those in the same conference. Out of respect for college coaches, I encourage athletes to only compare financial aid packages from serious potential choices.
Most institutions have internal scholarships, which are offered to admitted students. Research the colleges on your radar for all institutionally-related scholarships [academic, community, etc.], especially leadership grants, which seem to be gaining in popularity among student-athletes, who often shine in this area. These awards are highly selective, rewarding top students, special interest prospects and those with strong financial need. Communicate your financial aid interest and concerns to the college coach, who may be able to recommend you for one of these awards.
It's important to share with the coach any outside offers or completed financial aid pre-reads you receive from other institutions—both as a courtesy to the coach and to help you determine where you rank within his or her recruiting priorities. If you are a blue chip athlete and your top school does not offer athletic scholarships, carefully probe the coach about contacting the financial aid office to uncover possible additional options for you.
The four-year college experience is a tremendous investment in your future. That being said, the premium payable for a quality college education seems always to be moving up; so I strongly suggest that you begin preparing early and with enthusiasm for this important component of college recruiting.
Tom Kovic is the founder and president of Victory Collegiate Consulting, where he advises families and prospective student-athletes in developing and executing personal plans for the college search. Kovic has delivered nearly 300 presentations and seminars to more than 3,500 participants. He is the author of Reaching for Excellence, an educational guide to college athletics recruiting, and he is a regular contributor to numerous educational and sports publications.
Prior to founding his own company, Kovic coached gymnastics at The University of Pennsylvania. He has coached 34 individual Ivy League Champions, three ECAC athletes of the year and more than 160 NCAA Academic All-Americans. He was named ECAC Coach of the Year twice.
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