The Ultimate Guide to Football Scholarships

Paying for College

With the average cost of college tuition ranging between approximately $18,000 and $45,000, depending on your chosen institution, it’s no wonder that many students look for external funding. Athletic scholarships can provide that funding, offering full or partial tuition payment in return for the student meeting specific requirements.

If you’re a high school football player, obtaining a football scholarship could help with your college tuition. However, many other players are competing for the same types of scholarships. This article will help answer the critical questions about football scholarships and offer tips on successfully earning one.

What Is a Football Scholarship?

A football scholarship is a type of athletic scholarship awarded to talented student-athletes. Most football scholarships also carry educational demands, often requiring athletes to achieve a set minimum grade point average in their studies. These scholarships typically go to those who demonstrate an exceptional skill level in football and a provable dedication to their education.

The decision about who is offered a football scholarship is made, in large part, by your chosen college’s football coach. The coach may also influence whether you receive a full or partial scholarship and if you’re receiving a partial scholarship, how much tuition money you will receive.

With a full scholarship, the cost of your entire education for one year is paid for by your college. Many high-level collegiate teams offer full scholarships – and sometimes multi-year scholarships – exclusively as a means to attract the best players to their teams. In addition, the colleges see the money they pay for your education as an investment that will reap dividends during the college football season in attendance and merchandise sales.

The school may also offer partial scholarships that pay a portion of your educational expenses. They’re typically offered to players who show less athletic potential than those who receive full scholarships. Still, they can help those who prefer to focus on their education with a financial buffer to lessen the cost burden of a typical college education.

How Do You Apply for a Football Scholarship?

Two organizations oversee the offering of athletic scholarships in the United States:

  • The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA).
  • The National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA).

NAIA Scholarships

The NAIA currently offers over 20 scholarships for football, along with dozens of scholarships for other athletic activities. The organization has approximately 300 member universities and colleges based in the US and Canada. Its scholarships cover the costs of tuition, supplies, books, fees, and room and board.

To apply for an NAIA scholarship, you must meet at least two of the following three requirements:

  • First, achieve a minimum of 860 on the SAT or 18 on the ACT.
  • Have a minimum grade point average (GPA) of 2.0.
  • Graduate in the top half of your class.

Home-schooled students have slightly different requirements due to not being in a graduating high school class. They need a score of 20 on the ACT or 950 on the SAT to be considered for an NAIA scholarship.

The best way to give yourself a chance to earn an NAIA scholarship is to create an athlete account with the organization. This places you on the radar of the coaches at participating schools. Of course, you must also apply to one of the approximately 300 colleges that offer NAIA scholarships.

NCAA Scholarships

The NCAA has a much broader reach than the NAIA. The organization has over 1,000 member schools, and it grants more than $3.6 billion in scholarships to over 180,000 athletes annually.

Like the NAIA scholarships, NCAA scholarships pay for room and board, tuition fees, and any books related to your courses. Your eligibility for a scholarship varies depending on if you will be playing with a Division I or Division II school.

For a Division I School:

Graduate from high school having completed 16 core courses, which must include the following:

  • Three years of math studying Algebra 1 or above.
  • Four years of English courses.
  • Two years of physical or natural science courses. This should include a year of lab sciences if such a course is available at your high school.
  • Two years of social sciences courses.
  • One more year of math, science, or English course of your choice beyond the required courses.
  • Four years of physical science, natural science, social science, philosophy, math, English, comparative religion, or foreign language courses of your choosing.
  • You must complete 10 of your core courses before the beginning of your seventh semester. Of these 10, seven must be in English, math, natural science, or physical science. You are barred from retaking any of these 10 courses once your seventh semester starts.
  • Maintain a GPA of 2.3 or above.
  • Achieve an ACT or SAT score that matches or exceeds the NCAA’s sliding scale scores.

For reference, the NCAA’s sliding scale balances your test scores against your GPA. If you have lower test scores, you need to achieve a GPA even higher than the minimum of 2.3 to obtain eligibility. Conversely, a lower GPA necessitates higher test scores.

For a Division II School

Division II has similar but slightly more lenient requirements.

You must still graduate from high school having complete 16 core courses. However, their distribution changes to offer more choice:

  • Three years of English courses.
  • Two years of math studying Algebra 1 or higher.
  • Two years of physical or natural sciences, with one of those years being laboratory science if you have access to it.
  • Two years of social sciences courses.
  • Three further years of English, math, natural science, or physical science courses.
  • Four additional years of physical science, natural science, social science, philosophy, math, English, comparative religion, or foreign language courses that you can select based on your preferences.
  • A GPA of 2.2 or above.
  • An SAT or ACT score that matches or exceeds the Division II sliding scale score.

Note that these are the requirements to receive an NCAA scholarship for your first year of college study. After that, you will likely have to meet new requirements to renew your scholarship or retain a multi-year scholarship. Furthermore, the NCAA does not offer scholarships for Division III schools. As such, you can only obtain a football scholarship if you apply for a Division I or Division II institution.

Tips for Obtaining a Football Scholarship

Meeting, or even exceeding, the minimum requirements for a football scholarship does not automatically guarantee access to a scholarship. For example, there are approximately 125 Division I football programs available, each with about 85 scholarships to offer. This creates about 10,000 scholarships per year for Division I football.

Statista’s most recent data tells us that 1,006,013 high school football players were in the 2018/2019 season. So even if we assume that only 10% of those players apply for a scholarship to a Division I school, that still means you only have a 10% chance of getting a scholarship without doing more than the bare minimum.

So, you need some tips to help you stand out from the crowd.

  1. Choose an Appropriate Division

Building from the above information, it’s crucial that you make the correct divisional choice when trying to earn a football scholarship. Though you may believe you are talented enough to play in a Division I program, the reality may be that there are many more players out there who are just as gifted, if not more so. As such, focusing on Division I could lead to you losing out on a paid college education.

To determine which division is best for you, consider attending tryout camps that attract other future college athletes. Not only do these camps offer you a chance to evaluate how you compare to other players of the same age, but they may also offer exposure to scouts and coaches who can advise you on the best path to take. Beyond camps, some players even work with third-party evaluators who can help with their decisions.

2. Create Your Longlist and Whittle It Down

Once you’ve decided on the division you’re best suited for, you must create a list of schools that you might apply for. Next College Student Athlete, an organization that provides resources for scholarship applicants, suggests starting with a list of 50 schools.

Over time, you will whittle this list down to a shortlist of schools that you’d like to play for. However, you must examine more than just the college’s football program when deciding on your final list. Remember that a football scholarship gives you access to education as well as a likely place on a college football team. As such, you must consider a school’s academic pedigree, student culture, and location when making your choices.

3. Compile Your Athletic Résumé

Just as an employer will use a candidate’s résumé to determine if that person is worth interviewing, a college’s football coach will use your résumé to figure out if it’s worth taking a closer look at you.

That means you need to put effort into creating a résumé that showcases you in your best light. Your football scholarship résumé should contain the following:

  • Your current athletic stats
  • A highlight reel video showcasing your best contributions to various plays
  • Academic transcripts
  • Your ACT or SAT scores, if you have them and, if not, you may include information about projected scores

At this point, it’s also worth going through your social media profiles to ensure they don’t contain pictures or comments that paint you in a bad light. Many colleges check social media as part of their recruiting, and they may choose not to offer you a football scholarship if they feel that you may damage their reputations with your behavior.

4. Start Emailing Coaches

Instead of waiting around and hoping that a coach spots you, it’s a far better option to take the initiative to get yourself in front of the coaches at your chosen schools.

Email is often the best way to do this, as most coaches will have a public-facing email address. However, most coaches receive hundreds of emails every week. As such, you need to do the following to ensure yours stands out:

  • Create a snappy subject line that tells the coach who you are, what sport you play, and the standout feature or skill you possess.
  • Attach a copy of the athletic résumé you created in the last step.
  • Give the coach a hyperlink to your highlights video, so they don’t have to waste time searching for it.

Don’t create a single email and then mass send it to dozens of coaches. This demonstrates low effort on your part and may lead to some coaches ignoring your email. Instead, tailor each email to the coach in question by discussing why you’re considering applying for the college they work at and what it is about that coach’s team that attracts you.

5. Maintain Your Eligibility

Having placed so much focus into creating a résumé, listing potential schools, and speaking to coaches, your academic performance may start to slip.

Don’t allow this to happen.

Failure to meet the minimum requirements outlined for your chosen football scholarship will make all of the hard work you’ve done meaningless. Make sure you’re always working hard to maintain your basic eligibility by keeping your GPA up while working towards achieving the required grades in your ACT or SAT exams. If you’re struggling, consider working with a tutor or speaking to your teachers about any extracurricular work you might be able to do to improve your grades.

Getting a Football Scholarship Is Not Easy

Though obtaining a football scholarship is not easy, it’s also not impossible. If you can maintain the base academic requirements for your chosen scholarship, you give yourself a good chance. Playing at a consistently high-level build on this chance, especially if you’re able to distill the essence of what makes you a great player so you can show it to coaches.

You raise your chances further by communicating with the people who decide about scholarships. Don’t wait for a coach to notice you. Instead, force yourself into their field of vision, so they have to pay attention.

Finally, remember that a football scholarship is about more than just the sport. The NCAA points out that only 1.6% of its program participants were drafted to the NFL in 2020. So, a football scholarship gives you a chance at a professional sporting career. But it also provides you with access to an education that will help you to choose a new path in life if you’re one of the 98.4% of college football players who don’t reach the NFL.