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What are the different types of Scholarships (Offers)?

A surprise to many student-athletes and parents are the disappointingly low number of full-ride athletic scholarships available. However, there are multiple types of offers athletes can actually receive from a college or university. To better understand the basics of athletic scholarship offers, here are a few key facts you should know:

  • Offers are one-year agreements. 

  • Verbal offers from a coach are not binding agreements.

  • The National Letter of Intent (NLI) is a legal binding contract between an athlete and the school. It's important that you fully understand the agreement.


Hopefully, knowing these terms will give you a better understanding of the offers you may receive.

Here are the most common offers a student-athlete receive from college and universities.


Full-ride scholarship offer

Full-ride athletic scholarships are only available in six college sports:

  • Football

  • Men’s Basketball

  • Women’s Basketball

  • Women’s Gymnastics

  • Tennis

  • Volleyball

A full ride covers the major costs of attending college like tuition, room and board, books, and some course fees. The term “full ride” doesn’t mean for the “full four years.” Full ride scholarships, like all offers, are one-year agreements that may or may not be renewed.


Partial scholarship offer

Sports in NCAA Division I and II have a pool of scholarship money that they can divide up. While not a full ride, a partial scholarship offer can still cover a significant portion of college costs or very little. I

Preferred walk-on offer (PWO)

Not all offers provide financial aid.  Sometimes, the offer is simply a roster spot. A preferred walk-on offer means the coach would like you on the team but cannot offer any financial assistance at least for the first year. Preferred walk-ons can earn a scholarship going into their second season, but nothing is guaranteed. 

Do PWO's sign a NLI on signing day?

There is not NLI agreement for PWO's. PWO's are not receiving an athletic scholarship. However, walk-ons are an essential part of a successful team, and college coaches want to celebrate their signing, as well. Ask your future coach about having something to sign.

The multi-colored shirts of college sports

While “redshirt” may be a familiar term to many student-athletes and their families, there are actually a number of different shirt color terms that designate a student-athlete’s eligibility status. The color also shows how a coach sees a recruit contributing to the program in both the   short-term and long-term.


Redshirt scholarship offer

Typically, a redshirt athlete will have a scholarship but cannot compete for one year. They will participate in all team activities like practice, training, and receive benefits such as academic tutoring, but they will not see any playing time. However, they will get an opportunity to play four seasons in five years. Reasons for being redshirted include a coach wanting a year to physically prepare an athlete for college competition, or a chance for a student-athlete to recover from an injury. An “academic” redshirt would be a freshman who may not meet the academic eligibility requirements coming out of high school.


Grayshirt scholarship offer

This is one of the more challenging offers from a college coach. In some cases, grayshirt offers are made by programs that have more commits than open roster spots. Most coaches try to be clear about offers being made, but some committed student-athletes have been surprised to learn they have been grayshirted as National Signing Day nears.

A grayshirt offer means that an athlete will be on scholarship at the start of the second semester. That means they enroll first semester as a part-time student at the school or possibly a two-year school. The good news is that grayshirt athletes will also have five years to play four seasons. Plus, there’s a chance it could be turned into a regular scholarship offer if there is an unforeseen opening on the team’s roster.

Beyond NCAA DI and DII

Only 2% percent of high school athletes receive athletic scholarships. Student-athletes and their families who may have had their heart set on playing for a DI or DII program should take a closer look at DIII and NAIA. 

While NCAA DIII schools cannot offer athletic scholarships, 80 percent of DIII athletes receive some type of financial aid. The National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) reports that its athletes receive on average $7,000 in financial aid.

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