The idea of college athletics has been scrutinized in recent years, with some even calling for student-athletes to be paid.

While that’s not something that’s currently allowed, scholarships in their own way are a source of compensation for college athletes.

With the rising cost of college tuition and so many young adults drowning in student loan debt, it can be more important than ever before for athletes to strive to get scholarships.

If you’re a parent or athlete, what should you know about the process?

Athletic scholarships are awarded by coaches, and they’re based on the needs of their program. The following are some specifics to know.

Match the Division Level to Your Skills
First, before you start researching specific schools, it’s helpful to have an understanding of the division level your skills are best suited to. Not everyone is a Division I athlete, and for the best chances of getting a scholarship, you have to recognize that.

If you aren’t sure what level you might be, there are camps you can attend, or you can get evaluated by a third-party.

Then, once you have an understanding of the level that’s right for you, you can start targeting specific schools.

Be Proactive and Start Early
Whether you’re a parent or a student, starting early is advantageous. In fact, you should start preparing as soon as you start high school. This will allow you to choose the sport you’re going to focus on and build your skillset.

When you start early, it can also let recruiters see how you progress in your high school career.

When you choose one sport, you’re showing a commitment.

Learn the NCAA Recruiting Rules
You might want to start building relationships with coaches, but before you do so, there are some things you need to know.

If you’re thinking about personally reaching out to coaches, there are both official and unofficial rules.

For example, once you make the initial contact with a coach, they can contact you a certain number of times based on NCAA rules. All of the rules, which can be complex, are on the NCAA’s site.

Once you have started talking to a recruiter, you might want to share with them relevant status updates in your performance.

You want to go into contacting recruiters knowing what they’re looking for. You want to be able to show coaches just what you have to bring to the table and why it makes you special.

You want to share not just your athletic achievements but also your academic achievements. Share activities you’re involved in in the community like volunteering or membership you have in student organizations.

Don’t Let Your Academics Slip
As was touched on, coaches and recruiters do care about your academics. It’s easy to get so wrapped up in your sport that you put academics on the back burner, but this can derail your scholarship dreams.

The NCAA requires that Division I athletes have at least a 2.3 GPA to be eligible to play their freshman year.

If you’re up against another athlete and you have similar skills in terms of the sport, it could be the academics that are a tiebreaker.

How Much Scholarship Can You Get?
Less than 2% of high school athletes are offered an athletic scholarship. However, the total they receive is more than $3 billion each year just for DI and DII. The money is certainly there, but most scholarships are not full rides.

The amount that you might be offered is largely based on what sport you play.

Headcount sports such as basketball and football for men and basketball and volleyball for women tend to be full rides. These are revenue sports.

Under new rules related to COVID-19, student-athletes aren’t limited in how much academic scholarship and need-based aid they can get in addition to their athletic scholarship.

Finally, to receive a scholarship to a Division I or II program, you have to meet very specific requirements.

You have to meet the academic standards, as was talked about above. You have to be considered an amateur athlete as well. Just meeting these minimum standards doesn’t mean you’ll be offered a scholarship, though.

It’s up to you to learn as much as you can about the requirements and the process and be as proactive as possible in addition to honing your athletic skills.

There’s a lot more to getting an athletic scholarship aside from just being the best player, although of course, that’s important too.