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Articles / Paying for College / Division 3 Athletic Scholarship? Hmm ....

April 24, 2020

Division 3 Athletic Scholarship? Hmm ....

Question: My son is going into 12th grade and is interested in swimming in college. He is good enough to be on a Division 3 team and he isn't looking for an athletic scholarship because he knows that the NCAA doesn't allow Div. 3 colleges to give scholarships. But recently he met a girl whose brother goes to a college that he is considering. The brother is on the swim team, and the sister claims that her family didn't qualify for financial aid and that her brother wouldn't have been able to afford to attend this college without his athletic scholarship. Is that possible?

The most likely reason that Division 3 athletes receive money from colleges is that it's “need-based" aid, based on the family's income and assets. Even middle-class parents who may assume that they're too “rich" to get financial aid (but too “poor" to pay high tuition bills without it) are often surprised to find out that they qualify for at least some need-based assistance.


But, if that's not the case, with this particular D3 swimmer, then The Dean's best guess is that this boy received a “merit scholarship" for some reason other than sports. Many (although certainly not all) D3 schools award merit aid to strong students and sometimes also for other reasons (e.g., arts achievements, community service). It's widely known (but not widely discussed) that sometimes these merit grants go to students who also happen to be good athletes. So “The Dean" calls them “back-door athletic scholarships." The recipients might indeed be top students (or artists or volunteers) but they may have edged out the competition for these merit bucks due to their prowess in the pool or on the court, the track, the field, etc.

So the next time your son chats with this collegiate swimmer's sister, have him ask if her brother's “athletic scholarship" was officially received for another reason.

Written by

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone knows the competitive and often convoluted college admission process inside out: From the first time the topic of college comes up at the dinner table until the last duffel bag is unloaded on a dorm room floor. She is the co-author of Panicked Parents' Guide to College Admissions; The Transfer Student's Guide to Changing Colleges and The International Student's Guide to Going to College in America. Sally has appeared on NBC's Today program and has been quoted in countless publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Weekend, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek, People and Seventeen. Sally has viewed the admissions world from many angles: As a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years, an independent college counselor serving students from a wide range of backgrounds and the author of College Confidential's "Ask the Dean" column. She also taught language arts, social studies, study skills and test preparation in 10 schools, including American international schools in London, Paris, Geneva, Athens and Tel Aviv. As senior advisor to College Confidential since 2002, Sally has helped hundreds of students and parents navigate the college admissions maze. In 2008, she co-founded College Karma, a private college consulting firm, with her College Confidential colleague Dave Berry, and she continues to serve as a College Confidential advisor. Sally and her husband, Chris Petrides, became first-time parents in 1997 at the ripe-old age of 45. So Sally was nearly an official senior citizen when her son Jack began the college selection process, and when she was finally able to practice what she had preached for more than three decades.

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