Are Athletic Scholarships Worth The Price?

photo-1465516001080-8d478e10a809With 28 Olympic medals to his credit and an estimated net worth of over $55 million, Michael Phelps makes cashing in on your athletic talents look easy.

While an Olympic gold medal is a lot to ask for, many parents and student athletes set their sights on more reasonable goals like a Division I college sports scholarship or the coveted “full ride” that covers tuition, fees and other college expenses. Even a scholarship that covers partial tuition can net you $10,000 a year or more in benefits.

With money like that on the table, it’s no surprise that families want to cash in on their students’ athletic talents.

Sports and extra curricular activities offer a lot of benefits for our kids. If you have a talented student-athlete who wants to participate in college sports and can get a scholarship for doing so, great. But is it realistic?

Are athletic scholarships worth the price you pay to win them?

According to the five most popular college sports ranked by the number of schools with varsity programs include basketball, volleyball, softball, baseball, and soccer – in that order.

Hockey, a favorite sport of many Minnesotans, ranks #15 on the list with 168 schools offering varsity hockey programs. 69 of them are D1 or D2 programs that offer scholarships.

Of the 35,875 high school men who played hockey in 2014 only about 10% went on to play at the college level and less than 4% at the Division 1 level where the average scholarship per athlete was $14,945.

For female hockey players the odds are a little better. 9,418 high school women played hockey and 18.4% competed at the college level; 6.7% at D1 schools. The average scholarship for women hockey players competing at the D1 level was $14,456.

You can drill down into the details of these stats and more by clicking here.

Do the math. You don’t need an HP 12-C financial calculator to see where I am going with this.

Sports are great, and I strongly recommend participation in them for a variety of reasons, but winning an athletic scholarship for college isn’t one of them. Except for the most talented student-athletes, athletic scholarships are had to come by, and the price you pay for them is dear.

Steve Wulf, Senior Writer for ESPN, wrote an article in 2013 in which he tallied up “The Grand Total of Youth Hockey”. He estimated his total costs for his daughter at $48,850.

That’s just one, anecdotal case. Your numbers may vary. When I talk to parents about how much their kids’ sport-related expenses cost, they often tell me that $500 a month is “about right” when you add up lessons, coaching, gear, travel expenses, etc.

Tally it all up for K-12 and the total cost for your kid’s sports-related activities could approach $70,000 or more by the time they graduate from high school.

Certainly, sports and other extra curricular activities offer many benefits that go beyond athletic scholarships. Just be careful not to base your college financial strategy on winning one. Even if your student-athlete is in the top 1% – 3% of those who win generous athletic scholarships, the math barely breaks even.