How much do grades matter if your child is a gifted athlete hoping to compete in college? Will athletic talent alone make college affordable for your family? The short answer is no. It takes more than athletic talent to be a college athlete, let alone be an athlete on scholarship. Your child’s grades matter and they matter a lot. Athletes who combine great grades with athletic talent (and a good attitude) will get the best offers from college coaches.
Do Grades Matter?
Is your child taking high school seriously? Many high school athletes are living for the moment. They’re so focused on their current glory on the field or on the court that they’ve forgotten they’re in high school. Their grades constantly hover on the brink of ineligibility. But they’re convinced college coaches will want them based solely on athletic skill. I’ve got bad news. Most of those superstars won’t even make it to college.
Or maybe you know your child puts in a little bit of effort. Your child’s grades aren’t great, but they’re not that bad either. You figure if your child can squeeze by with a just good enough ACT/SAT score, college competition is a real possibility.
College competition may be a possibility. I often say there’s a place for every athlete who wants to compete in college. There is. There are coaches willing to take players with mediocre GPA’s and poor test scores. However, the athletes who just barely get into college are not being offered the best scholarships.
One of my coaching friends told me the other day that he has helped dozens of kids find a spot on collegiate rosters. On average, he said, the kids with good grades and ACT/SAT scores are paying a few thousand dollars each year for school. The players he labeled “studs” who didn’t take studying seriously in high school “will owe a ton” when they graduate from college.
Your child’s grades may keep them from receiving an athletic scholarship and a chance to play collegiate sports!
Do grades matter that much?
Your athlete’s academic record is going to affect their scholarship opportunities as much as their athletic prowess. I know your kids are not the crowd that is going to give up sports and spend all of their time becoming a super genius.
However, and this is huge, academics are super important. Academics are a key component of understanding the recruiting code. Coaches will usually look at your GPA and ACT/SAT scores before they contact an athlete. The higher your grades and test scores, the more attractive you are to college coaches.
For schools with athletic scholarships, high academics translate into less scholarship money the coach has to spend on one athlete.
Wait a minute…did I just say that recruits with better grades receive smaller athletic scholarship awards? Yes, I did! Now you’re mad: I want my child to receive the highest athletic scholarship possible. No, you don’t. What you really want is for your child to receive the highest total financial aid package possible. The more total aid your child receives the less money you pay out of pocket.
Coaches love to recruit athletes with great grades for two reasons. First, the total financial aid package will be better for the athlete’s family. College is more affordable, parents are happy, and athletes have a better chance of sticking it out for four years. Second, try to think like a coach for one minute. If a coach can spend a little less of their budget on one great athlete, that means the coach has more money to spread around and bring in several more great athletes. Coaches love to create rosters deep with talent. And making those scholarship dollars stretch is how they do it.
At schools without athletic scholarships, for example Division 3 athletics, more money is awarded to students with high academics.
Why the minimum isn’t good enough
No matter how good your child is if they cannot succeed academically their opportunities will be limited. The NCAA Division 1 and 2 have a 2.3 minimum GPA and the NAIA is 2.0. Realize those minimums are just to be admitted to the college or university. If your kid sneaks in with these grades, they may get some need-based money, and, if lucky, some athletic money as well, but the real money is in academics.
While most athletic scholarships will be $5,000 or less, academic scholarships will usually range from a few thousand dollars to full tuition.
I have coached at three different private colleges. I did not even consider players who had lower than a 3.0 GPA. There were two major reasons.
First, I knew they probably could not afford school without an academic scholarship.
Second, I believed if they did not care about grades in high school, they would not care in college and would have a high probability of dropping out. Along with that, it indicated to me a real lack of work ethic, which would likely come out on the field as well (even if they were a great player).
When colleges cannot admit your child, it’s too late
I have had some sad conversations with players who I recruited over the years. Here are three recruits that typify what can happen.
The first young lady I had recruited since she was a freshman. She was all set to come to play for me; that is until about the spring of her junior year when I started to see her grades and ACT score. She wanted to play in college as much as anybody I have ever recruited. She had several other schools interested in her ability. They backed away from her, as I did, and she ended up at a junior college three states away, just so she could play. She was a mild success story in that she was able to get into a four-year college after her first two years and finish there, but not as a starter. Her academic decisions seriously affected her athletic outcome.
The second young lady I had been recruiting came for a campus visit and that same week sent in her application and transcripts. I had not seen any of her test scores before then. I can still picture her crying as I told her that she was not even going to be admitted to our school.
Bad grades carry a heavy price tag
The third young lady, perhaps to me was the saddest. She was a great soccer player. Her dad was very involved in soccer and coaching. They were a genuinely good family. I began recruiting her as a sophomore. From the very beginning, her dad told me that she had low grades and was not taking her schoolwork seriously. I gave her many pep talks, as I am sure other college coaches did. Many coaches would have liked her on their team. She ended up not being able to afford any of the four-year colleges she applied to. She was accepted, but the price of poor grades and test scores is a hefty one when it comes to financial aid.
The spring of her senior year, I was watching the state playoffs. She saw me in the stands before the game, while her team was waiting around. With tears in her eyes, she walked over, gave me a hug and said she was sorry; she really did want to play for me. That day was her last competitive soccer game. She ended up at a local community college and would never touch a soccer ball at the collegiate level. Being a student-athlete in college requires a lot of discipline.
Help your child achieve their dreams by getting good grades
Coaches are looking to recruit student-athletes. They are looking for players who can transition from the demands of high school – in the classroom and in the gym – to the demands of college.
Impress on your kids the importance of good grades. Grades are the first step in a successful recruiting process. While it may be too early to call coaches or visit campus, it’s never too early to start improving that GPA. If your kids need help, find a way to help them. Whether they just need a little more discipline to set aside time for homework, or they need tutoring in a subject, you can help them achieve success. Work with your kids to hit your goals.
When you start receiving financial aid packages, you’ll be thankful for every dollar you can get!
Here is another article that will help your child get recruited: 3 Reasons College Coaches Won’t Give You an Athletic Scholarship
We updated this post in March 2020.
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