Control Freak

If you’ve read this blog for a while, you’ve undoubtedly figured out that I’m a control freak. Whether it’s a dressage thing, a business owner thing, a higher education thing, or just a me thing remains to be seen; all I know is that I am what I am and I don’t see that particular facet of myself changing anytime soon.

It should come as no surprise that I’m also controlling when it comes to money. Some would call me thrifty, others might toss out the label “tight-fisted” or even “cheap.” I love a good coupon, a great discount, and I don’t like to throw money away. (Ever.) It’s a penny-pinching approach that naturally carries over the work I do with students as we assess the costs of the various colleges they’re interested in submitting applications to, for even if their parents are well off and aren’t overly concerned with the out-of-pocket cost for a particular college or university, I view it as my job to undertake that concern for them – if only to make sure that they’re getting the very best value for every dollar they spend.

Add all of that up and you’ll begin to understand why I’m not the biggest fan of athletic scholarships.

As always, readers, I want to be crystal clear that I’m not bashing athletic scholarships here, nor am I belittling them. (Quite the contrary – do you think a skinflint like me is ever going to let a student turn down any scholarship money of any kind?!) What I am most opposed to when it comes to scholarship dollars for athletes is the laser-like focus that students and parents (and even some coaches) place on athletic dollars without taking all factors into account and often at the expense of overlooking other avenues of financial support that might come their way.

Allow me to explain:

In the 2015-2016 academic year, the average scholarship amount for a female equestrian at the NCAA (NCEA) Division I varsity level was $10,462, with a scholarship low of $5,677 and a high of $17,196. The number of scholarships awarded per team was 41.

But that’s just the surface data.

If an average team roster is 50 riders (which is the number we’ll use here for easy math) and the average team is awarding 41 scholarships, that means they’re spreading those scholarships out over all riders on the team – seniors, juniors, sophomores, and freshmen. So not only are nine riders not receiving any scholarship money for riding at all, but only 25 percent (or less) of the first-year riders are on scholarship.

Thus, if there are 50 riders on the team in all and it’s split fairly evenly by class year, there are 12 or 13 first year riders – perhaps some of whom fall onto the list of the nine who aren’t on scholarship at all and might have to prove their value to the team over time if they’re going to receive scholarship money for riding in the future. (After all, each new school year presents a new opportunity to gain or lose athletic scholarship dollars.)

Because collegiate equestrian is an equivalency sport, there are a myriad of ways the scholarships can be broken down between members of the team.

But let’s not get bogged down in the minutiae. Whether or not a student receives athletic scholarship money for riding isn’t really the point of this blog entry; the main idea is that honing in specifically on athletic money can be a risky proposition that results in the loss of scholarship money elsewhere if families aren’t savvy during the college search process.

More specifically:

I speak with countless families each year who completely omit any consideration for academic merit scholarship from their college search parameters. We discuss college majors and campus housing, riding opportunities and even financial aid awarding practices and yet very often the topic of academic scholarships never come up. Is it because parents are afraid their solid B students don’t have the brains to earn scholarship dollars? Or perhaps there’s something more prestigious about standing on the rail at the horse show touting how much a particular university was willing to pay a young rider to be part of their team? Or is it just that athletic scholarships are more prominent in our culture than those of the academic variety?

Perhaps it’s all of the above.

But whatever the reason, I can promise you this: the major scholarship money to be found is in the academic realm and not only are there more academic scholarships available to students (regardless of athletic status), but they are bigger. Substantially bigger, in most cases.

(Won’t take my word for it? The NCAA figures back me up.)

What’s more, academic scholarships are traditionally awarded for four years (provided the student meets a minimum academic standard while enrolled – usually the equivalent of what I refer to as “go to class and do your homework”). So if a student comes off a horse and isn’t contributing to the equestrian team, the academic money remains steadfast (as long as – you guessed it! – she’s going to class and doing her homework). A student on academic scholarship also can’t be “replaced” by an incoming freshman with crazy-mad biology skills or have an academic scholarship reduced because she didn’t earn enough points on the history final last spring to keep her study group ahead of the curve.

So while I’m not discounting athletic scholarship dollars in the process, I also caution you not to overlook other forms of easy money that can also come your way. (Yes, that applies to you too, B students!)

Ask these questions of admission officers and coaches you encounter in your college search and use colleges’ online net price calculators to see what might be available to you. Take control of the cost of your education and you’ll be money ahead in the end.

(Need help finding colleges who offer scholarships? Contact me or pick up a copy of my book to guide your search.)

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