How many high school athletes are counting on playing sport at college?

Many young athletes believe their abilities will earn them a college scholarship and a tuition-free education. That’s the primary motivation behind participating in Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) tournaments, where college coaches scout young athletes starting at a very young age. While former AAU participants like LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Brittney Griner are the who’s who of professional basketball, no one ever talks about the 1,000s of AAU alums who never lace ’em up in college, much less the pros.

Gabrielle “Gabi” Redden, a 15-year old AAU star, envisions herself as one of the superstar AAU alums and thinks that her talents on the court will give her the freedom attend any school she wants. She told Al Jazeera America:

“I want to get a full ride to one of those schools I want to go to. I don’t want them to pick me. I want to pick them.”

Unfortunately for Gabi, even Division I recruits, who make up a tiny percentage of high school student-athletes, do not get to choose where they go to school, as they are limited by their offers and budget. If a student-athlete is banking on a scholarship in order to afford college, they are probably going to be disappointed.

Scholarships are rare, full-ride scholarships are much rarer

Only 1.9% of male high school student-athletes and just 2.3% of female student-athletes go on to play Division I sports, which have the most money for scholarships.

But scholarships are not created equal at the Division I level and most DI sports offer equivalency or partial scholarships. For example, DI baseball offers 11.7 full scholarships for a maximum of 27 players on the roster, so even if you’re a superstar baseball player, like recent No. 1 overall pick Dansby Swanson, you’re going to have to pay a portion of tuition for college.

The “full-ride scholarships,” which are known as head-count sports, are only available for football, men’s and women’s basketball, as well as women’s gymnastics, tennis and volleyball. However, there are limits or head-counts for these scholarships and not everyone on the roster of these sports is on scholarship. For every head-count sport besides football and women’s gymnastics, the odds of playing Division I are actually lower than playing DI sports as a whole.

Budget for college without a scholarship

A scholarship should not be a major consideration when looking at schools because they are so rare. Student-athletes and their parents must pick a school that makes sense academically, athletically and financially or they are setting themselves up for failure.

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