Prospective College Student Athletes: What is the difference between Head Count and Equivalency Sports when it comes to NCAA athletic aid?

Prospective College Student Athletes: What is the difference between Head Count and Equivalency Sports when it comes to NCAA athletic aid?

by Stephanie Barth, Student Athlete Coach at OnCampus, former college athlete and college coach, and parent of three Division 1 athletes

Did you know that there are only a few sports and divisions where athletes are offered full ride scholarships? 

In fact, less than 1% of incoming freshmen earn a full ride. Full rides aren’t common unless you are signing with a Division I “Head Count” sport. A Head Count Sport is a sport that generates money for the athletic department. There is a set number of athletic scholarships available for each team in a Head Count sport.  

NCAA Division I Head Count Sports include Men’s and Women’s Basketball, Football, Women’s Tennis, Women’s Volleyball and Women’s Gymnastics.

Then there are “Equivalency Sports” where you can earn a partial scholarship.  All of the other NCAA I and II sports, NAIA and NJCAA are included with the exception of NCAA Division III.  These sports can give out partial or full scholarships.  Coaches often divide up the scholarships across their roster. Division III, on the other hand, may only offer academic scholarships to its prospective student athletes.

How can I leverage my grades and ACT to help pay for college?  

With the equivalency sports, athletes can combine multiple scholarships at an institution along with financial aid which could equal a full-ride.  Coaches can divide the money equally among their athletes, give more to veteran players, or reward more to their top performers.

A partial ride can be turned into a full ride by combining scholarships and financial aid to cover the cost of attendance.  For example, if you meet standards of a 3.7 GPA and an ACT of a 25 or higher, you may qualify for certain academic scholarships at that institution.  In some ways, this can be beneficial for the athlete because if they get injured or decide not to play they can still keep these scholarships.  Your offer from an institution may be a combination of athletic and academic aid in order to offset the cost of attending.  An important question for student athletes to ask in these sports is can my scholarship go up if I am performing well.  Some college coaches may choose to offer more and some may not.  This is something to know up front when you are weighing your decisions.  

The biggest thing you can do is to go in with a sound game plan!

Research all of the financial aid options at your prospective institutions.  Ask questions about how you can earn more scholarship money both upfront and while you are a student athlete.  

Student Athletes: Contact our resident Student Athlete Coach at if you have more questions about how to leverage your ACT and your high school grades to earn more financial aid and learn how to maximize your chances in the recruiting process with our student athlete coaching services



Prospective College Student Athletes: What is the difference between Head Count and Equivalency Sports when it comes to NCAA athletic aid?

Get the Ball Rolling on the Student Athlete Recruitment Process

Most athletes think the athletic recruiting process is just like the movies: I show up at a tournament or national ID camp, a college coach discovers me out of the hundreds of kids that are there, the coach offers me a full ride scholarship, I go to the Division 1 college of my dreams, etc. 

The reality is that most college athletes learn how to actively promote themselves along the way. Most college athletes do not attend Div. 1 universities, and instead attend Div. 2, 3, NAIA, or Junior Colleges. Successful college athletes often start the process early and take responsibility for their own athletic recruiting. They gather as much information as they can and put in the work to promote themselves. They set both athletic and academic goals and reach out to those colleges and coaches that are the best fit. 

How do Prospective Student Athletes get recruited for their sport?

Your recruiting journey will likely be your own, even as compared to someone on your own team. Prospective student athletes get recruited in a multitude of ways, but there are two primary avenues that high school athletes can utilize to take charge of their recruiting process and present themselves in the best possible light:

Make contact with college coaches

This includes email, phone calls, filling out online questionnaires and other written communication. Many college coaches don’t even begin recruiting you until you fill out their questionnaire, send an email, or make a phone call, and we happen to have a College Coach Outreach Guide filled with useful tips on how to carry yourself in these exchanges! Make sure you’re thinking about the level you would like to participate at athletically, and be realistic, for good or for bad. Remember that at the end of the day, it’s up to college coaches to decide what level you are at.  

There are many options that student athletes and parents may not even be considering, which includes NCAA Div. 1, Div. 2, Div. 3, NAIA and Junior College. Once you’ve accurately determined what level you’re at, you can start exploring your options, which aren’t quite as limited as you may think. prospective-student-athlete-college-search-recruiting-sports-scholarship-ball-admissions-counseling-coach-team2

You’re probably very familiar with the NCAA, but you might not know that the NAIA is made up of smaller colleges and universities that function much like Div. 2, often with fewer restrictions, and these schools offer athletic scholarships. Similarly, Junior Colleges (NJCAA) are 2 year institutions that have lower tuition rates and can provide students an opportunity to improve their grades and then transfer to a NCAA or NAIA school. Explore all of your options and don’t count anything out. Current media drama aside, Aaron Rodgers started at Butte Community College after only being offered a walk-on spot by Illinois, then transferred to Cal, and now he’s doing pretty well for himself. 

Make campus visits 

Visit colleges when you are traveling, contact those college coaches and let them know you will be on campus. College coaches want to hear from you and they want to know you are interested in their program. Take responsibility for your athletic recruiting process early and go explore college campuses! 

Once you meet the coaches, they will take a deep dive and look at the athletic, academic and character of the student athletes they are recruiting. They will talk to club and high school coaches. Then they will extend offers and get commitments from prospective student athletes based upon the needs of their programs, and these offers can vary from a full ride to a partial scholarship to a walk-on offer. They also can be combined with academic merit aid in some sports at some of the levels.  

To make this process easier, we’ve developed a handy list of 10 steps that you can take to ensure that you make the most of your campus visits!

prospective-student-athlete-college-search-recruiting-sports-scholarship-ball-admissions-counseling-coach-teamRemember that you’re a student athlete – you’ll need to perform both athletically and academically to succeed, and the goal here is not only to play sports in college but to set yourself up for success later on with a strong education. Does your school of choice have the major and academic programs you’re looking for/does it have the academic rigor that fits your abilities? Don’t just check the box here. Fully explore the major and compare it to the same major at different colleges. What are the requirements to get into the nursing school or business school? What is the job placement rate from this college or university? Are their graduates getting into the graduate schools that I would someday like to attend? While your experience as a student athlete will inevitably differ from regular students, you’ll still be a college student capable of reaping all the benefits of post-secondary education. You should treat college the same way that everybody else treats it: as a stepping stone toward a satisfying career.

Important note: Know the high school courses and GPA you will need to participate by checking the NCAA Eligibility Center. The NCAA is not requiring standardized test scores this year, but know that many of the NCAA universities will require you to have them. Understand what you need to accomplish in high school academically to be able to participate in the NCAA.

Everyone’s recruiting journey will look different, but with perseverance and hustle you can make your goal of becoming a student athlete a reality. Let college coaches know you are interested in their university, because otherwise the ball will remain forever in your court. Stay motivated and persistent! 

As always, you can reach out to Stephanie Barth, our resident Student Athlete Coach, at for further student athlete guidance!