Take the scholarship or decide to walk on in the athletic recruiting process – Part One

I recently had the chance to email with a parent who has a son with this current dilemma. The son has been offered a preferred walk-on spot at a Division I-A (BCS) school that is close to home. The program has not had a great deal of success over the long term so there is always the opportunity to step up, play, and eventually earn a scholarship. But with Division II offers on the table and the potential from Division I-AA (FCS) programs to offer a scholarship it is a tough decision.

This article will be the first piece of two that breaks down the pros and cons of taking a scholarship at a smaller school versus going to the bigger program and walking on. This first article will focus strictly on why taking the scholarship money at the smaller school should be the decision that is made. Again, I will talk more in the next few days about why taking the walk-on offer is something that should be done as well. In this situation, there is no right or wrong but we will provide information and insight on both.

So why should an athlete pass up the opportunity to walk on at a school? The first reason is obvious and it boils down to money. While the walk-on opportunity may be at an in-state school that is inexpensive in price, it is very tough to turn down scholarship money from schools at the Division I-A and II levels. It doesn’t matter what sport you are playing but to turn your back on any type of scholarship is definitely difficult when you are being recruited.

As an athlete who is 17 or 18-years old, you don’t really think about how much school costs. If your parents are fortunate enough to have the money to pay for school, that is great. But realistically, even if it is something that your parents will be paying for, there is no doubt that they are making a huge sacrifice for you. It may be that they can’t take the vacations they have dreamed of or buy a boat to go fishing in during the summer.

If your parents cannot pay for your entire education (which I would guess happens frequently), then student loans will quickly become your friend. You may be borrowing only $7,000 a year but that quickly adds up. Over four years, that yearly payment ends up being nearly $30,000. Again, you don’t think about this as a teenager but I have had the pleasure of dealing with student loans the last few years. It helped me get a great education but they are not a pleasure to pay each month. If you can possibly avoid these, then I would definitely recommend doing it.

The college coaches that are offering you a scholarship at any level are saying that we feel you have the potential to contribute. We feel strong enough about you that we are willing to offer you a scholarship so that you can come to our school and contribute on the football/basketball/soccer/fill in the blank team. Instead of just offering you a walk-on spot where they have nothing at all to lose, they are taking a portion of their total scholarship money and believing in you.

At most schools, college programs that end up offering a scholarship will also recruit you much harder. They will send more mail, call more frequently, travel further to visit your school, and just show you and your family more interest in the athletic recruiting process. In some cases, the college coaches that are hoping that you walk-on at the school will send mail, call occasionally, and just show a lot less interest. No offense to the walk-ons of the world but you are a much lower priority to the coaches than the kids that they have actually offered scholarships to.

Chances are also stronger that the school to offer a scholarship feels that you have the ability to see the field or court in sometime (hopefully early) in your career. Would you really be happy walking on at a school and sitting for four years and finally seeing some time as a redshirt senior? Most high school athletes who have scholarship abilities are in the game all the time. In having experience with sitting the bench, it is a huge change from playing all the time and something that forces a lot of walk-ons to eventually transfer.

You may also be a big fish in a small pond at the school that offered a scholarship. The same cannot be sad for the Division I school that offered the walk on role. Some of these schools have over 30,000 students. While you may feel important just being on the football team, it may be tougher for you to adjust as a practice player.

There is no doubt in my mind that taking the scholarship money is the smart decision. You have a coaching staff that likes you enough to offer you money to play sports at their college. They have the faith in you that you can fit in and see playing time in your career. There is more known about taking this route if that is the decision that you decide to take.

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