by Catharine Aradi

In the crazy search for a college softball home, players and families usually can be divided into two major groups.  Athletes in the first group---let’s call it the Love Group-begin the process because they truly love the game.  These girls can’t imagine giving up softball once high school ball or travel ball is over, and these moms and dads are only too happy to support their daughters in this.  In the Love Group are blue chip recruits who will be pursued by major Div. I programs as well as players who have never competed on the regional, let alone the national level, but who also don't want softball to end. 

The second group---let's call it the Money Group---is made up mostly of students who are pursuing college softball in hopes of getting an athletic scholarship.  A small, sub-group within this group consists of girls who want to use softball to help them get into a particular type of college.  Some of these players could also belong to the Love Group---e.g., they want to play because they love the game---but their goal is the specific college first and the team second.

Within the Money Group, you may find not just players, but parents and coaches as well.  When I'm talking to groups of families, I often joke that I meet more parents who want to play college softball than I ever meet kids.  It's easy to understand given the high cost of education and the fact that many of these parents have spent $40-$50,000 or more on travel ball related expenses over a ten-year period.  They may feel they're owed that scholarship, but unfortunately, as investments go, they'd probably be better off flying to Las Vegas and hitting the slot machines.

If you are in the group of athletes primarily looking for a scholarship, it's helpful to understand scholarship availability.  If you are in the Love Group, but you're hoping you might get some softball-based aid, it's a good idea to have the right expectations before you begin sending letters and video links to college coaches. 

No matter what you've heard from other families, no matter what your travel ball coach has told you, there are basic realities that cannot be disputed when it comes to athletic scholarships.

1. There is only so much athletic money available, and not all athletic programs are created equally.  The amount one school has to spend on scholarships might be ten times as much as that of another school. And all Div. I and II schools are limited by the NCAA in how much softball-based aid they can offer. 

2. When trying to find the bottom line on scholarships, you might want to "do the math."  Many teams carry 18-25 players, maybe more.  So even with 12 scholarships at a Div. I school, you either have a bunch of players getting nothing or a bunch of players getting a little.  Full rides---e.g., athletic scholarships that cover room and board and books and tuition---are few and far between no matter what anyone tells you.  

3. Private colleges often have deeper pockets than state universities, but they also tend to cost more.  Let’s say tuition at School A is $16,000 and the coach has $90,000 in scholarship grants. Obviously, he can do more with that money than the coach at School B where tuition is $46,000...even if the School B coach has $150,000 in athletic aid.
4. Private schools are more likely to try and "package" their aid--e.g., present the student with a combination of loans, athletic aid, and aid based on anything from ethnic and geographic diversity to academics and need.  You may hear that someone got a "full ride" to a private college, but most of the time, to the extent that this is even true, that "full ride" will be a full package.  And the contributing factors that helped her get that great aid package may not apply to you--e.g., need, academics, diversity, and so on.

5. Div. III colleges are not allowed to offer any athletic based aid.  They have other financial aid available, but no one is going to get a softball scholarship to a Div. III school.  (I find a lot of the players from the Love Group are competing at these programs and having a wonderful time doing it!)

6. Believe it or not, there are also Div. I, II, and NAIA universities that don’t have any money for softball scholarships. So, statistically-speaking, only about 55% of college players will ever get any athletic-based aid.  (Again, I'm talking pure softball money.)

It is possible to dwell harmoniously in both the Love and Money Groups. For most athletes, however, your chances of successfully finding a college team, of playing for four years, and of leaving college with the happiest of memories may be determined by how much of your heart resides in Group 1 versus Group 2.

Recruiting is often hard to understand and impossible to control, and it is never, ever fair.  If you're starting this long process with realistic expectations and a commitment to success, you'll probably go farther than someone who's just looking at dollar signs.  Being a strong athlete is important, of course, but these days there are many talented players all over the country.  Coaches simply cannot hear about or see all of them.

The college search tends to be long and drawn out for most.  If your heart is the engine driving this car---e.g., you want to play at the next level because softball is in your blood---then your chances for success are probably going to be better than someone who might be a more experienced athlete, but whose main consideration is how much money a school has to offer!

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