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How Important Are Sports in Your College Selection Decision?



If you’re a high school athlete, chances are you’re considering continuing playing your sport at college. And although your ultimate reason for going to college may be to get your chosen degree and prepare for your career and overall life, sports may play a significant factor in where you choose to go.

If that’s the case for you, you may want to consider these questions:

  1. How important are sports in your college selection?

  2. How important should they be?

  3. How can you benefit by participating in collegiate sports?

  4. What are some associated challenges?

Read on to learn some answers to those questions and more.

College Applications

Colleges often receive more applications than there are slots available, and not all applicants are likely to meet a particular school’s academic standards.

At that point, the admissions team likely looks at extracurricular factors, and, if you have an impressive high school sports record, this might help with your admission chances. That’s because, by demonstrating how you made a significant time commitment to sports while maintaining a quality GPA (presuming you did), this could highlight your time management skills—and perhaps even indicate leadership abilities.

So, whether you hope to play collegiate-level sports, use your participation in high school sports to round out your applications, or perhaps have been offered athletic scholarships, your high school sports accomplishments could play a role in getting you into a college of choice.

Things to Consider When Choosing a College

When it’s time to apply, it’s important to have a strategy to help ensure the best outcome for you and your academic goals. You may want to consider three different categories of colleges to apply to: match schools, safety schools, and reach schools.

Match School

This is also called a “target school,” and it’s one where your academic credentials meet or perhaps somewhat exceed those of a typical freshman being accepted at this school. Aligning with a school’s requirements doesn’t guarantee you’ll be accepted, but it’s reasonably likely that you could be. So, it may benefit you to include some of these colleges on your list.

Reach School

In this case, your academic qualifications don’t match what the school requires for a typical freshman—but that doesn’t mean you can’t get accepted.

Perhaps your sports accomplishments, for example, might give you the extra boost you need. So you could take a look at the requirements of your dream school and, if you meet the basic ones, take a chance (backed up, of course, by your by applications to match and safety schools applications and safety school ones).

Safety School

You may be fairly confident of receiving acceptance to a safety school, because this is a school where your academic qualifications would be well above what they typically require from an incoming freshman. Sometimes, certain colleges will guarantee admission if certain academic standards are met. You may want to ask your school’s college counselor about these colleges.

(In fact, if possible, it’s worthwhile to get the assistance of a college counselor when choosing schools to apply to.)

Athletic Scholarships

Sports participation could do more than just help with college acceptance. Sometimes, your ability to play sports can help fund your education.

According to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), colleges currently award more than $2.9 billion in athletic scholarships to more than 150,000 students each year. That’s an impressive number!

Broken down, however, only about 2% of high school athletes receive college scholarship money. The NCAA also notes that, for most students who receive athletic scholarships, they only pay a portion of the costs of college (not, in other words, a full ride).

If you’re offered an athletic scholarship by a college you’d like to attend, it could (understandably) influence your decision. If you’re fortunate enough to get offers from multiple schools, your choice may be more difficult—but not necessarily in a bad way. Instead, it may offer you even more opportunities—and could help with student loan debt.

Balancing Academics and Sports in College

Even if you don’t get an athletic scholarship, you may still want to participate on a college sports team, at club level, or an intramural league. If so, there can be numerous benefits, with USA Today listing these:

•  College athletics can help build skills with lifelong value, including “teamwork, leadership, work ethic, and time management–college athletes are thrown into a situation where they have to learn these traits almost immediately or they just won’t make it.”

•  Employers sometimes look to hire students who have played college-level sports, especially those graduating with a good GPA.

•  Teammates often become friends for life, with college sports helping students build relationships.

Being a college athlete can also add challenges. For example, according to current NCAA rules, college teams can require up to (but no more than) 20 hours of practice each week, which is in addition to the credit hours the student is taking. Factor in homework and study time, and the result is that college athletes are often very busy.

Picking Your Major

When making a list of what to consider when choosing a college, you might want to start by focusing on the programs and degrees available. While it isn’t unusual for students to enter college without choosing a major, and while students often do switch majors, selecting a school that has the types of programs that interest you may have more benefit in the long run.

For example, you may not want to apply to an agricultural college or culinary school if you had absolutely no interest in those career paths.

Colleges typically require students to declare a major by the end of their sophomore year. And while choosing your major may not be the end-all, be-all when it comes to your future career, it can help launch you forward. In order to choose your major, you might consider these two questions:

•  Do the classes associated with the major truly engage you?

•  Does this particular major set you up for a career you’ll enjoy and find meaningful?

You could also explore opportunities by taking classes in different areas of interest. Since the first year or two of college often include foundational classes, it might be an ideal time to explore. You could also consider joining clubs to learn more about career opportunities and meet people who share your interests.

Also, you could just talk to people. This includes professors, other students, guest lecturers, and more. When you talk to someone with real-life experience in a career that interests you, you could learn useful information.

Career counselors can also be helpful. Besides providing you with information, they may help you discover your hidden talents. And if you’re on a college sports team, your coach may have unique insights into those unsung strengths you possess.

Finally, it’s okay to also think about the pay associated with each career . In fact, researching what career fields a particular major may feed into, and what those fields may offer in salary, could help you figure out if your potential future earnings will support the lifestyle you desire. (However, it’s worth keeping in mind that earnings may change over time.)

Other things to consider:

•  What are the time and credit requirements of a major that interests you?

•  Will it allow you to continue playing, or will the requirements take up too much bandwidth?

•  Does your school of choice offer this major?

•  Could you double major? What’s available for your minor?

Financing Your Education


Since so few students are offered athletic scholarships, you may want to consider how you’re going to fund your education. After all, where is that money going to come from? For many college students in America, the answer is college loans.

In the spirit of complete transparency, we recommend you exhaust all your federal loan options before considering SoFi as your private lender.

But if you could use some supplemental funding to cover your cost of attendance, so you can play your sport at the college of your dreams, consider private student loans with SoFi. You can choose from competitive fixed or variable rate loans, and there are no fees and no fuss.

Want to learn more about private student loans with SoFi? See what rates you qualify for entirely online in just minutes.

Learn More


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