Recruiting – Women’s Track and Field Scholarships

Alan Versaw, girls coach at The Classical Academy, and Colorado editor of, have collaborated on a series of posts dedicated to the college recruiting process. The first and second installment focus on what questions to ask the high school coach, while the third installment is Alan’s extremely helpful scholarship primer. The post below starts with Alan’s comments and ends with my comments, which are in italics.

What considerations are unique to the world of women’s track and field scholarships?

Having discussed track and field scholarships in general in the last in the previous installment, we now turn our attention to the topic of women’s track and field scholarships.

A few caveats are in order. I come to this discussion from the perspective of the high school coach. Jay Johnson comes from the perspective of the college coach and recruiting coordinator. As such, we don’t necessarily see all the same things.

It’s also the case that my experience with female athletes who have received track and field scholarship offers is rather extensive. That experience will help me to speak from experience about many issues on the women’s side of the ledger. I will need to rely much more heavily on Jay Johnson when we discuss men’s track and field scholarships in the next installment.

Finally, please take the content of this article with a grain of salt. There are no hard and fast rules about who or what level of performance gets a particular level of scholarship. Everything is subject to the idiosyncracies of the particular situation.


Any sheet you might have seen stating that such-and-such a performance puts an athlete in line for a full-ride scholarship should be treated with a healthy dose of skepticism. Anything you may have heard about minimum standards to get any sort of scholarship is equally baseless.

I know of a 24:xx high school cross country runner who received a fairly substantial athletic scholarship to a community college. I know of a 13.0x 100-meter sprinter who got athletic scholarship money to attend a Division I institution (and this was no obscure DI school). I still scratch my head over both situations and wonder what the respective college coaches knew–or possibly thought they knew–that I didn’t.

A track and field scholarship is least as much about matching desires with opportunity as it is about performances and sliding scales of awards.

I’ve been stunned by the size of some scholarship offers made to athletes I did not regard as top-tier athletes–some of my own athletes and some athletes coming out of programs that my friends coach. Similarly, I’ve been surprised by some comparatively small offers made to athletes I considered to be top-tier prospects. As I mentioned earlier, the rules are anything but hard and fast.

To illustrate how across-the-board offers can be, I’ll discuss of few of the details of two offers one of my former high school athletes received. A major Division I program offered her a substantial athletic scholarship, in excess of 80% of the price of tuition, room and board, and expenses. That school also indicated they’d likely be able to cover most of the rest through academic financial aid normally extended to students of her standing. The same girl was offered what amounted to about a 40% scholarship from a Division II institution.

In this case, the Division II offer was illustrative of a reality faced by numerous scholarship-worthy high school athletes.

In a conversation with the coach at that school, I learned that the program had very little scholarship money to offer that year. Most importantly, it was a low year in their cycle of available scholarship money. Things sometimes work out that way.

They had committed a large amount of money the previous year and those women were a long way from being ready to graduate. Only a couple of scholarship athletes were graduating and no scholarship athletes had left the program that year. Additionally, the school had taken a couple of non-scholarship athletes who had performed well and signed them to partial athletic scholarships for the upcoming year. Consequently, the school had about 1.0 available scholarships to offer to incoming freshmen and they wanted to spread that amount across at least four or five athletes.

My athlete could have been Octavious Freeman or Chelsey Sveinsson and she still would not have approached anything like a full ride from that school. As it was, a 40% scholarship offer represented a substantial vote of confidence from the program.

If you have your heart set on attending a particular school, this story could very well end up being your story. It’s not necessarily a reflection on what you accomplished in high school; it’s a reflection of the current realities within the track and field program at that school.

If, however, a female with a nice running, jumping, or throwing resume is willing to consider multiple schools, the likelihood of a very nice scholarship offer increases dramatically.

As indicated in the preceding article, the supply of track and field scholarships is greater for women than it is for men. And, the demand on that larger number of scholarships is smaller. It’s a cold, hard fact of life that a lower percentage of female than male high school track and field athletes want to go on to compete in college. This situation creates opportunity, and lots of it, for the women who do want to compete.

Without meaning to cast suspicion on what I said before about there being no hard-and-fast rules about certain performances attaching to certain levels of scholarship offers, my experiences suggest that 5K cross country times in the low 18s (at altitude) begin to put a female athlete in line for full-ride consideration. Below 18 minutes and the likelihood that at least one school makes a full-ride offer starts to increase dramatically. Any high school girl who can run sub-20 should be able to attract some scholarship offers somewhere, even at the Division I level. Choices and amounts may be limited, but there are many programs happy to bring in a sub-20 kind of athlete.

I assume those times need to be a little faster for athletes from lower altitudes, though I have been dumbstruck a time or two by the realization that there are a few college coaches from lower altitudes who indicate no appreciation of the effect that altitude has on distance running. To the extent that these coaches recruit by standards of performance, they apply the same standards to athletes from higher and lower elevations. It sometimes worries me that there may be other gaps in the understanding of distance running in the minds of these coaches.

All that said, track times are more important than cross country times, places in big meets are more important than times (at least for cross country), and your relationship with your high school coach matters. Very rarely will a high school coach make it a point to obstruct an athlete’s scholarship opportunities, but successful college coaches do learn to decipher the coded language high school coaches use to indicate an athlete is a disruptive influence or lacks a strong work ethic.

If you’re a female throwing the shot put in the high 30s, you have reason to believe you could have a portion of your college expenses paid for by an athletic scholarship. Reach into the 40s and both the probability and the size of the offer go up–fast.

About 5-5 starts getting serious attention in the high jump. 58-low or faster in the 400. Sub 2:18 in the 800. Over 17 feet in the long jump. Somewhere in the 15s in the 100 hurdles (I am aware there’s a lot of difference between a 15.0 and a 15.9, but I’m similarly aware that I’m not a hurdle guy, so I’ll stick with “somewhere in the 15s.”). 25.xx in the 200. Maybe not at Texas A&M or Oregon, but somewhere in Division I.

Should you abandon all hope if you’re not a threat to attain these marks? Absolutely not, especially not if the passion to run as a scholarship athlete courses through your veins. And the standards–vague and indefinite as the are–are typically even more generous at the Divsion II level.

Particularly if a school has a football program, the athletic department at that school is under intense pressure to maintain the sort of gender equity required by Title IX. This implies that the school will do all they can to bring as many women as they can (within reason, of course) into their athletic programs. Claims that athletic scholarships are routinely extended to warm bodies are mostly exaggerated, but the reality is a very large percentage of girls who regularly place in big invitational meets in high school can also earn athletic scholarship money for college.

It must be understood that the standards for an athletic scholarship at a school like Florida State are much higher than the standards at a school competing in a lower-tier conference. The demonstrated success of certain coaches creates demand to be a part of those programs. Demand drives up the “cost” of getting into the programs. In these cases, the standards for a scholarship may turn out to be extraordinarily high. The vast majority of DI and DII programs, however, provide extensive scholarship opportunities for females coming out of high school cross country and track and field programs.

If the first school you’re interested in doesn’t make an offer, there are many other schools out there with the academic programs you’re interested in. Keep knocking on doors. Keep filling out prospect athlete questionnaires at schools that have what you want in a college. Be willing to make a few phone calls.

This point would apply equally to men as to women, but you should understand the pecking order of scholarship offers. Most schools will target certain recruits and make offers to those recruits, giving them some sort of limited time frame to respond. Until those athletes respond (and there may be two or three layers of these athletes), the offers extended to those targeted athletes typically tie up a large portion of the available scholarships at that school.

If you do not have an offer before National Letter of Intent signing day, it does not necessarily mean you will not get an offer from that school. It does, however, mean you’re not at the top of their list of recruits. Nevertheless, the coach should be good enough to explain a little of where you stand to you and give you some indication of when they might be able to make an offer, if they’re able to make an offer at all.

College coaches who fail to exercise this basic level of human decency have turned off a great many more athletes, parents, and high school coaches than they know. Most of us are okay with knowing we’re not at the top of someone’s list for athletic scholarship–an athletic scholarship offer is not a proposal for marriage. Most of us, however, are not okay with being strung along. Unfortunately, some college coaches string prospects along.

If you’ve been in contact with a program, have had a conversation or two with the coach about running for them, perhaps even made a visit, and you’ve heard nothing about a scholarship amount by the first week in February, you should either a) prepare yourself to be content to walk on, or b) figure no offer is coming and direct your hopes elsewhere. The college coach should already have told you that in a diplomatic sort of way, but some don’t.

For students willing to push out the date of a college commitment, many scholarship offers are routinely made late in a student’s senior year. I’ve received numerous phone calls and e-mails in the April/May time frame inquiring if we have any quality athletes in our program who’ve not yet committed to a school. In some cases, the amount of scholarship money still on the table has been rather substantial.

On a final note, several high school track and field/cross country athletes turn to recruiting services for help finding scholarship offers. There is little doubt that reputable recruiting services can generate offers, often multiple offers, for many athletes. It should be understood going in, however, that most of those offers tend to come from lower-tier programs that generally have difficulty filling their allotments of available scholarships.

There are undoubtedly many cases where the particular schools and athletes turned out to be great matches. In other cases, however, the match may be more problematic. In any case, be willing to seriously investigate the opportunities for you at both the school itself and within its track and field program when considering a scholarship offer generated through a recruiting service.


I’m going to go out on a limb and say that for most readers of this article (and series) the most important two sentences that Alan shared with you are the following, “It’s a cold, hard fact of life that a lower percentage of female than male high school track and field athletes want to go on to compete in college. This situation creates opportunity, and lots of it, for the women who do want to compete.”

Why is that? Because high school coaches and college coaches see this reality every day: some very talented, very accomplished young women are not interested in competing collegiately. This fact is one of the big reasons why Alan’s examples of a woman who runs a 5k in the 24s in cross country or a woman who runs in the 13s in the 100m are offered athletic scholarships.

The other big reason has to do with the trickle down effect from DI to all of the other divisions. Because there are so many scholarships for women’s track and field at the DI level, but fewer women interested in taking them, the level of performance needed to earn a scholarship at an NAIA school or a junior college is much lower than most high school coaches, families, and students expect.

While Alan didn’t mention NAIA schools or junior colleges by name, the reality is that many of those schools need bodies for their rosters and if a family is simply looking for the most affordable way to help their daughter get a college education they should consider contacting these schools.

That’s the biggest point I wanted to add to Alan’s discussion, that the reason there are more scholarship offers made to women – both national caliber women and women who are varsity level on their team, but not state or national caliber – is a function of both the number of scholarships and that some of the best athletes aren’t interested in pursuing track and field in college.

With that said, I’d like to reinforce some more of Alan’s comments. If you’ve taken an official visit to a school and the school won’t tell you what amount of scholarship they want to offer you, then you need to move on to the next school.

Don’t dwell on it, just move on.

In terms of the timing, a program should be able to tell you two weeks before the signing date, though I’d hear them out if there are odd circumstances and they need to wait until 10 days out or a week out because your offer may go up.

Why would that happen?

Let’s say the school is recruiting you and they are also recruiting the consensus best runner in the country. They’re obviously offering the other athlete a full, yet they say they really want you, but all they have left is 50%. In that scenario they might say, “We actually think you’re worth 75% to our program and if The Best Runner in the Country says no to us, we’d like to offer you 75%. Can you give us until _____ to find if The Best Runner in the Country is coming, and if she says no’ – which we hope she doesn’t – we’ll bump up your offer.”

They’re being honest – they want the stud on a full and you on 50%, but if the stud says no then they’ll take 25% of it and give it to you for a total of 75%. So, there’s an example where you should be patient.

But, again, if you took an official visit and can’t get the school to discuss a scholarship you need to take at as a no and move on. And you should have had some general idea of what they were going to be able to offer you before you took the official visit.

It’s very common for programs to have money left at the end of the year, i.e. during the outdoor track season. If a school comes calling that time of the year, I wouldn’t hold it against them that they weren’t contacting you in the fall.

For instance, if you’re a 400m/800m runner who is running well in track but only ran as the third runner on your cross country team, it makes sense that you didn’t get the attention in the fall that you are now getting in the spring.

Now, you might be thinking, “They’re only calling me because someone else told them no.” True, but who cares? They are talking to you now, and they’re considering offering you a scholarship, an option you didn’t have in the fall. I think you should view that as a positive.

Alan talked about programs stringing families along. He’s right, this does happen. But families have also been known to string college programs along, especially at the highest level (i.e. the best athletes in the country). I was fortunate to work in environments that were honest with families and for the most part families were honest with us, yet every once in a while an athlete can’t narrow their choices down to three, or ideally two, schools.

My statement to families is that you’re leading at least two schools on when you are telling five schools that you’re interested. Get two schools off your list and let those two programs move on with their recruiting efforts, allowing them to talk to families who themselves may feel like they’re being led on.

Those schools are no doubt recruiting other people, yet they can’t talk scholarship money because they don’t know if you’ll be taking a scholarship or not.

I think this is where college coaches sometimes come off as evasive, because they can’t fully disclose to each family what they’re offering the other families. Yet, for the college coach, that’s the game theory that’s going on – maximizing your most valuable resource, scholarships, while waiting on the decisions of seventeen-year-olds before you can make your next move.

This is the reason I used to say, “The second best thing we can hear is no.” I viewed it as a binary exercise where we needed to get to either yes or no as efficiently and gracefully as we could so we could move on to the next person on our list. And, if you’re being recruited right now, you need to remember this – if you’re in some sort of contact with ten schools you will end up telling nine of them No.

If that sounds difficult, that’s okay because it is, yet you will have to do that.

Okay, technically you don’t have to say no. You could not answer your phone or not respond to emails. That’s not what you want to do and I’m convinced it’s a rare athlete who takes that out and ends up being an accomplished collegiate athlete.

As you can you guess, life is easy of you’re a girl and are in the top ten individuals in the country in cross country or top three or four in your event in track and field. Not only is virtually every school offering you a full ride, but the coaches are waiting on you to tell them yes or no.

But if you’re a 57.00 400m runner or a 2:14 800m runner with killer test scores and a near-perfect GPA, this process is a bit messy. Small schools at the DII and NAIA are willing to offer you a lot of scholarship money, even full rides, yet academically you’re not interested. The big DI state schools may or may not want you to walk on, even though you’d love to be there academically. You can barely get into the prestigious DI private schools academically, but you can run on the track team, which might be able to offer you a small athletic scholarship of 10%, yet the school is so expensive that your family probably can’t afford to send you there, even with the 10% offer.

The scenario above is too often real and my heart goes out to the families who are in this position as the path to a good fit for their daughter is not obvious. But, as a family, you control two important pieces of information that can and should be shared with coaches: What can you afford as a family and what amount of debt are you comfortable with for your daughter when she graduates?

A family cannot expect a coach to know these numbers yet these two numbers should be driving the recruiting process because, at the end of the day, a “good fit” is often the best school that the family can afford. While it would be nice if a good fit meant a program with a coach that the athlete worked well with and a team that was winning conference titles, the reality is that the student will probably feel stress if the family can barely afford the school she is attending. Conversely, the student will likely be frustrated if she’s on a full-ride athletic scholarship but the course load is easier than her high school AP classes.

I strongly encourage families to have candid conversations about this during the senior year so that parents and students can be honest with college coaches about what they need in scholarship money.

I hope this has been helpful and, as Alan said, please take my comments with a grain of salt.

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  • Sncstanley

    This has been greatly helpful…Thank you.

  • CoachJay

    We enjoyed putting it together. It's odd to think that every family is ignorant – meaning without knowledge – going into the process, only to find out it can become quite complex. More to come on this subject, specifically how to simply it for families (and perhaps for college coaches as well).

  • Curious

    I'm a coach from Canada – how much variation in colleges is there?
    “Conversely, the student will likely be frustrated if she’s on a full-ride athletic scholarship but the course load is easier than her high school AP classes.”

    What is a good way to find out academic school quality? In Canada the process is simple – buy a copy of Maclean's annual University ranking.

  • CoachJay

    Thanks for your comment.  The problem for many runners is that the schools that they are most interested in academically are often NCAA Division I schools where they won't be able to run on the team.  However, if that same athlete were to look at the academically rigorous NCAA Division III schools they would likely find a good balance between academics and athletics.  But that's a broad statement and the best way to look at this issue is on a case by case basis.  If there are parents or coaches out there who have real world scenarios please feel free to share them.

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  • Landa Dowdy

    I’m between a D2 school where I would have to try to walk on unless my times improve this year, (but has a rigorous academic program that will most likely get me into med school) and a D2 school farther away from home that I might be able to get a nice scholarship from depending on the amount of girls they took on last year. (The second does not have the best biology department, and I didn’t like the food when I visited) They are both in Christian environments which I really love, and at the first I would be a third generation attendee. I’ve already been accepted early admittance to the first one and haven’t applied to the second. I have really good grades but the first one is expensive, even with my merit scholarship. It’s come to the point that I’m even debating not running because I’m a little scared to go through the walk on process and although I love racing, I’m wondering if running competitively in college is worth it. Is it?

  • CoachJay

    Great question: Is it worth it?

    Only you and your parents can answer that question. I think things to consider are how much, if any, debt you will incur by choosing to go to the school where you can race. And one thing that people often don’t consider is that you can get a good online coach for $100-$200 a month and run races as you see fit. You can be competitive, but just not in the collegiate system. For most people this doesn’t make sense, but if it’s going to put you in thousands of dollars of debt out of undergrad, then looking at even more debt when you go into Med School, then I think it’s something you should consider.

    I hope that was helpful. I don’t think there is a clear cut answer to your situation, but I do think having a candid conversation with your family about what you can afford is appropriate at this point.

  • Parent

    I have a daughter starting her senior year. She had a phenomenal junior year in track and field.
    She is a state
    champion in her main running event and has too many other accolades to list. For her main event she is ranked in the top 10 nationally
    amongst all girls in her same class (i.e. jr girls) at the time (Note: she is ranked
    higher than #10).
    She has many D1
    colleges interested and they are now starting to ask for official visits. Two
    have already stated that she is “full ride”. She will be making an
    official visit to both of them.
    There is one school,
    in particular, that is her #1 choice. She has visited “unofficially”
    there one time and had attended a camp there also (so, she has shown them a ton of interest already). This school has invited her
    for an official visit; however, there has been no deep conversation regarding
    scholarship. The coach did visit our home and we asked, in a general way, about
    athletic scholarships and his reply was that it was too early to discuss but
    the scholarship would be significant.
    I would like to have a
    better idea of scholarship before my daughter commits to an official visit to
    this school. Is it proper etiquette to ask the coach directly for at least a
    scholarship range? Should we tell this coach that she has been offered full
    rides from multiple other competitive D1 schools (in great conferences) and
    that we would like to know more detail before we give up one of her 5 visits to
    this school?
    Any advice would be appreciated.

  • CoachJay

    Great question. I think they thing that you’re talking “around” is a simple issue of how important the scholarship for you. Simple put, can you afford to send your daughter to this school without a scholarship? If the answer is no, then you’re actually doing the coach a favor by asking for that scholarship range at the outset. No point in your daughter taking the time to go, the coach taking the time to set up the visit (and fill out pages and pages of NCAA paperwork that go along with a visit) if there no feasible way for your daughter to go to that school.

    Now, for a second, think like the coach. The coach wants athletes who want to be in their program more than other programs, so it makes sense that they wouldn’t make the scholarship the focal point early in the process. The reality in our sport is that many families can afford either a partial scholarship or even afford to turn down scholarships and have their son/daughter walk-on. In an ideal world, the coach would get a recruiting class of several intriguing athletes and offer them scholarships that are fair…but first get the class of people they wanted.

    Hope this is helping thus far…

    Some random thoughts.

    – If they give you a range, the coach would be smart to low ball the range. Why? We tend to hear only the top end of the range. So if the coach thinks a 50% scholarship is appropriate they may say “between 30% and 50%” because they know that most families just hear 50%.

    – You need to be honest about what you can and can’t afford. Doesn’t mean you have to tell the coach this right away, but if you know you can afford this school if she, say, get’s a 50% scholarship then I would probably take the visit. The fact that the coach did a home visit is important. Obviously interest on the part of the coach.

    – Obviously you’re protecting everyone by not naming names, yet my gut tells me the coach who isn’t talking money has probably coached longer and has probably had more success.

    – The flip side of that last comment is that some of the “full ride” schools could be a good fit because your daughter will get a great deal of attention as she’ll come in as one of the best runners on the team. But will she get better and run faster in this situation? Hard to know.

    That’s my thoughts as of now. Don’t hesitate to ask follow up questions as this process goes on. Best of luck.

  • Parent

    I posted the previous question (fyi that school offered a full ride) and am looking for a bit more insight into the process.

    As background My daughter received one D1 full ride to a great academic school but the conference is not extremely competitive. Another full ride to a D1 in a highly competitive conference but the school’s track team will not be competitive within this conference for some time. Also their coaching staff is somewhat new. She recieved a third full ride but has declined that offer already. So now she is highly interested in a school which participates in a highly competitive conference whose pedigree in the sport is well established and whose coaching staff has years of documented success. Unfortunately they have offered her a partial greater than 70%. This is nothing to sneeze at but the total 4 year out of pocket is still $30k+.

    We are waiting patiently on two more schools to offer. They are both in highly competitive conferences but lack the aforementioned pedigree. My cild is now very interested in the program that offered 80%; however, im finding the out of pocket a little hard to justify. We have said nothing in regards to her other offers to this school (ie we have not used this as leverage). From your perspective is there potential for negotiation in the recruiting process?

  • Keenan Robbins

    I hate to be a wet blanket here, but I’m not sure why the conversation has continued beyond “my daughter received one D1 full ride to a great academic school … “. Sports are great, but let’s not lose sight of what’s really important. As a person who had stupendously misplaced priorities as an 18-year-old, and has perhaps a greater-than-average insight into at least two “prestigious” athletic departments, my priority list would be:

    1. If at all possible, go to Macalester. I’m only partially joking.
    2. Go to the school with a culture (academic and otherwise) that most closely matches yours.
    I.e. You hate winter, but love moderate summers, coffee, beer, and recycling? Go somewhere in the Pacific Northwest. If you want study partners – go to UW. If you want to get blackout drunk on Wednesdays yet still maintain that 3.0 in business so you can get that siiiiiick internship – go to Oregon. Of course both camps are represented to a certain extent everywhere, it’s just a matter of what is endorsed (tacitly or otherwise) by the school.
    3. Find a coach who is a human being and treats their athletes as such. This is harder than you may think. Don’t let the slick living room visits fool you. Everything about a school is a great fit except the XC/track program? Go there anyway, and like Jay said in an earlier post, get an online coach or coach yourself. Running isn’t everything, and is actually a lot less. Blasphemy, I know.

    I actually think most people shouldn’t go to college right away, at least not if their prefrontal cortex still needs work. But that’s a whole ‘nother post.

    All the best to you and your daughter.

  • Parent

    Thx for the response. I simply wanted to know if negotiation is reasonable or not.

    Maybe that is all I should have asked to begin with? My apologies.

  • CoachJay

    Hi Parent.

    Thanks for the details. I think you’re in the exact spot that most fast girls with good grades are in. They have a few full ride offers, but the school that they would most like to go to is offering less. My simple answer is this. Your family should have a number that you know you can afford over four (five?) years. I the scholarship offered, in this case 70%, means that you can still afford to send her to that school then you simply tell her it’s an option and that you can afford to send her there.

    But I would be EXTREMELY careful about trying to get the school to offer more. They obviously know that she’s getting full ride offers at lesser schools – they don’t need to be told that. And you come off as having your priorities in the wrong place when you keep focusing on money. Again, look at your finances and see if you can afford to send her there. If you can, then it comes down to deciding which school has the best balance of athletic and academic opportunities. And I think you should look at one simply athletic barometer – how success has this coach been with women of the same caliber as your daughter? Take the time and use their media guide as a window into their program. if you see many girls with similar PRs as your daughter failing to run faster in college than they did in high school then you have a problem. This is not uncommon, so take some time and look at the media guides (which are all online – don’t need to have them mail you one).

    Hope this is helpful. Thanks for writing and if you have more questions feel free to let me know.

  • Keenan Robbins

    I’d bring it up, at least subtly. If this school with “pedigree” is going to be in the running for conference/national titles, these people are more than likely going to make decisions that are not in your daughter’s best interest so they can score more points and get their bonuses. Sorry to be harsh, but this is the case at all but a handful of top schools. So don’t do the Jerry Maquire thing, but also don’t be too worried about offending these people’s delicate sensibilities. Maybe mention that your daughter likes the school but the out-of-pocket costs (due to a smaller scholarship/higher non-resident tuition rates/higher cost of living/etc.) are a factor – perhaps there’s someone in the financial aid office you could talk to about work-study, academic scholarships, or other things along those lines.

  • Xc coach

    I don’t understand how people still believe when there are “full rides” for track and XC?! Even the best colleges on have 12.5 for men and 18 for women, combined for XC & Track. There are no less than 9-10 XC athletes per gender and then another 20-30 outdoor/indoor track amd field athletes. So, how in the world can or why would a college coach give a full ride if they want any depth or more than 12 or 18 athletes?! I don’t think college coaches have it wrong, but HS coaches and the athletes parents. This is a football/basketball mentallity of full rides and it doesn’t exist in the non-revenue sports. I wish coaches and parents would stop forcing athletes to go DI because it looks good or pads their resume of DI alumni from their program.

  • D1 Coach

    Hi All,

    Thought I would chime in with a few thoughts. I am a current D1 cross country coach for one of the largest schools in the country. I love Jay’s blog and thought that I would give you my opinions of scholarships and how they pertain to our sport. Keep in mind that I am talking from a BCS conference perspective and from a smaller college perspective as well. There are plenty of schools out there: Stanford, Texas, Oregon that are giving full rides to cross country and distance runners with the goal of using those athletes to help them field a nationally competitive cross country team, contributing to winning conference titles in track and helping that score points at NCAA’s in track. There are also programs like: Oklahoma St., Georgetown, Villanova, Providence, Portland, BC (Women) who are putting 95-100% of the scholarships and resources into distance running. I can tell you that these programs have multiple distance athletes on full rides and are investing in trying to be a national level cross country team and using these athletes to be as competitive in track as they possibly can. I’m unclear what info Xc Coach is using to make his determination about full rides not existing in XC / Track anymore. Furthermore, I think the greater point is to realize what you are trying to get out of a school. There are some people who are going to a school with the dream of trying to become a professional runner. It is my job as a coach to work as hard as I can to make this possible for them. Other athletes are choosing the school that best meets their academic goals and pursue a career that they desire. As a coach, it is my job (if I recruit that athlete) to help them reach that goal while contributing as positively to my team as possible. Other athletes have a goal of not paying anything for college and thus the ability to access athletic aid is very important in the college selection process. I have found that it is very difficult to judge each situation the same.

    I would say that my advice is to determine what school you feel the best about athletically and academically and do whatever you can to make it work financially which would include grants, loans and work study. If that isn’t possible then pursue a second or third choice school that offers you a better financial option.

    Just my 2 cents!

  • Lydrdknwsbst

    Good comments and discussion. I am also going to disagree with Xc coach as it pertains to his statements as absolutes, but I also think I know what he/she was trying to say. I have had a few of my former girls receive full-rides but I think what people need to understand is, the ability to receive one of those is determined by what potential you have shown and the level of school you are looking at. One of the young women was a top 5 type runner in our state (we don’t have class divisions) and she received a full-ride, but it was to a very “low level” D1 school. Higher level schools offered her much less. These coaches clearly placed different value on her talent based upon what she would be able to contribute at the level in which the different institutions compete. A second girl, who was a top 30 type runner, received a full-ride to a D2 school, but was getting very little interest from D1 programs.

    Both of these girls had all of their schooling paid for because they were realistic about what level they could compete at. I think there are a lot of parents, athletes and coaches that don’t look, like Jay said, at what it takes to be varsity and score in the conference meet for the schools they look at. Even with a college coach who has a long-term development mindset for their recruits, I feel it would be unrealistic for a parent or runner to expect a full-ride offer if they are not already at the level where they will score points for the new team as a freshman.

  • moneynoteverything

    This has been a fascinating discussion for a novice. Any comments about when money is not the issue? Some top academic schools only offer need-based scholarships and the role of track ability comes with help in the (incredibly competitive) admissions process. Even students with bunches of A’s in AP courses, 99 percentile scores and other activities cannot count on admission.

    Some of these schools have strong (not great) track programs. How does an athlete and her parents go about the recruitment process to facilitate coaches to work with admissions officers? What is realistic? Times during the 11th grade track season are what matters? Does one look at the high school times of recent recruits? If the athlete’s times are similar to recent recruits, how much help can the coach be at these schools that are almost impossible to get into?

  • XC coach

    Feel free to disagree. Every situation is different, but how can DI or D2 schools who have obvious schoarlship limits (many schools are NOT fully funded) give out more than 6 full scholarships (XC limit) and have a competitive team and depth? You only have those recruits for 4 years and unless they are perfectly staggered you then are tied up with that student-athlete and thus lose the ability to recruit more students and/or depth. So, full scholarships are rare and therefore a fallacy for anyone outside one the very best. Mid level programs giving out full schoarlships for a guy running 16s (XC) or a female running 19s (XC) doesn’t help because then every kid running those marks thinks they are deserving a “full ride”. The problem is entitlement. No one is entitled to a full ride, yet I have heard club and HS coaches tell their kids they will get one based on those same marks (also 12 min 3200m girls and 10 min boys). Feel free to disagree, but few coaches can just give out full rides, within the rules, without Nike or Adidas funding.

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  • John Kenworthy

    Just to disprove this point. I ran, and currently coach in, a D1 conference (small, non-BCS) that has very few fully funded programs. But one women’s track&field/XC program is. They have 18 scholarships and carry 18-22 athletes consistently on their team. They only compete in the sprints, jumps and mid-distance events and have won conference titles many times in the past, and are in the hunt every single year. This program obviously offers full rides to every one of their athletes, as a select few are very poor compared to the 18 that they bring to championships. It’s a very transparent operation, but it works.

  • XC coach

    I appreciate the insight, but how does this disprove anything? They are winning Confernce titles not national titles. How many of those 18-22 are all-American at the D1 level? That is also, one exception that I would say is only 20-25% of institution with that kind of budget. I have coached at the HS and D2 level (and ran for a small D1). I was a walk-on with marks of 16:05, 9:59, 4:28. I didn’t expect a scholarship because I knew what others were running and it was a lot faster. I had an offer to an small NAIA school, but that wasn’t the atmosphere I was looking for. I think HS athletes have to be realistic that full rides are rare. Ok, not impossible, but for every 16:00 male or 19:00 female, a full ride isn’t likely. Educational and honesty are needed. It should start with the HS coach and then the parents. The student should learn about this as well and not on

  • CoachJay

    Thanks so much for your insights. Really adds a lot to this post.

  • CoachJay

    My addition to this discussion is that parents and the student need to have a candid conversation about what the family can afford. Can you afford to turn down the DII scholarship offer to walk-on at the DI school. Very important conversation to have, yet one that I fear many families don’t have.

  • CoachJay

    On thing that some schools have and is very helpful for all involved is a document that lists two types of performances. Marks that will get you considered as a walk-on and marks that will get you considered for a scholarship. One problem: people need to know that the scholarships start at about 10%, so even if your PR gets into that second column it’s not like you’re going to get a full ride.

  • CoachJay

    First, you make a great point about the importance of track times the junior year. It’s hard to use cross country times and compare kids to one another, but if a girl runs 2:15 and 5:00 you can compare her from state to state.

    My wife went to Georgetown and was the slowest recruit in her class. But they didn’t have to use a “spot” for her, i.e. she got into school on her own. I have a friend who coached at Duke and at Williams College. In both situations, be it DI or DIII, some kids you have to use spots on and some you don’t. Same with the Ivy’s.

    And finally, some DI state schools can offer academic money. So if you have a perfect ACT or SAT score you might get a full ride, but 50% may come from the school academically and 50% would then come from the coach athletically. When I was a DI coach I was amazed how a certain coach keep getting Footlocker Finalists because they had a great, well rounded track and I knew this coach wasn’t cheating. Come to find out that every Footlocker finalist was getting some sort of academic aid. The example above is an example. Actually, I think he pointed to a young man who was on 60% academic and so they only had to pay 40% athletic. When you get a footlocker finalist on 40% athletic aid that is a coup, no doubt about it.

  • Just Saying

    Some of the schools you mention are not offering full rides to XC/Track (mid-long distance) runners their first year. They may offer full rides after the runner proves themselves, but they are not offering it to them upon entering the school (including Stanford).

  • CoachJay
  • nycjay01

    Good article. One thing I would like to hear more about is the secuirty of a college scholarship in the event of a bad season or a long term injury. I’ve hear about many college students get thier aid taken away and sometime get shown the door by coach for nor performing.

  • CoachJay

    This video is a great resource and is well worth 35 minutes of your time. Thanks Patrick for taking the time to discuss the recruiting process.

  • Denise

    This point helps a lot. My daughter is looking at a D2 school in Alabama that has already offered 1/2 academic scholarship. The track coach called and asked for her official aid package to make his offer for track. He is telling her to get ready for her signing party – but didn’t give us a specific scholarship amount yet. He says it takes two weeks to get it all approved. I am hoping this means track will make up the difference…

  • Mr N

    Really, that is your advice? “You are going into debt for undergrad, more debt for Med school, so why not just go even further into debt by hiring a coach and running road races”

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