How Many Scholarships Tennis College Coaches Can Offer to Their Players

How Many Scholarships Tennis College Coaches Can Offer to Their Players

Let's be honest. Which tennis player wouldn't love a full-ride - meaning a 100% - scholarship at university. And yes, who wouldn't at least try to go for the maximum amount of scholarship? But it's also a fact that many players constantly lose out on playing college tennis because they have the set idea of "needing" a full-ride and decline offers because they just didn't find a coach who offered the maximum amount. This blog will make you understand how much money coaches have at disposal per year and why a lower offer can often be equally attractive.

1. What forms of athletic scholarships are there

Last week, we talked about which university costs granted scholarships may cover. Now, depending on the specific sport and division there are two different scholarship forms. There are head-count sports and there are equivalency sports, which we will take a closer look at below. Tennis is an equivalency sport, with one major exception: women's NCAA teams, for which tennis is defined as head-count sport.

Head count sports

Head-count sport in the context of college tennis means that there is one full scholarship assigned for each player. Very few sports, in fact 3 women's sports only, are subject to this beneficial and generous regulation. An athlete in a head-count sport naturally knows that coaches have a large amount of money at hand that can be divided to the full number of athletes. Of course there can be more individuals on the team, but they would then be athletes with no athletic scholarship at all and would be called walk-ons.

Equivalency sports

In contrast to head-count sports, equivalency sports are about a fixed amount of scholarship a college coach has each year, which he or she can divide between as many athletes as desired. If you are seeking financial aid in an equivalency sport, and that's the case for most of you guys, you can assume that competition is fierce and a full 100% scholarship not necessarily the norm.

2. Difference between men's/women's teams and sports-governing bodies

There is in fact a clear difference between men's and women's sports and that is certainly also the case for tennis teams. In addition, the three large institutions (NCAA, NAIA, and NJCAA) organize the amount of scholarship in college sports differently.

Below scholarships are maximum thresholds, meaning tennis programs cannot go above that, but they can choose to make available less scholarship budget. As a result of that, coaches work with completely different financial capabilities/scholarship budgets. More about that in this article of ours: "Intercollegiate Athletic Program Funding"

NCAA women's tennis teams

College coaches of female NCAA D1 teams have 8 full scholarships available, which they can give to 8 different girls as full-ride scholarships. 6 girls in the line-up for competition matches means that there are even 2 scholarships available for slightly weaker players or substitutes. In NCAA Division 2 (D2) teams, tennis is an equivalency sport and coaches have 6.0 scholarships to offer as they regard fit.

NCAA men's tennis teams

The scholarship situation is a lot more competitive on the men's side. 4.5 scholarships each year in both NCAA D1 and D2 can be divided between unlimited numbers of athletes. It's fully up to the coach to decide about how much financial aid to assign to what player. Naturally, top players on the team will receive more than players further down the line-up.

To give an example, a coach could decide to divide the scholarship in the following way:

#1 player 100% - #2 player 100% - #3 player 100% - #4 player 100% - #5 player 50% - #6 player: no athletic scholarship, but 40% academic scholarship granted by the college in general - #7 player walk-on.

But the coach could also try to split the money more evenly and go for something like this:

#1 player 90% - #2 player 85% - #3 player 60% - #4 player 65% - #5 player 50% - #6 player 50% - #7 player 50% - #8 player: walk-on.

NAIA women's & men's tennis teams

Teams competing in any of the NAIA conferences have a maximum of 5 institutional (!) scholarships available, which they can divide between as many players as the coach decides to. The difference to the NCAA is that any financial aid from the university counts as part of the 5 scholarships. Interestingly, excellent high school students who either achieve a certain SAT/ACT score or who graduate with an excellent GPA, can be exempted from the limitation on the amount of scholarship. In other words, coaches have an interest in signing academically strong players, as they will be left outside the aggregation of these 5 scholarships. And it enables them to build an even stronger team with even more athletes on sports scholarships, if the college is set-up to provide this sort of financial aid.

NJCAA women's tennis teams

Junior college tennis teams, which compete in the National Junior College Athletic Association, can grant a maximum of 9 athletic scholarships. The system at the NJCAA works slightly different and states that 3 out of these 9 scholarships may be full-rides, covering all from tuition fees, course material, and room and board, whereas the remaining 6 scholarships cover all the costs except room & board.


There are some exceptions to the rule, which are essential to be aware of for you:

- NCAA Ivy league schools (Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Penn, Princeton, and Yale) do not provide athletic scholarships to its student-athletes at all; even so the case for aspiring tennis players. In addition to that, these 8 schools also don't grant any academic scholarships. A coach may help you in receiving need-based financial aid, but apart from that there are no other aid-based possibilities for you to finance your studies at one of America's best colleges.

- NCAA Division 3 schools' teams don't offer any athletic scholarships to prospective student-athletes. The same thus applies to all NCAA Division 3 tennis teams.

3. Timing

Now that we have talked about the actual financial possibilities, there's one additional highly important factor: timing. It's great if a women's NCAA coach technically has 8 scholarships available, but if all those scholarships are divided between freshmen, sophomores, and juniors when you get in touch with the coach, it's very likely he or she doesn't have any scholarship for you even if you'd fit in perfectly. So make sure to get an understanding what the tennis roster looks like: Are there a lot of seniors on team? Then quite some scholarship money will be unlocked. Many freshmen and sophomore? Then it might be worth finding out, whether any of the athletes is about to leave the team after the semester and scholarship money becomes available.

4. Scholarship length

Many athletes often wonder for how long they actually receive a scholarship. In reality, your agreement with the coach is for a year, which gives the coach the right to not extend it for the years to come. But the general, common practice is that the agreement is renewed and you have your scholarship for the entire period of four years. However, this also opens up the possibility of receiving a higher share for the years to come. Say you performed well or the coach said let's look at your scholarship after the first year again because some people graduate, it's not unlikely you'll be able to secure a better scholarship deal after the first or second year.

Some people find this confusing or even "the greatest misconception in college athletics" and everything but transparent, but there is in fact some progress in the world of college sports, whether universities should offer multi-year scholarships to its athletes. But until that is the case, make sure to communicate clearly with the coaches about the specifications of your agreement and trust that a coach signs you foremost because he or she sees the potential in you to be a strong member in the line-up of the tennis team for four years and not just for one.


Coaches know you need a scholarship deal that makes you happy and enables you to 1) finance your studies and/or 2) come to the school or even to the U.S. to study. By knowing about the coaches' financial limitations, you as an aspiring athlete can show that you've done your homework and you can already pre-select which colleges may be of interest to you financially and which ones are probably not. Do your homework and find out what coaches look for in future recruits in this blog article - altogether this will give you a much better chance of finding your perfect scholarship match.

Here on Smarthlete you can register with a free tennis recruiting profile, research the schools which are in line with what you're looking for, and connect with coaches right away!

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Last edited on September 21, 2018