4 Steps to Academic Eligibility for High School Student Athletes

Updated: Jun 30, 2020

All your life, you’ve dreamed of playing college ball. You’ve attended camps since elementary school, you endure two-a-days all through junior high and high school, you’ve lived and breathed your sport for over a decade and you know that you’ve got what it takes. Your winning record proves that.

Even if you’ve got a great record on the field, you aren’t necessarily given an easy path to college level play. High school athletes have to meet eligibility requirements in order to be allowed to play in the NCAA. Having a winning record is a great start, but it doesn’t guarantee you’ll be getting to the next level. Nor does it guarantee you’ll be getting a scholarship if you do.

There are steps you must take in order to ensure that you meet eligibility to play at the college level. Failure to meet these steps can and will result in your being barred from playing at the next level, no matter how good you might be at the game.

Know Where You Want to Play

Are you aiming for NCAA or NAIA schools? Do you know what division your dream school plays in? Are you going straight to university or are you starting with junior college? How you answer these questions has a direct effect on how much you can earn in scholarships. Within the NCAA there are 3 separate divisions of play, and each has their own rules governing both how much money a school can give away in scholarships and how much each student can get. Division III schools, for example, don’t allow any scholarships. Division I schools, on the other hand, offers both full rides and partial scholarships. Meanwhile, the NAIA only allows for certain numbers of scholarships to be given in any year, and who gets what is left entirely at the discretion of the individual schools.

Knowing where you want to play is a great first step to being realistic about your prospects for scholarships. Dreaming about full rides but shooting for Division III schools is a good way to set yourself up for disappointment. Make a list of schools you’d like to pay for, and do a little research to know your possibilities.

Know How Good You Really Are

A lot of athletes have a little success on the field and act like they’re the greatest player to ever play the game. Sorry to break it to you but you’re probably not. Even if you’re the best player currently at the high school level, colleges coaches have already seen it all before, including players better than you. No matter how great a season you just had and no matter how far you helped take your team, you need to ask yourself one question:

Are you in the top 6% of high school athletes for your sport?

Only the best of the best high school athletes ever make it to the next level, and only the best of those best get offered full rides at Division I schools. Being realistic about your abilities and capabilities is an important factor to keep in mind as you begin the recruitment process. If you’re not the best of the best of the best, you’re probably not getting a full ride at a Division I school. That doesn’t mean you aren’t a great fit for a Division II or NAIA program, however, so keep that in mind.

Know Your GPA

When you apply for eligibility to play within the NCAA your GPA is factored in. Whether or not you can play in college is, at least partially, determined on how well you performed academically in high school.

Just as colleges evaluate your academic credentials before offering you admission, so too does the NCAA. Your GPA can be the determining factor that decides whether or not you’re playing in college or if you’re eligible for scholarships.

If your dream is to play at the college level, you’re going to have to stay on top of your academic performance. For that reason, it’s a good idea to check with your guidance counselor every semester and find out your GPA. The last thing you want is to find out that your GPA puts you in the non-qualifier category, meaning you can’t play, practice, compete, or receive athletic scholarships for at least the first year of college.

Fortunately, the NCAA only looks at your core classes to determine your GPA for eligibility. That’s 4 years of English, 4 years of math, 4 years of science, and 4 years of social science. Obviously, you should be shooting for good grades in all of your classes, but maintaining your GPA in those areas will ensure you won’t hit an unexpected snag in eligibility.

Get Eligible with the NCAA

Before you can even step on the field, the NCAA has to certify your eligibility. They do this by reviewing your GPA, SAT or ACT scores, and certifying your amateur athlete status. Certifying your eligibility also opens up the doors for recruitment, so it’s important to get that done as soon as possible, ideally by 10th grade.

To sign up for eligibility, you’ll need to register with the NCAA Eligibility Center and follow all the steps. But it’s not enough to just get in the system. You also have to stay on top of getting the right materials to the NCAA at the right time.

That means ensuring that your SAT or ACT scores are submitted, that your final transcripts are submitted, and that your final application for amateur status has been requested. Failing to do so shuts the door on a lot of your options, so it’s absolutely vital that you follow their instructions exactly.

Playing sports at the college level isn’t easy, and neither is getting the opportunity to do so. Having dreams is one thing, but making those dreams a reality is another. With a little bit of planning you can ensure that you have the best chances of making your dreams of athletic greatness come true.

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