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  • Becoming Scholarship Savvy
    Playing scholarship basketball is a great way to fund your college education. Here's how to make the first moves.

    By Shelly Wilson

    For many high school players, it's the ultimate dream: to earn an athletic scholarship to play basketball at the collegiate level. So, how do you go about doing this? Besides working hard at your game and your schoolwork, there is a lot to learn about making this dream a reality. In the following two-part article, we'll answer some of the most frequently asked questions on making the move to the college court.

    Part I: Scholarships 101
    Scholarships are awards of money to finance all or a portion of your enrollment at a college or university. Their values can range from as little as $200 to more than $30,000. Scholarships are awarded by thousands of organizations, companies, and foundations nationwide.

    Each scholarship has its own criteria, from grade-point average requirements to community involvement. In addition, some are designed to benefit certain groups within the community, requiring that individuals be African-American, Native American, or of Italian descent, for instance, to apply.

    An athletic scholarship, sometimes called a grant-in-aid, is awarded in return for competing on a college's or university's sports team. Some people use the term scholarship incorrectly to refer to any type of financial aid for attending school. But there is a big difference. Financial aid may also refer to a loan that must be paid back. Scholarships, unlike loans, do not need to be paid back.

    It's important to note that, despite popular belief, athletic scholarships do not guarantee a four-year ride to college. They are awarded for only one year at a time. However, most scholarships are renewed each year, except in extraordinary circumstances such as misbehavior or leaving a team.

    Full scholarships cover tuition, room and board (food), class fees, and course-related books. Partial scholarships, on the other hand, only pay for a portion of a year's enrollment at an institution. The rest is the responsibility of the student-athlete and her family. Many student-athletes make up the difference by obtaining low-interest student loans which they repay after they graduate.

    Which colleges and universities give out athletic scholarships?
    Most colleges and universities that sponsor athletic programs belong to one of three major athletic associations: The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA), or the National Junior College Athletics Association (NJCAA). The guidelines for scholarship disbursement differ among these organizations, and also vary from school to school. Here's how it works:

    The NCAA has three different levels of play: Division I, Division II, and Division III. NCAA Division I is considered the top level. In this division, schools are allowed to offer a maximum of 15 full scholarships in women's basketball. Full scholarships cover tuition, room and board (food), class fees, and course-related books. Most Division I programs offer the maximum 15 full scholarships, but some chose to offer only 10 or 12. In these cases, the team may still have 15 women on its roster, but a few don't receive scholarships.

    Division II also boasts some great basketball programs, although most observers rank it a notch below Division I play. Scholarships are awarded in this division, but to a lesser extent than Division I. Division II coaches can offer both full and partial scholarships to incoming recruits. For example, if a Division II program has an athletic scholarship budget of $75,000 for women's basketball, it would not be uncommon for a coach to offer five players a full scholarship of $10,000 each and then offer an additional five players partial scholarships valuing $5,000 each. Some coaches choose to award partial scholarships to all players.

    Division III schools vary greatly in the caliber of their women's basketball programs. Some teams rival Division I programs for their intensity and expectations. Others may not be much better than top high school teams. In this division, no athletic scholarships are offered, but student-athletes are eligible for the same financial aid awarded to other students.

    NAIA athletic programs also offer quality competition. Schools like Oklahoma City University and Southern Nazarene University are perennial women's tournament contenders. Like the NCAA, the NAIA is split into Divisions, with Division I schools able to offer more scholarships than Division II.

    NJCAA schools, a body of two-year colleges, are divided into three divisions. NJCAA Division I colleges may offer full athletic scholarships. Division II programs may only offer partial scholarships covering tuition, fees, and books, and Division III schools do not award athletic scholarships.

    Overall, when a coach is recruiting you, or you are checking out a school, ask what the policy is on awarding athletic scholarships. For those coaches who award partial scholarships, ask the coach to be honest with you in assessing what type of athletic scholarships he or she might be willing to offer you.

    In addition to these three primary governing associations, there are three smaller governing bodies you should be aware of: the California Community College Commission on Athletics (CCCCA), the National Small College Athletic Association (NSCAA), and the National Christian College Athletic Association (NCCAA).

    The CCCCA oversees 108 California community colleges with athletic programs. None of its member schools offer athletic scholarships, but student-athletes are eligible for the same financial aid as other students.

    The NSCAA is comprised of schools with enrollments of 2000 students or less. All 35 member institutions host women's basketball programs, and the association allows programs to provide athletic scholarships. However, not every school chooses to.

    The NCCAA is broken into two Divisions and most programs at the Division I level (though not all) offer athletic scholarships. Of the 122 member institutions in the NCCAA's Division I, 68 programs have dual affiliation‹which means they are governed by both the NCCAA and either the NCAA or NAIA. These programs follow the scholarship rules for the Division they fall under in the NCAA or the NAIA. Those NCCAA Division I programs not dually affiliated are permitted to offer up to 12 athletic scholarships for women's basketball. NCCAA Division II programs do not offer athletic scholarships.

    Part II of this story on academics and scholarships will be posted on December 13. Sign up for the Gball Club and we'll notify you as soon as the article is posted.

    What questions do you have about becoming more scholarship savvy? E-mail us at with your questions on the topic. We'll post one new question and answer on college scholarships every other week.

    Author Shelly Wilson is an Assistant Editor at Gball.

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