Athletic Scholarships: Head Count Vs. Equivalency Sports

The kind of scholarship available to you as an athlete depends on the sport you play. Learn about the difference between head count and equivalency sports.


Earning an athletic scholarship is one of the most rewarding experiences of being an athlete; in addition to its obvious financial benefits, it serves as an affirmation that your hard work and commitment have paid off.

As early as elementary school, kids all over the country dream of being college athletes. They spend hour upon hour on the field or in the gym, honing their skills in the hope that a college coach or recruiter will notice them.

Unfortunately, many high school athletes miss out on the opportunity to play in college. Sure, the majority of kids who don’t move on to the next level simply do not have the skills to get there. But what about those aspiring athletes who have the ability but don’t get an opportunity to play in collegiate sports? The best chance to get an athletic scholarship for college is to know the facts and have a recruiting strategy.

Head Count vs. Equivalency Sports

The type of money that is available to you as an athlete will depend on whether your sport is classified as a “head count” or an “equivalency” sport.

Head Count Sports

A head count sport is one that generally produces a lot of revenue for the college — such as football, basketball, gymastics, volleyball, and tennis. These sports are called “head count” sports because there is a set number of scholarships available per team. While not everyone on the team will receive a scholarship, those who do will receive a full ride.

The amount of money offered through the scholarship will vary depending on the institution; moreover, the financial reward is considered a one-year contract between the athlete and the college.

Equivalency Sports

Equivalency sports are those that produce less revenue for schools and include sports not listed above, like baseball and soccer. Athletes in these sports will not receive full scholarships. Coaches are given a certain amount of money for their entire team, which they can divide into scholarships of varying amounts for different team members.

The amount of money offered to players in equivalency sports will vary by institution, the player’s role on the team, and the player’s past performance.

If the amount of money offered will not be enough on its own to cover your college expenses, you may need to look into additional financial aid. As with head count sports, each scholarship is considered a one-year contract between the athlete and the college.

Understanding the difference between equivalency and head count is a crucial step towards identifying colleges that you should pursue.

Other Considerations

Identifying the colleges where you have the best chance of earning a scholarship may be the most important part of the search process. Some additional factors to consider as you pursue an athletic scholarship are: your academic and athletic skills, the all-in cost of prospective colleges, and the overall fit between you, the school, and the team.

Many athletes travel down the wrong scholarship paths because they don’t set realistic goals. Believe it or not, you do have a say in the matter. Understand that there are more scholarship opportunities than just NCAA Division I, and that an athletic scholarship is not the only financial assistance out there. Be proactive and aggressive in your college search; the end result will be worth it!

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