The Elusive Path: How Often Do Preferred Walk-Ons Get Scholarships?

Dreaming of collegiate athletics but facing the “walk-on” reality? We explore the complexities of preferred walk-ons scholarships, explore factors influencing the odds, and offer tips to maximize your chances. Discover the path less traveled and chase your athletic aspirations!

For many aspiring athletes, a preferred walk-on offer can be a tantalizing glimpse into collegiate athletics. It’s a chance to compete with the big leagues, albeit without the immediate financial perks of a scholarship. But the question lingers: how often does this opportunity lead to the coveted prize – a scholarship?

Unfortunately, there’s no simple answer. The rate at which preferred walk-ons earn scholarships is highly variable, depending on several factors:

  • Sport: Scholarship availability varies greatly across different sports. Revenue-generating sports like football and basketball offer more scholarships, while smaller programs like swimming may have limited allocations.
  • Team needs: If a team has a specific gap in their roster that only a walk-on can fill, there’s a higher chance of earning a scholarship, especially through performance-based awards.
  • Individual performance: Ultimately, it’s about exceeding expectations. Consistent standout performance in practice and games can convince coaches to invest in your talent.
  • Academic standing: Academic eligibility is paramount. Maintaining good grades is crucial to even be considered for a scholarship.

So, while there’s no guaranteed route, earning a scholarship as a preferred walk-on is far from impossible. Here are some ways to increase your chances:

  • Exceed expectations: Push yourself beyond the minimum and be your strongest player. Talent speaks volumes.
  • Prove your value: Be a team player, demonstrate leadership, and showcase a positive attitude. Show coaches you’re more than just skills.
  • Stay academically sound: Focus on your studies and maintain eligibility. Scholarships depend on good grades.
  • Communicate proactively: Express your desire for a scholarship and discuss opportunities with coaches. Make your intentions known.

Remember, the journey of a preferred walk-on isn’t solely about the scholarship. It’s about dedication, growth, and the experience of competing at the collegiate level. While the financial support is undeniably helpful, the value of being part of a team, developing your skills, and gaining exposure can be equally rewarding.

Types of Athletic Scholarship Offers: Explained

Navigating the landscape of athletic scholarship offers can be complex, and understanding the various types is crucial for student-athletes and their families. Here’s a breakdown of the common types of offers:

1. Full-Ride Scholarship Offer:

– Covers the entire cost of attendance, including tuition, fees, room, board, and sometimes additional expenses. It is the most comprehensive athletic scholarship.

2. Partial Scholarship Offer:

– Provides financial assistance for a portion of the total cost of attendance. The athlete is responsible for covering the remaining expenses.

3. Walk-On Offers:

– These offers don’t include athletic scholarship money. Walk-ons may need to try out for the team and do not have a guaranteed roster spot.

4. Preferred Walk-On Offer:

– Indicates the coach’s interest in having the player join the team, but no athletic scholarship is initially offered. However, a roster spot is guaranteed.

5. Recruited Walk-On Offer:

– Similar to a preferred walk-on but may involve more active recruitment efforts by the coach.

6. Unrecruited Walk-On Offer:

– Involves open tryouts, and the athlete is not actively recruited. Admission to the school is typically a prerequisite.

7. Redshirt Scholarship Offer:

– Allows the athlete to practice with the team but not participate in official competitions, preserving a year of eligibility.

8. Grayshirt Scholarship Offer:

– Delays the athlete’s enrollment to a later semester or academic year, often due to team roster constraints or to allow for recovery from an injury.

9. Blueshirt Scholarship Offer:

– A rare offer where a recruited athlete initially joins the team as a walk-on but later transitions to a scholarship athlete.

10. Greenshirt Scholarship Offer:

– An uncommon term used to describe a scholarship offer extended to a recruited athlete.

Understanding these offers is essential for making informed decisions about a student-athlete’s collegiate sports journey. It’s important to carefully review the terms, especially when dealing with legally binding agreements like the National Letter of Intent (NLI).

Full-Ride Scholarship Offer: Exclusive Opportunities

Full-ride athletic scholarships represent exclusive opportunities available in six specific college sports, often called head count sports. These sports include:

1. Football

2. Men’s Basketball

3. Women’s Basketball

4. Women’s Gymnastics

5. Tennis

6. Volleyball

These scholarships are designated as head count sports due to their ability to generate revenue for the school. A full-ride scholarship, in these cases, covers major expenses associated with attending college, including:

– Tuition

– Room and Board

– Books

– Some Course Fees

Contrary to a common misconception, “full ride” does not imply a commitment to four years of college. Instead, like most athletic scholarship offers, full-ride scholarships are typically one-year agreements that may or may not be renewed based on various factors such as performance, eligibility, and the discretion of the coaching staff or athletic department. As such, student-athletes and their families should know the terms and conditions of these prestigious offers.

Preferred Walk-Ons
Preferred Walk-Ons

Partial Scholarship Offer: Tailored Support in Equivalency Sports

In NCAA Division I and II, sports outside the exclusive category of headcount sports operate under an equivalency model. In these “equivalency sports,” coaches have a pool of scholarship funds to distribute among team members. A partial scholarship offer in these sports does not cover the entire cost of attendance but can still be a valuable contribution. The extent of coverage varies, with some athletes receiving more substantial support while others may receive partial coverage, such as for books or tuition.

Due to the impact of COVID-19, the NCAA D1 Council implemented changes, easing regulations related to need-based aid and academic scholarships not tied to athletic ability. As of August 1, 2020, athletes in equivalency sports can receive need- and academic-based aid without it counting against the maximum athletic scholarship limit. This allows student-athletes to accumulate additional aid on top of their athletic scholarship, providing more flexibility in addressing financial needs.

While a maximum athletic scholarship cap remains, the rule change enables athletes to seek need-based aid and academic scholarships to complement their athletic scholarships. This adjustment is particularly beneficial in the current economic climate, allowing sports programs with available funds to support families and athletes, especially at private colleges with higher costs.

Although a partial scholarship may not fully cover an athlete’s financial requirements, NCSA’s Senior Recruiting Manager, David Kmiecik, offers insights into how student-athletes can strategically leverage scholarship offers and explore additional resources to bridge the gap in covering college expenses.

Walk-On Offers: Stepping onto the College Roster

In college sports, not all offers come with a financial incentive; some are bestowed with the promise of a coveted spot on the team. Walk-on offers, more common than often realized, play a crucial role in collegiate athletics. It’s essential to grasp the nuances of various walk-on distinctions as you navigate the recruiting landscape.

Preferred Walk-On Offer: Earning a Roster Spot

A preferred walk-on offer guarantees a place on the roster without providing athletic aid. Although no monetary assistance is extended, preferred walk-ons secure a roster spot, don a team uniform, and stand a strong chance of competing in their inaugural year.

Can preferred walk-ons earn a scholarship? Yes, the possibility exists for scholarships to be earned in the subsequent season, though it’s not guaranteed. Typically, preferred walk-ons are prioritized when scholarship funds become available. While some student-athletes may decline scholarship offers from smaller schools to become preferred walk-ons at larger programs, it’s crucial to note that even preferred walk-ons may be cut during try-outs or team camps if they fall short of coach expectations.

Signing Day for Preferred Walk-Ons: Technically, preferred walk-ons may not sign anything on Signing Day, as they don’t receive athletic scholarships. Nevertheless, college coaches value and celebrate walk-ons, often incorporating them into signing day festivities. It’s advisable to inquire with your future coach about the possibility of signing something, especially if your school hosts a Signing Day event. Donning your new school’s gear adds a touch of pride to the occasion.

Recruited Walk-On Offer: Interest without Financial Aid

A recruited walk-on offer signifies interest from the coach but lacks financial assistance. Earning a spot on the team requires additional tryouts or participation in summer training camps. Despite the absence of financial aid or a guaranteed roster spot, some student-athletes view a recruited walk-on offer as a remarkable opportunity to compete at the highest level.

Unrecruited Walk-On Offer: A Path Through Open Tryouts

In this scenario, a student-athlete qualifies for admission to the school and plans to join the team through open tryouts. Typically, a conversation with the college coach precedes enrollment to confirm the student-athlete’s eligibility for team tryouts.

Navigating walk-on offers involves careful consideration, especially when weighing them against scholarship offers from other schools. Each type presents unique opportunities and challenges, emphasizing the importance of aligning personal goals with the dynamics of collegiate athletics.

Difference Between Walk-Ons and Preferred Walk-Ons:


Walk-ons are student-athletes who arrive at college without a guaranteed roster spot on the team. They are required to attend tryouts to secure a place on the team. There are no assurances or guarantees of making the team; their inclusion depends on their performance during tryouts.

– Recruitment Status: Walk-ons are typically not recruited by the coaching staff. They initiate the walk-on process themselves by attending tryouts.

– Roster Spot: You are not guaranteed a roster spot; you must earn it through tryouts.

– Financial Assistance: Does not receive an athletic scholarship in the first year.

Preferred Walk-Ons:

Preferred walk-ons, however, arrive at college with a guaranteed roster spot. While they also do not receive an athletic scholarship in their first year, they have a secure position on the team. Preferred walk-ons are often first in line for available scholarships in subsequent years, demonstrating a level of priority over walk-ons during scholarship considerations.

– Recruitment Status: Although not offered an athletic scholarship, preferred walk-ons are identified and recruited by the coaching staff, indicating the coach’s interest in having them on the team.

– Roster Spot: Guaranteed a roster spot, offering more security than walk-ons.

– Financial Assistance: Does not receive an athletic scholarship in the first year but is often prioritized for available scholarships in later years.

Decision Considerations:

– Student-athletes and their families may need to decide between accepting scholarship offers from Division II (D2) and Division III (D3) schools or opting to become a walk-on at Division I (D1) school.

– Notable athletes like JJ Watt, Clay Matthews, and Jordy Nelson have pursued successful careers in the NFL after choosing the walk-on path in college.

Understanding these distinctions is crucial for recruits and their families when deciding about college athletics and scholarships.

What is a walk-on athlete?

A walk-on athlete is an individual who chooses to try out for a college sports program with or without the coach’s initial support. Walk-ons do not receive athletic aid initially, but there’s potential to earn a scholarship for future seasons based on performance.

What is a walk-on in football?

Being a walk-on in football is commonplace due to the sport’s large roster sizes and limited scholarship opportunities. Football walk-ons may fall into categories like preferred walk-ons or recruited walk-ons, often earning a spot on the team without initial financial assistance.

The Multi-Colored Shirts of College Sports

Redshirt Scholarship Offer:

A redshirt athlete typically holds a scholarship but cannot compete for one year. During this time, they engage in team activities and practice and receive benefits such as academic tutoring. Redshirting allows athletes to physically prepare or recover from injuries, extending their eligibility to play four seasons in five years.

What does redshirting mean?

Redshirting refers to withholding players from games for a season to extend their eligibility and develop their skills before active competition.

Grayshirt Scholarship Offer:

This offer entails an incoming freshman postponing enrollment for a semester. A gray shirt freshman starts classes in the second term (winter) of the freshman year, enrolling part-time during the initial semester. They do not join the team, practice, or receive a scholarship during this time. Grayshirted athletes officially begin their full-time enrollment and athletic eligibility after the part-time semester.

What is gray-shirting in college football?

Grayshirting in college football allows a player to compete in the season a full year after high school graduation rather than participating in games immediately. It’s often employed by programs that over sign, signing more athletes than roster space permits. Clear communication with coaches about roster roles and the possibility of gray-shirting is crucial.

Navigating these nuanced scholarship offers involves understanding eligibility statuses, terms, and potential implications for a student-athlete’s collegiate journey. Open communication with coaches and a comprehensive grasp of the intricacies can guide athletes toward informed decisions.

Blueshirt Scholarship Offer:

Blueshirting has gained popularity as a strategic approach to managing athletic scholarships. Uncommon but creative blue shirt rules allow unrecruited players to be awarded scholarships at the start of freshman practice. Blue-shirted athletes practice with the team like redshirts but cannot play for a year. This permits teams with numerous commits to effectively borrow against the following year’s scholarship total. The criteria for being “unrecruited” are specific, including no official visit, in-home coach visit, signed National Letter of Intent, or any form of athletic aid.

Greenshirt Scholarship Offer:

Increasingly, fall sport athletes are graduating in December and enrolling a semester early, a practice known as greenshirting. This allows athletes to get ahead in classes, attend spring training, and practice with the team while on scholarship before the new fall season. Greenshirted athletes can play in their first year and redshirt, having five years to play four seasons.

What is a D1 Offer?

A Division 1 (D1) offer occurs when a Division 1 college athletics program extends an athlete a spot on their roster. However, it’s crucial to note that receiving an offer does not guarantee admission to the school. Athletes must still receive an acceptance letter from the institution for the offer to be valid.

Beyond NCAA DI and DII:

While statistics indicate that only two percent of high school athletes receive athletic scholarships, exploring opportunities beyond NCAA Division I and II is essential. Division III (D3) schools cannot offer athletic scholarships, but 80 percent of D3 athletes receive some form of financial aid. The National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) reports an average financial aid amount of $7,000 for its athletes. The National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) also offers full and partial scholarships at over 500 junior colleges, providing additional financial incentives for student-athletes.

Is Walking On a Risk Worth Taking?

Common Path:

– Many Division 1 programs have limited scholarships for certain sports, leading to many walk-ons.

– For example, in Division 1 college football, where scholarship limits exist, there are typically around 33 walk-ons on a roster of 118 athletes.

– Being a walk-on is a respected and proven path, especially in popular sports like football, volleyball, tennis, and basketball.

Places the Ball in Your Court:

– The decision to walk on, often foregoing a scholarship from a different program, depends on your work ethic and motivation.

– Treating every practice and meeting as a tryout demonstrates commitment and can earn the coach’s respect, increasing the likelihood of future scholarship consideration.

Financial Burden:

– Walking on is a significant financial risk as walk-ons do not receive financial aid upon arrival.

– Recruits must weigh the value of walking on at their preferred program against potential scholarships from other schools.

Team Coach’s Advice:

– Seeking advice from the program’s coach is crucial to understanding the likelihood of playing time or receiving financial aid in the future.

– Coaches’ insights into the program’s culture and the role of walk-ons are valuable when making decisions.

School Fit:

– Meeting with the coaching staff helps assess how well you and the program fit.

– Questions about the value placed on walk-ons and the number of walk-ons in the program provide insights into the program’s culture.

Life as a Walk-On:

– Harder path to playing time: Scholarship players often have a more straightforward path to playing time, making it challenging for walk-ons.

– Occasional lack of support: Some walk-ons may not have equal access to resources, particularly unrecruited walk-ons.

– Unfair treatment is possible: While not intentional, walk-ons may feel excluded in programs with different cultures surrounding walk-ons.

– Success feels amazing: Achieving success as a walk-on, whether in playing time or financial aid, is a rewarding validation of the risks taken.

Things to Keep in Mind:

– Walk-ons may initially be placed on the scout team, participating in practice but not receiving playing time.

– Transferring is allowed if it doesn’t work out, but some sports may have transfer rules, especially for preferred and recruited walk-ons.

– Walk-ons do not sign a National Letter of Intent, allowing flexibility in commitment without a specific deadline.

Conclusion on How Often Do Preferred Walk-Ons Get Scholarships?

The journey of a preferred walk-on aspiring for a scholarship in college athletics is a unique and uncertain path. While preferred walk-ons enter college with a guaranteed roster spot, they face challenges in securing athletic aid. The frequency of preferred walk-ons transitioning to scholarship recipients varies widely across sports programs.

Success for preferred walk-ons hinges on individual performance, dedication, and the program’s dynamics. While some preferred walk-ons may earn scholarships through their commitment and skills, others might face stiff competition or limited opportunities for financial aid.

Ultimately, the quest for a scholarship as a preferred walk-on combines perseverance, talent, and the specific policies of the athletic program. As the landscape of college athletics evolves, the chances for preferred walk-ons to receive scholarships may fluctuate, making it essential for aspiring athletes to navigate their unique paths with resilience and determination.


Q: How common is it for preferred walk-ons to eventually receive scholarships?

A: The likelihood of preferred walk-ons transitioning to scholarship recipients varies widely and depends on factors such as individual performance, team dynamics, and the specific policies of the athletic program. While some preferred walk-ons successfully earn scholarships through their dedication and skills, others may face challenges due to competition or limited opportunities for financial aid.

Q: What factors influence the chances of a preferred walk-on scholarship recipient?

A: Success in securing a scholarship as a preferred walk-on is influenced by various factors, including individual athletic performance, work ethic, team needs, and coaching decisions. Demonstrating exceptional skills, and commitment, and contributing positively to the team can enhance the chances of receiving financial aid.

Q: Do preferred walk-ons have a guaranteed roster spot?

A: Yes, preferred walk-ons typically enter college with a guaranteed roster spot on the team, allowing them to showcase their skills and contribute to the program. While they may not initially receive athletic aid, they can be part of the team from the outset.

Q: Can preferred walk-ons earn scholarships in subsequent years?

A: Yes, preferred walk-ons can earn scholarships in subsequent years based on their performance, development, and contributions to the team. Coaches may reassess the roster and allocate scholarships to players who have demonstrated excellence and commitment over time.

Q: Are there specific timelines for preferred walk-ons to receive scholarships?

A: The timeline for preferred walk-ons to receive scholarships can vary and is often determined by the policies of the athletic program. Some walk-ons may receive scholarships after their first year, while others may need to wait until subsequent years based on their progress and financial aid availability.

Q: How should preferred walk-ons approach the possibility of receiving scholarships?

A: Preferred walk-ons should focus on consistently showcasing their skills, maintaining a strong work ethic, and actively contributing to the team. Building positive relationships with coaches, staying informed about program policies, and remaining resilient in facing challenges can enhance their chances of earning scholarships.

Q: Can preferred walk-ons transfer to other schools if they don’t receive scholarships?

A: Yes, preferred walk-ons can transfer to other schools if they decide it’s in their best interest. However, certain sports may have transfer rules that require a waiting period before playing for or receiving aid from a new school. It’s important for walk-ons to be aware of and comply with these regulations.

Q: Do preferred walk-ons sign a National Letter of Intent (NLI)?

A: Preferred walk-ons do not sign a National Letter of Intent (NLI). Unlike scholarship athletes, walk-ons do not commit to a binding agreement, providing them with flexibility in their collegiate athletic journey. This absence of an NLI allows walk-ons to make decisions about their athletic futures without the constraints of a signed contract.


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