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Countdown: Making College Tennis Affordable

Even with the best future and financial planning, making college affordable can be a challenge. For tennis players, there are a variety of avenues that may be able to help soften the financial burden. Whether in the form of athletic scholarship, academic merit aid, or need based financial aid, there is hope for getting some financial support to be a collegiate scholar-athlete. A good place to start understanding the world of financial options in college tennis is with a definition of terms.


A “full ride” is a tennis scholarship offered by a coach at a university which will cover all tuition, room and board at that university for the duration of a player’s tenure. Most student athletes complete their undergraduate education in a four-year span, and the scholarship is committed to that time period unless major infractions occur which can give the coach reason to remove a player from a team. In some special circumstances, scholarship may cover a fifth year to account for a redshirt year (due to injury or some other unique circumstance) or in pursuing an academic route which may require five years to complete. It is important to know that full rides may not cover every cost of attending an institution (for example, travel to and from the school each semester, extra spending money, etc.). Alternatively, some schools in the Power 5 Conferences (ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, PAC-12, SEC) may offer “cost of living” stipends in addition to the athletic scholarship. So, the message is to be aware that even “full ride” arrangements may vary from school to school, conference to conference, and division to division, so it is important to discuss and understand the small print details when agreeing to a scholarship arrangement. Once a tennis scholarship is verbally committed to, most scholarship recipients will then be required to sign a NLI (National Letter of Intent) in one of two signing periods – fall or spring of senior year - which is a written contract intended to protect both the school and player in their scholarship agreement.

A “fully funded program” is a tennis program which offers the maximum number of scholarships that the NCAA allows for college tennis. Fully funded women’s programs have eight scholarships and fully funded men’s programs have 4.5 scholarships. Often there is the assumption that all Division I programs are fully funded and offer full scholarships for the majority of the team; however, Division I, II and NAIA schools which are allowed under NCAA terms to offer scholarships may offer the maximum number of scholarships, a portion of that amount, or none at all. For example, the Ivy League schools, while Division I in the NCAA, are precluded by their conference rules to offer athletic scholarships, so no Ivy League student attends their institution on an athletic scholarship. Additionally, families are often surprised to find that some other prominent Division I schools that offer scholarships in other sports (for example, Villanova, Georgetown, and Colgate) don’t offer tennis scholarships. And, in another wrinkle, there is also the situation at some Division I schools (Boston College and Boston University being two current examples) where the women’s tennis program is fully funded with eight scholarships and the men’s program has no tennis scholarship money at all. Broad assumptions about the level of funding for tennis programs can be detrimental in pursuing the right type of institution for a player’s financial needs, so any recruit going after scholarship money should be clear on the status of programs of high interest before getting too far down the recruiting road.

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Page updated on Saturday, April 17, 2021
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