In today’s world of competitive athletics, many well-meaning parents spend a small fortune helping their athlete pursue a college scholarship. Skills coaches, professional highlight videos, travel teams and elite showcase tournaments can all be extremely expensive. It seems like the college recruiting process has become nothing but expensive! 

Before you pull out your wallet, consider these facts:

  • Most college athletic scholarships are partial scholarships ranging from 25% to 60%.
  • The average Division I athletic scholarship is approximately $18,000 and if you don’t consider football and men’s basketball the amount is significantly less.
  • According to U.S. News & World Report, “the average tuition and fees at ranked public schools for out-of-state students was $21,629, and the average cost amounted to $35,676 at ranked private schools.” You can do the math.

To put it simply, if you’re lucky enough and talented enough to earn an athletic scholarship, it probably won’t cover the entire cost of your college education. Don’t get me wrong, $18,000 is a lot of money and I am certainly not trying to discourage anyone from pursuing an athletic scholarship. In fact, I believe the life lessons learned, relationships made and overall experience of participating in college athletics are invaluable. Additionally, participating in any sport at the collegiate level is a tremendous accomplishment every college athlete should be proud of. However, if the scholarship you’re pursuing won’t cover your entire college cost, then you should factor that into how much you spend to find that scholarship. 

There are many costs to consider when an athlete is serious about playing in college. Some are necessary, but many are not. Simply put, you shouldn’t break into the college fund to play on the best summer team, or to hire a private skills coach. In my opinion, there are two categories of expenses that serious high school athletes and their parents should consider – the necessary costs and optional costs.                           

Necessary costs

If you’re really serious about being a college athlete, then you need to take advantage of the fact that summer is when college coaches can attend games and tournaments. Most of them don’t have the time during their season. Whether it’s select baseball, club basketball or participating in showcase events, summer is the time when you have the best chance to be seen and evaluated by college coaches.

Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to play on the very best summer team. In fact, the right team for you probably isn’t the best team. The right team is the one with a good schedule, a good coaching staff and one where you will have an opportunity to play a significant role. You don’t have to be the best player on the team, but you don’t want to sit the bench either. Your off-season team should be about exposure, but it should also be about getting better. When deciding on a summer team, keep this in mind: You have to play to be seen and you have to play to get better. You will accomplish neither if you’re sitting on the bench even if you’re on the best team in the country.

When evaluating which summer team to play for, keep in mind that a coach willing to help in the recruiting process is important. Don’t be afraid to ask about this before you commit to any team. 

Believe it or not, paying for and playing on a summer team is the only major cost I feel you have to incur. Obviously, having the right equipment for your sport is required, but that just goes with the territory. Depending on the sport, the cost of a summer teams can be as much as $4,000, not counting the travel costs to out of town tournaments and the cost of showcase events can add up quickly also. Luckily, the rest of the major costs can be managed.

Optional costs

The major optional costs include (but are not limited to) private lessons, showcase events and/or college camps, highlight videos and recruiting services. If you have unlimited funds in your recruiting budget, then you should take advantage of all these resources. However, if that’s not the case, each one of these should be managed or eliminated.

Over that last 20 years private lessons have become increasingly popular. Most instructors will charge $50 to $70 for a 30-minute session. These lessons give the athlete one-on-one time with the instructor and can help develop skills, but $50 once or twice a week, 6 months a year can get expensive ($50 x 2 days/week x 26 weeks = $2,600).

The cost of attending a showcase event or a college camp ranges between $200 and $500 (before travel costs) and for that reason, attending a few of these can get expensive in a hurry. You really need to research each showcase you are considering and do your best to attend camps at the schools that might realistically be interested in you. Don’t waste your time with showcases or camps that don’t align with your personal goals.  

A highlight video can connect an athlete in Dallas, Texas with a college coach in Orlando, Florida without using up airline miles. Most college coaches can tell if they’re interested in an athlete after watching 45 seconds of video. For those two reasons, highlight videos can really be an effective recruiting tool. Just keep in mind that your video doesn’t have to be professionally produced and set to inspirational music. You can easily create an effective highlight video using your own equipment.  Professional videos can cost from $500 to $1,500, so if you commit to creating your own, you can put that money in the college fund.

Finally, recruiting services that contact colleges on behalf of athletes might be helpful, but can be very expensive. The fees can be as much as $5,000, or even more. This is one cost that can be managed by doing your homework on the recruiting services you might be considering. Understand what you are paying for up front, so you won’t be surprised by the end result.

Here’s the deal

Every family with an aspiring high school athlete should consider creating a recruiting budget. Spend your recruiting dollars wisely and keep track of how much you’re spending to land that college scholarship.