Every parent wants their child to get a “full ride” or a scholarship that pays the way to school; however, full rides are not very common at all. It is a result of scholarship limits imposed on teams by the NCAA.
Division I programs may award a maximum of 9.9 men’s and 14.0 women’s swimming scholarships. Division II programs can provide up to 8.1 for each gender while Division III institutions may not provide any athletic aid.
With 24-28 athletes on each swim program, the money doesn’t cover too many athletes. “The rule of thumb is: the better the team, the harder it is to get money,” explains former Brigham Young coach Stan Crump. “Fulls are tough to get, but easier as the teams get weaker.”
“If you are not in the top 8 at nationals or an outstanding high school short course swimmer,” explains Florida’s Gregg Troy while talking about men’s swimming, “a full is probably not a reality.”
“Women need to be a top 8 NCAA qualifier or very close to walking through the door,” explains Ohio State’s Bill Dorrenkott, “and even then they need to be able to contribute significantly on relays.”
Dorrenkott broke down the numbers a bit further explaining that “A good scholarship for US National multiple event qualifiers is 30-50% for men and 40-60% for women.” Not a NCAA qualifier as a freshman? You might be as a sophomore, and oftentimes coaches will reward those gains. As SMU’s Eddie Sinnott notes, “At SMU we have a saying ‘If you perform for us we will perform for you’ and we take that very seriously.”
Another coach, who prefers to stay off the record, mentions, “We never give a full scholarship to a high school senior. It’s a $110,000 gamble on an 18-year-old kid. Foreign athletes are another story, though. They’re usually older, more experienced, and you need to pay full to get them.”
Gary Kinkead of Indianapolis explains, ““Championships are not won with 1-3 GREAT swimmers, but with depth and the best way to have depth is to divide up the available scholarships among those talented athletes that you feel can produce the greatest number of championship and consolation finalists.”
Former NC State coach Brooks Teal adds that most schools “will NOT use more than one, perhaps two or three full scholarships” on men. For the women, it’s “very rare, though not unheard of, to have more than four women on full scholarship on one squad.”
So, is it impossible to swim for a top 10 school if you’re not already a top swimmer? Absolutely not! It is very possible to swim there, but you should expect to pay for a significant piece of your tuition.