Track and Field Scholarships Guide: Securing Your Athletic Future

Navigating the competitive world of track and field scholarships in the United States can be as challenging as the sport itself. Various institutions across the nation, from NCAA Division I and Division II universities, to NAIA and junior colleges, offer scholarships to talented athletes. The number of scholarships available can vary, with NCAA Division I and II men’s teams having a limit per team, which can be divided among athletes, as these are equivalency sports. For example, NCAA Division I teams may award up to 12.6 total scholarships among their athletes.


With eligibility requirements, scholarship regulations, and a comprehensive recruiting process, securing a scholarship demands a meticulous approach from student-athletes. They must keep abreast of the recruiting calendar, understand scholarship divisions, and know what coaches are looking for during recruitment. Moreover, as most scholarships are partial, it becomes essential for student-athletes to plan financially, considering other forms of aid as well. Beyond the financial aspect, athletes should also evaluate academic programs, campus life, and post-athletic career opportunities when choosing the right institution.

Key Takeaways

  • Track and field scholarships are competitive and can be divided among multiple athletes by coaches.
  • Student-athletes must navigate eligibility requirements and recruitment processes to secure scholarships.
  • Choosing the right institution involves assessing financial, academic, and life considerations beyond athletics.

Understanding Track and Field Scholarships

When navigating the realm of track and field scholarships, athletes must understand the various types and differences among collegiate athletic associations. Knowing scholarship limits and the concept of equivalency can significantly impact their financial aid opportunities.

Types of Scholarships

Track and field athletes can secure different forms of financial aid tailored to their athletic prowess and academic achievements. Athletic scholarships come in two main types: full-ride scholarships, covering the total cost of attendance, and partial scholarships, offering only a portion of these expenses. Most track and field athletes typically receive partial scholarships due to the nature of scholarship distribution in the sport, which tends to favor an equivalency model over headcount distribution.

NCAA, NAIA, and NJCAA: Knowing the Differences

There are significant distinctions between the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA), and the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA). The NCAA governs the largest and most competitive institutions and is divided into three divisions (D-I, D-II, D-III), each with its own rules and scholarship limits. NAIA and NJCAA represent smaller institutions and community colleges, respectively, offering different levels of competition and scholarship options.

  • NCAA Division I: Known for the highest level of competition, with stricter academic and athletic criterias for scholarships.
  • NCAA Division II: Balances athletics with academics, provides a modest number of athletic scholarships.
  • NCAA Division III: Does not offer athletics-based financial aid, but athletes can still seek academic scholarships or need-based aid.

Scholarship Limits and Equivalency

For NCAA Division I and II, the men’s scholarship limits per track & field team are set at 12.6 for men and 18 for women. These scholarships can be divided among many athletes in what’s known as an equivalency scholarship model, allowing coaches to distribute partial scholarships across their rosters. This model is also utilized in the NAIA and NJCAA, with their own set scholarship limits. It is crucial for student-athletes to understand how equivalency scholarships work to properly assess their options and expectations regarding financial aid.

AssociationScholarship Limit (Men’s/Women’s)Scholarship Type
NCAA D-I12.6/18Equivalency
NCAA D-II12.6/18Equivalency
NAIAVaries by schoolEquivalency
NJCAAVaries by sportEquivalency/Full

xABBR| |xY |
| | | |

Athletes should thoroughly research and engage with prospective schools’ athletic departments to elucidate the precise scholarship opportunities available to them.

Eligibility and Requirements

Navigating the world of track and field scholarships requires an understanding of the critical eligibility and requirement parameters set by governing bodies. Student-athletes need to meet academic thresholds, achieve specific athletic performance standards, and adhere to age and amateurism criteria to qualify for scholarship funding.

Academic Standards for Student-Athletes

Track and field athletes aspiring to compete on an NCAA Division 1 team must meet predetermined academic standards. These include a minimum GPA in core courses and acceptable standardized test scores. According to the NCAA Guide for the College-bound Student-athlete, it’s imperative that high school athletes maintain their performance in the classroom to ensure eligibility for collegiate competition.

Athletic Standards and Track Scholarship Times

Securing a track and field scholarship is highly competitive and requires athletes to meet or exceed specific athletic standards. These benchmarks, known as track recruiting times, vary across different track and field events. To illustrate, a valuable resource is the list of Track and Field Recruiting Standards, which provides a sampling of performance requirements by division and event.

Sample Performance Standards for Division 1 Track Recruiting (Men’s):

EventBenchmark Performance
100m10.5 seconds or faster
400m47.2 seconds or faster
1500m3:52.99 or faster
Long Jump7.25m or farther
High Jump2.10m or higher

Age and Amateurism Criteria

Athletes must also adhere to NCAA regulations regarding age and amateurism. Prospective student-athletes should not have signed a contract with a professional team, nor have competed with professional athletes for prize money, which could jeopardize their amateur status. Additional information on these criteria can be found by consulting the NCAA’s resources on amateurism.

The Recruiting Process

The path to securing a track and field scholarship hinges on successfully navigating the recruiting process. Prospective student-athletes must understand the nuances of engaging with college coaches, scheduling campus visits, and ultimately signing a commitment to the right program.

Starting Your Track and Field Recruitment

To initiate the recruiting process, a track and field recruit must create a compelling athletic resume highlighting personal bests and achievements. It is critical to research NCAA track and field scholarship limits and target schools that align with the athlete’s abilities. Athletes should also compile a list of prospective programs and assess where they could potentially earn a roster spot.

Communicating with College Coaches

Direct communication with college coaches is paramount. Prospects should craft personalized emails that include their athletic stats and why they’re interested in that specific program. Regular follow-up is essential, as is keeping coaches updated on any improvements in performance or notable accomplishments in track and field.

Official and Unofficial Visits

Prospects are allotted official visits, typically in their senior year, where the travel expenses are covered by the institution. Unofficial visits can occur anytime at the athlete’s expense. These visits enable recruits to experience the campus atmosphere, meet the coaching staff and team, and evaluate the school’s academic and athletic offerings firsthand.

National Signing Day and Commitment

The final step is National Signing Day, when recruits sign a letter of intent to join a collegiate program. It’s the culmination of the recruitment journey: a formal commitment that secures the athlete’s spot on the team and, where applicable, their athletic scholarship. It’s crucial for the track and field recruit to have thoroughly considered all options and chosen a school that is the right fit both academically and athletically.

Choosing the Right Institution


When selecting an institution for track and field scholarships, athletes should carefully assess the compatibility of the program with their athletic and academic goals, the implications of the school’s division level on their sports experience, and the cultural fit of the school environment.

Identifying Your Ideal Program

To find a suitable track and field program, an athlete must consider how a school’s coaching style, training facilities, and team dynamics align with their personal growth and performance goals. They should scrutinize the track and field teams’ recent performances and alumni success to gauge program quality. Athletes also need to assess academic programs alongside athletic opportunities to ensure a well-rounded college experience.

Consideration of Division Levels and School Size

Track and field athletes have a variety of division levels to consider, from large-scale NCAA Division 1 programs to smaller Division 3 schools. An NCAA Division 1 school may offer a highly competitive atmosphere with more robust funding and facilities, while D2 and D3 levels might provide a different balance of athletics and academics due to different scholarship regulations. It’s important to note that D3 institutions do not offer athletic scholarships. NAIA schools and junior colleges also present alternative routes, often with smaller campuses and the potential for more personalized attention from coaches.

Cultural and Lifestyle Fit

It’s imperative that athletes evaluate the overall atmosphere of the institution and consider factors beyond track and field. This includes understanding campus culture, geographical location, and available extracurricular activities which all contribute to the overall college experience. Some may prefer the rigorous academic environment of an Ivy League school, while others may flourish within the diverse community settings that a variety of NAIA or junior colleges can provide.

Scholarship Opportunities by Event

Track and field scholarships are often divided by event categories, with each having its distinct standards and expected performances. These opportunities allow student-athletes to pursue collegiate athletics in their specialized events, ranging from sprints to field events.

Sprints and Hurdles Scholarship Opportunities

For sprinters and hurdlers, NCAA Division I and II programs typically offer a set number of scholarships, which can be full or partial. Colleges may assess an athlete’s potential based on times recorded in events ranging from the 60-meter dash in indoor track to the 400-meter hurdles in outdoor track. Athletic conferences hold specific qualifying standards for these events that prospective student-athletes aim to meet or surpass to increase their scholarship chances.

Distance and Middle-Distance Running Scholarships

Scholarships for distance and middle-distance runners are available for events such as the 800m, 1500m, mile, 3000m steeplechase, and longer distances like the 5000m and 10,000m. Coaches evaluate athletes’ endurance, race tactics, and consistency across both the indoor and outdoor track seasons, along with cross country performances, to determine scholarship offers.

Field Events: Jumps and Throws Scholarships

Jumpers and throwers can find scholarship opportunities in events like long jump, high jump, triple jump, shot put, discus, hammer, and javelin. In these specialties, measurements of distance or height are pivotal. Collegiate programs with strong field event squads often look for athletes who demonstrate strong technical proficiency and the capacity for continued improvement.

Multi-Event and Cross Country Athletes Scholarships

Multi-event athletes, who compete in heptathlons and decathlons, must exhibit versatility across a range of events. Scholarship allocation for these student-athletes can be influenced by their accumulated points in these competitions. For cross country runners, scholarships are offered based on their ability to excel in 5k and 10k distances, often with cross-over potential in outdoor and indoor distance events.

Each event category has a specific set of performance metrics that colleges consider. It is imperative for student-athletes to understand the expectations and excel within their event to maximize scholarship opportunities.

Financial Planning and Additional Aid


The journey to obtaining a track and field scholarship often involves a blend of athletic scholarship offers and exploration of additional financial aid avenues. Proper financial planning can maximize scholarship dollars and ensure athletes secure enough funding to cover their college costs.

Supplementing Athletic Scholarships

Men’s track and field scholarship limits are set at 12.6 for NCAA Division I and II teams, which is often divided among several athletes leading to partial scholarships. To bridge the gap, students should consider combining athletic scholarships with other forms of aid. For instance, an athlete might receive a base athletic scholarship with the possibility to supplement that amount through performance incentives or academic achievements.

Navigating Other Forms of Financial Aid

Apart from athletic scholarships, athletes have access to various sources of financial aid including need-based aid, academic scholarships, and work-study programs. Detailed reviews of athletic budgets and average costs demonstrate that the average scholarship amount might not cover all expenses. Scholarships provided by organizations like the NAIA can be crucial. In addition, athletes can benefit from learning about the potential for combining athletic scholarships and financial aid, ensuring they have a comprehensive package of support.

Maximizing Your High School Experience

High school athletes seeking track and field scholarships can bolster their chances by focusing on effective training and garnering exposure at high school meets. These efforts can demonstrate commitment and potential to college track coaches.

Effective Training and Competition

Athletes should engage in rigorous training regimens and compete regularly to improve their performance. Strength training, sprint drills, and endurance workouts are imperative for a competitive team. It is essential to track progress using platforms like Milesplit, where athletes can compare their times and marks against statewide and national rankings. Regular participation in high school cross country or track can offer additional competitive experience.

Exposure Through High School Meets

High school meets are critical opportunities for exposure to college coaches. Athletes should aim for high visibility meets where college coaches are likely to be present. Achieving top placements or breaking records at these events can significantly increase a student-athlete’s visibility. It’s also beneficial to proactively reach out and share meet results and athlete profiles with potential college programs.

Post-Signing Considerations


After securing a track and field scholarship, it’s crucial to prepare for the transition into a college athlete. Among the essential steps include gearing up for a higher intensity of training and comprehending the dutiful requirements set forth by the NCAA Eligibility Center.

Preparing for College-Level Training

College-level training demands both physical and mental fortitude. It is not uncommon for incoming freshmen to experience a jump in both the volume and intensity of their workouts. They must also develop proficient time management skills, as college track and field training schedules are rigorous and often combined with academic responsibilities. Adhering to a well-rounded routine that includes proper nutrition, adequate sleep, and consistent study habits is integral to their success both on the track and in the classroom.

Understanding NCAA Eligibility Center Requirements

Registration with the NCAA Eligibility Center is mandatory for college-bound athletes. They must meet academic standards, including maintaining a minimum GPA and meeting coursework requirements, and they must also understand the Amateurism Certification to ensure that college track and field remains a competition between amateur athletes. Staying informed of these requirements helps ensure that athletes are eligible to compete during their college tenure. An athlete’s school counselor is often a valuable resource in navigating these complex regulations, as is the NCAA Eligibility Center itself.

Frequently Asked Questions


This section addresses common inquiries regarding track and field scholarships, providing specific information about criteria, how to qualify, differences in awards between genders, and insights into the most competitive collegiate programs.

What are the NCAA Division I scholarship standards for track and field athletes?

For NCAA Division I track and field athletes, scholarship standards vary by event, but they are generally based on athletic performance and academic eligibility. Athletes must meet qualifying times, distances, or scores in their respective events to attract the attention of collegiate coaches.

How do high school athletes qualify for track and field scholarships?

High school athletes qualify for track and field scholarships by achieving competitive times, distances, or heights in their events, maintaining good academic standing, and actively engaging in the recruitment process. A track scholarship may also consider leadership qualities and extracurricular involvement.

What are the differences between men’s and women’s track and field scholarship criteria?

The scholarship criteria for men’s and women’s track and field are similar in that they both require excellent athletic performance and academic records. However, the allocation of scholarships may differ due to variations in team sizes and the total number of scholarships available, as set by NCAA regulations.

How can one earn a full-ride scholarship in track and field?

Earning a full-ride scholarship in track and field is highly competitive. It typically requires an athlete to have exceptional talent and achievement levels in their event, as well as a strong academic background.

What is the typical amount awarded for a track and field scholarship?

The amount awarded for a track and field scholarship can range from small partial scholarships to full tuition, depending on the athlete’s performance level, the school’s division, and its budget constraints. For example, Track and field is considered an equivalency sport where scholarships can be divided among athletes.

Which colleges are considered the best for track and field athletes seeking scholarships?

Colleges known for strong track and field programs and scholarship opportunities include the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Michigan, among others. Competitive athletes tend to target Division I schools, which generally offer more scholarships and have more extensive facilities and resources.

Helpful Resources

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