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August 31, 2021

What’s the Difference: Headcount and Equivalency Scholarships

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When choosing a college team to commit to, it’s important to understand the difference between equivalency and headcount scholarships, and how this plays into how you will afford college.

Equivalency Scholarships

All Division II and NAIA programs are at non-revenue sports schools and are therefore considered entirely equivalency sports. Equivalency sports have a set number of scholarships, and each team divides the scholarships between multiple athletes.

Example: Let’s say a football team has six available scholarships, but can only offer four of them as full scholarships. They can then divide the fifth scholarship between two athletes, and the last between three or more athletes. 

For the most part, incoming freshmen in equivalency sports are not offered full scholarships. For those who are offered a full scholarship, it will be because they are either capable of being in the starting lineup, or they can help win a conference championship as a freshman. 

Headcount Scholarships

Headcount sports only offer full scholarships, so the competition for a full-ride is exceptionally high. The percentage of high school athletes being offered athletic scholarship aid is as low as 2%. So, the percentage of those receiving a full-ride athletic scholarship is even lower.  

Headcount sports scholarships, in addition to being only full scholarships, are also restricted by a set number. For example, if a sport happens to offer ten scholarships, ten new athletes on that team can receive full scholarships each year and no other athletes can receive scholarships to join the team.  

While all Division II and NAIA sports are on equivalency scholarships, Division I scholarships vary by sport. The sports that usually bring in revenue to the school are headcount sports. Below are these scholarships, categorized by sport:

Men’s Sports

Headcount Sports in Division I: Basketball and Football

Equivalency Sports in Division I: Soccer, Fencing, Swimming, Golf, Tennis, Gymnastics, Volleyball, Ice Hockey, Water Polo, Lacrosse, Wrestling, Baseball, Rifle, Skiing, Cross-Country, Track & Field, and Rowing

Women’s Sports

Headcount Sports in Division I: Basketball, Volleyball, Tennis, Gymnastics

Equivalency Sports in Division I: Soccer, Fencing, Swimming, Golf, Ice Hockey, Field Hockey, Water Polo, Lacrosse, Softball, Skiing, Cross-Country, Track & Field, Bowling, and Rowing

You must do the math to see what you will need in order to afford attending a certain school. This way, a coach knows what they have to work with. Both you and the coach need to be on the same page. You need to consider how much of a scholarship you need, and whether equivalency or headcount scholarships can better meet your needs. Coaches, meanwhile, need to consider if you’re worth a full-ride scholarship or otherwise.

An important question that you might want to ask the coach is: “Are my skills at the level to be considered for a scholarship, and what can I do to increase my chances?”

YOUR JOURNEY STARTS HERE