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The Reality of the Swimming Scholarship

The Reality of the Swimming Scholarship

College swimming recruiting is serious business. It’s a lot like getting into a prestigious school. According to, only 7.9% of high school swimmers will compete in college swimming.

Not all of these athletes will earn a swimming scholarship, though. With so many roster spots and a limit on scholarships, the athletic money available must be divvied up by the coaching staff to properly support a winning team.

Here’s a list of all the Divisions in collegiate swimming along with the number of teams and their average swimming scholarship award (data via

Division Men’s Teams Women’s Teams Average Men’s Scholarship Average Women’s Scholarship
NCAA I 197 196 $15,725 $16,224
NCAA II 95 94 $6,182 $7,309
NCAA III 258 255 $0 $0
NAIA 26 26 $8,004 $8,075
NJCAA 14 14 $1,688 $1,987
CCCAA 52 52 $0 $0
USCAA & NWAC 3 3 $625 $581
Total 515 640 $6,002 $6,352


To better understand college swimming recruiting, I lump swimmer’s into three simple categories:

  1. Superstars: swimmers that score between 50 and 100 points at their respective conference meet
  2. Contributors: swimmers that score between 10 and 49 points at their respective conference meet
  3. Walk On’s: swimmers that score between 0 and 9 points at their respective conference meet

It’s important that a college team spend their money effectively. If you give away 50% of 1 scholarship to a person that scores 0 points at your respective conference meet, than this was an obvious poor use of scholarship dollars. If you give away 10% of 1 scholarship to a person that scores 50 points at your respective conference meet, than you have put your money to great use. The more of the latter, the better chance you have of winning a conference championship.

It’s similar to the NFL Draft:

Rounds 1-3: Looking for Superstars
Rounds 4-7: Looking for Contributors
Undrafted: Looking for Walk On’s that can develop into Contributors and/or Superstars

If you draft someone in the first round and you cut them in year 3 only to have started a handful of games, than you’ve wasted a lot of money and time. Or, perhaps you drafted Tom Brady in the 6th round and he became the greatest quarterback of all time.

Luckily, swimming, is far more quantifiable. You either swim this fast or you don’t swim this fast.
It is a lack of understanding that allows parents to believe their child is worth more than they actually are.

The Myth of the Sports Scholarship” by Brad Wolverton is a textbook example. This high school swimmer’s times would have scored 0 points at the ACC Championship meet last year. She would not have swum on any relays. Therefore, if I was recruiting her into the ACC, she would fall into the “Walk On” category.

Now, let’s look at another Division I Conference: the Atlantic 10.

Last year, her times (200 Free, 500 Free, 100 Fly, 200 Fly) would have scored 32 individual points and 5.5 relay points. That’s 37.5 points total. That’s one heck of a contributor!

Times are simply the first filter of earning a swimming scholarship. Would St. Bonaventure, George Mason, or George Washington have offered her a swimming scholarship? Based solely on times, I know I would have.

That being said, for swimmers, the moral of the story is to first look at the facts:
“With my existing times, how do I stack up within this swimming conference?”

For college swim coaches, the moral of the story is to remember that we live in the digital age:
You never know what journalist is going to take your email conversations about scholarship offers and publish them for everyone to read.