Tuesday Tip: When is it appropriate to ask about scholarship money?

The past few weeks have focused on scholarships.  Now with phones a ringing and the signing period just 129 days away, we ask, “When is it appropriate to ask about scholarship money?” and “Should parents discuss scholarships or the swimmer?”

On this topic coaches are almost in complete agreement.  When it comes to talking scholarships, most coaches are happy to talk with swimmers and parents, and almost want the recruit and his/her parents to be upfront about their needs.

“This is one of the most difficult things to talk about,” explains Gary Kinkead of Indianapolis.  “The distribution of the athletic scholarships is a problem that all coaches have.  It is an investment guessing game for the coach.”

“If scholarship is important to your decision make sure the coach knows that right away,” explains Southern Methodist mens’ coach Eddie Sinnott.  “It may save you from wasting your [and their] time.” 

Hawaii’s Vic Wales agrees.  “You need to be upfront about what you need to attend school. If you don't ask and need 75% to attend the school and then come to find out in November there is only 30%” you’ve not only wasted time, but as Florida’s Gregg Troy explains, you’ve also squandered one of your five visits.

“Be very forward as you will be lead along with hopes of visiting, liking the school and going there without money,” the Gator coach explains.  “Athlete and parents should decide very early in the process exactly what they can afford to pay to go to college......or they will waste visits at places that they will not be able to go to.”

Ohio State’s Bill Dorrenkott, also suggests talking about scholarships prior to a visit, while Kinkead feels a recruit should ask about the potential for receiving any type of athletic funding in your first face-to-face meeting (“At least you will find out early in the process” he explains.”  Tennessee’s John Trembley, offers a different take, however.  He talks about scholarships AFTER a visit.  “The simple reason is coaches and team members must get a sense of that student-athlete during his or her time on campus before determining the amount of scholarship.”

Susan Teeter coaches at Princeton, which does not offer athletic scholarships (yet managed to place a women’s team among the top-25 and a men’s recruiting class among the top five).  She feels that recruits and their parents should ask about scholarships as early as they feel comfortable.  “Each one [institution] is different and you should know what to expect.

Bob Groseth of Northwestern suggests asking the coach, “When is the best time for us to discuss scholarships?" fairly early in the process.

“Needs vs. Wants”
Time and time again, coaches used the word “needs.”  This is very different from the notion of “wants” and reflects the tension between the needs of a team vs. the needs of a recruit.

“There is no doubt that every coach in the country would love to give a full scholarship to every deserving swimmer but that isn’t going to happen,” explains one head coach.  “The coach wants you to walk on.  The recruit wants a full scholarship.  Somewhere in that range is a fair amount.”

This place in the middle is typically where parents become involved.  Stan Crump of Birgham Young feels it is important for recruits and parents to consider how they themselves can pay for the costs of education and Groseth reminds us that, “Parents pay the bills.”

While they pay the bills, coaches are “Trying to put together the very best TEAM” explains Stanford’s Ted Knapp, and that means signing several swimmers and divers, on limited resources.”

“Parents should remember that the coach lives in the real world too (i.e. the coach would love to make a higher salary but has to make due with what is offered by the university).”  That comes from one coach who admits that their scholarship decisions are also influenced by their interactions with parents and recruits.  “Remember the answer might not be what you expect it to be.  Do not to take it personally.  This is a very difficult business decision.”

Unfortunately, that’s not how egos always work and sometimes egos can be costly.  One coach described parents who “shop their children like chattel” and effectively shop for the best deal.  “When I see it,” they explain, “I walk away no matter how good they seem on paper.”

But what if a coach can’t give you a number?
While being upfront might be ideal, the truth is scholarship offers for all but the very best recruits can sometimes be cloudy.  This is because at any given point in time, given things like extended offers, tuition increases, dollars already committed, rejected offers and swimmers lost to graduations, a coach may not know how much scholarship money is available. 

Most though, can provide you a ballpark estimate.  “We will usually give a range of what to an offer will be and then share that it is a “first come, first served” offer,” explains Dorrenkott, adding.

If the coach won't give you a "Number" they are probably stringing you along waiting to see if the people who are ranked above you are going to sign or not. Which means you won't get an exact figure until signing week. (Vic Wales, University of Hawaii)

Coaches sometimes “just prefer to wait and see how much you like that particular place and if it is a good fit,” says Denver’s Brian Schrader”  It’s not …and this is not a bad thing, and if you can be patient, this generally works out in your favor.”

As the swimmer moves closer to the signing date and as coaches get a firmer grip on available funds, the discussions begin to narrow and according to Brooks Teal, this is where parents typically become more involved.  Schrader, for one, feels parents should be involved because they can better understand how the finances might actually work once the offer is made.

Potential Pitfalls
In the course of talking with coaches a couple of warning signs did come up.  The first concerned the role of academic aid.  Gregg Troy of Florida warns recruits to "Be very vary of promises of academic aid or other sources."  He suggests speaking with representatives from admissions and financial aid directly (if a coaches is involved, he notes, it constitutes a NCAA violation) to get a better estimate of your financial aid packages.  Many times these packages won't be issued until late spring.

Another pitfall that was brought up concerned the timing of scholarship offers and their deadlines.  While the early signing period won't begin until late November, some schools are increasingly asking recruits to commit earlier (in some cases within 24-hours of an official visit).  It's a practice that disgusts many coaches.  Says Dorrenkott, "We stand firm on offers and do not get into 'bargaining' against other schools. "

Have a recruiting question you’ve always wanted to ask a college coach? E-mail us. Want to ask a coach in person? Make plans for the latest CollegeSwimming.com Recruit Seminar set for August 3 in Minneapolis. Look for registration information next week.