Will Swimming Pay For College?

by SwimSwam 24

March 19th, 2018 College, Lifestyle

Courtesy of Elizabeth Wickham

When my kids were little and new to our swim team, we never thought about college scholarships. After all, we didnt know if our kids would stick through one season of swimming, let alone 10 plus years of it. I remember parents of older kids who were very focused on scholarships and believed that swimming was their ticket for a paid for college education. I can report that these parents did send their kids to college with big scholarships and it worked out well for them.

However, from reading various articles and looking at statistics, the numbers are not in favor of getting college paid for by swimming or diving. Its around 2 percent of all high school athletes who go on to play their sport at an NCAA D1 college and 7 percent for student-athletes across all divisions. And thats not even talking about scholarships. Theres a website that a swim coach sent to me with lots of numbers and statistics that spell it all out called Scholarship Stats.You can check out the 664 colleges that offered swimming and diving programs in 2017 at “College Swimming and Scholarship Opportunities.” Its a helpful page to check out swim and dive programs complete with average scholarships awarded and SAT and ACT scores.

Here are a few tips about the statistics of swimming in college:


Our kids need to be passionate about their activities and spend all the necessary hours and sacrifices because they want to. Not because of a dream we have for them to earn a scholarship.


In an NCAA Division I, fully-funded swimming and dive program, Men are limited to 9.9 scholarships awarded per team, while Women have 14, with most programs having around 28 swimmers on either team. Because swimming is an equivalency sport, schools can offer partial scholarships that when added up dont exceed the number of scholarships allowed. Most likely, if your child earns a scholarship for swimming it will be partialnot a full ride.


From the website Scholarship Stats, for Women, there were a total of 170,797 varsity high school swimmers in 2017. From those, 12,961 or 7.6 percent went on to swim in college. For Men, the numbers were 138,364 varsity high school swimmers with 10,345 or 7.5 percent swimming in college. These statistics dont take into account club swimmers who dont swim in high school.


Earning a scholarship is wonderful. If your child is fortunate enough to get one, you have every right to be proud and happy. Also, dont forget about all the other great things they gained from swimming such as physical fitness, time management, good sportsmanship, friendships for life and skills desired by future employers. Enjoy each moment of the age group swimming years and the college ones to come.

What are your thoughts about pressure on swimmers to get athletic scholarships for college?

Elizabeth Wickham volunteered for 14 years on her kids’ club team as board member, fundraiser, newsletter editor and “Mrs. meet manager.” She’s a writer with a bachelor of arts degree in editorial journalism from the University of Washington with a long career in public relations, marketing and advertising. Her stories have appeared in newspapers and magazines including the Los Angeles Times, Orange County Parenting and Ladybug. You can read more parenting tips on her blog.

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3 years ago

Point of clarification regarding numbers cited above. 40 percent of the men and 37 percent of the women swimming in college compete for Div 3 teams that do not offer scholarships. Also a number of the Div 1 programs have no scholarships (Ivy League among others) or are not fully funded. This is to emphasize your point that aiming for swimming scholarship is a long-shot and this is no way to plan financially for college. The good news is that for good students who are also talented athletes, swimming can be the deciding factor in getting into a great school. Many of these very selective schools also offer generous aid packages with a large percentage of the aid in the… Read more »

Coach John
Reply to  newswim
3 years ago


Reply to  newswim
2 years ago

Do you have a list of Div 1 swim programs that have no swim scholarships? No fund swim programs like Duke, Providence, Boston College, are the ones I know..any others

3 years ago

Let’s be really honest. If every parent took the money we spend on practices, tech suits, team travels, family travels, not to mention special diets, much larger appetites, etc… and put that money into a 529 for our kids, few swim team families would not have enough money to pay for an excellent state school education.
We don’t support our children’s drive to be their best in order to pay for college. If my children are so lucky, it will be a blessing and a treat, but that isn’t why I love watching them practice and race and smile and cry. I love it because I know everything else that they are learning and benefiting from. I know that… Read more »

College Coach
Reply to  OfficialDad
3 years ago

This is spot on! Thank you for sharing this perspective. Money for college is an extrinsic motivator that is far less likely to pay off than all of the positives mentioned in the previous comment and through your focus on supporting your kids because you love them and want to be part of this experience.

Swim Mom
Reply to  OfficialDad
3 years ago

We tried to think of any scholarship money my child received as a bonus, but not an expectation, goal or reason to swim. Sure, it would have been nice and helpful, but it also would have changed the mix of schools on the list of possibilities quite drastically. If your swimmer wants to be the small fish in the big pond, there is likely no scholarship money for that scenario. There are also many schools with no scholarship money available. Additionally, I think focusing on a scholarship might also add some pressure to an already stressful mix of swimming and scholastic expectations. My advice to parents would be to let your swimmer focus on the fun of swimming and getting… Read more »

JerseyDIII from Jersey
3 years ago

Short answer: Nope!

Reply to  JerseyDIII from Jersey
3 years ago

Long answer; if you’re good enough

3 years ago

I tell my swimmers regularly that if they are only using swim to help with college, they’ll help themselves out more if they get a job and work before/during college. Obviously, the big reason to swim in college for 90% of these kids is because they love the sport and still think they can get better. If you don’t have that, there are two secondary factors that would cause me to recommend swimming in college:

1) Academic support: Most schools have mandatory study halls for athletes and designated tutors to work with them. One of my old swimmers made her choice based on which school seemed to offer the best chance to succeed academically. She’s incredibly talented, physically, and a… Read more »

Reply to  sven
3 years ago

@Sven you are spot on. I’m a former college and club coach. So I’ve seen both sides. Part of the problem as I see it is college is no longer a value. Lots of former swimmers are back at home making $15ish dollars an hour trying to pay of 40-60k in college loans. I have two daughters that swam, one got a full ride. She had top 5 conference times in two strokes and DI B cuts and was an AAA 3 years. My second daughter was getting offers from private schools that still put college costs at $20,000/year. Nothing more than token offers from state schools. Academically she was a potential drop out (it happens much more than people… Read more »

Ernie and Bert
3 years ago

Many swimmers are gaining access to a lot of schools that a hard to gain admission to with just good grades and test scores.

Reply to  Ernie and Bert
3 years ago

Yes! Very true.

3 years ago

High ACT/SAT scores are what bring financial offers.

Reply to  FloridaMom
3 years ago

Um no. High SAT scores are nice but a dime a dozen.

Swim dad
3 years ago

A looong time ago, I was blessed to walk on a DIII team, and get an “academic” scholarship as a result ( I paid for room and board). I cannot overstate the positive impact that a college level sport had on me, and openly, my resume, 15 years later. I end up talking to another DIII all american Venture Capitalist, and swimming helped me get that job.

And,oh yeah. I’m an employer right now, college brand matters a little. So make sure you or your kid goes to school for, well, school!

3 years ago

Short Answer – Unlikely for most, especially on the men’s side. My son was talking with Di through DIII coming out of high school. Ultimately we asked him to chose the school where he would want to go if he did not swim. He chose the DIII school that was more flexible around his academics and seemed a good fit for his swimming, one where he could contribute as a freshman at conference. He has enjoyed the balance of being a student athlete.