How to Become a College Walk-On

You don't necessarily need an athletic scholarship to play college sports.

The college search for athletes has grown complicated and increasingly competitive in the past decade. The high-stakes competition for scholarships is actually opening up more opportunities for walk-on athletes.

A walk-on prospect is a recruit who either lacks the athletic skill to attract a scholarship offer or who wants to attend a college that does not offer athletic scholarships (e.g., Division III programs and Ivy League schools cannot offer athletic scholarships).

At face value, this may appear to spell failure, but when you dig deeper into the potential gains, it becomes increasingly appealing.

D-I and D-II programs have a cap on the number of athletic scholarships they can offer and the number of aggregate scholarship athletes permitted on a squad in any given year. For example, in women's lacrosse, the maximum number of scholarships is 12, but a typical D-I women's lacrosse squad has around 35 athletes. This means that roughly two-thirds of the squad are walk-ons.

Honestly, college coaches draw little or no tangible distinction between a scholarship recipient and a walk-on student-athlete. They both have the same opportunity to impact the team. When the dust settles, a coach's job is to win, and he or she will simply put the best team on the field to achieve that end.

Walk-on Scenarios

There are three possible walk-on situations:

  • Colleges where athletic scholarships are exhausted
  • Colleges that do not offer athletic scholarships
  • College coaches who have a clear tryout policy.

Verbal offers for athletic scholarships are becoming more popular, so there's a chance that coaches from top-tier schools have committed their upper limit early. This may appear disappointing at first, but always look at the bigger picture. An athlete who might not qualify for a scholarship in his or her freshman year could very well qualify during subsequent years.

A small group of colleges and universities hold to a strict "non-athletic grant" policy for all student-athletes. In many cases, these programs are at brilliant academic institutions. Not only can coaches offer potential assistance with financial aid and non-athletic grants, they may, in many cases, offer robust influence in assisting prospects through the admissions process.

Many college coaches offer a fall tryout period when student-athletes have the opportunity to make a good impression and land spots on the team.

The Pitch

Grabbing the attention of college coaches, especially for walk-on candidates, takes a lot of convincing and grunt work.

First, the athlete and his or her family members must develop a "thick skin." Feedback from coaches could be predominantly negative, so you need to prepare for the best and expect the worst when it's decision time.

Second, it is critical to take a bold, "stick your foot in the door" approach in presenting your case. Remember, coaches are looking at three key attributes prospects: Strong academics, potentially impact athletes and strong character. Your recruiting approach should be vigorous, but polite.

Third, this should be a "prospect effort," and not a mom-and-dad approach. Students need to buck up and confidently push the walk-on agenda with college coaches themselves, building a strong and convincing case.


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