The New College Scholarship: Athletes Look to Financial Aid

Princeton’s student body, as any campus tour guide would know, is comprised of roughly 20% Division 1 athletes, a percentage much larger than at schools with more students or fewer sports. Ivy League athletics, though nowadays largely not dominant on a national level—at least in revenue sports—are rich in tradition, and decades ago, teams from Harvard, Princeton, and Yale would regularly attract top athletes from around the country.

In more recent decades, however, the college recruiting arena has become dominated by athletic scholarships, which are banned by the Ivy League. As more universities around the country began offering athletes partial or full-ride scholarships to attend and play sports, the students who once would have chosen to attend an Ivy went instead to where they would pay the least for their education. The Ivy League’s athletic dominance slipped away with its declining appeal—though Princeton claims the highest number of Division 1 football championships in the country, at 28, its latest championship season was in 1950.

It may seem ironic to some that the Ivy League was unable to maintain its athletic dominance over the past century as it has upheld its academic prestige. Slowly, however, a trend has emerged wherein top recruits—the kinds we associate with programs like Alabama football or University of Virginia basketball—are choosing Ivy League programs over their Power 5 alternatives once again. The key to unraveling this phenomenon? Financial aid.

Ivy League schools, due to their generous donors and slate of sharp endowment investors, have always been able to offer prospective students financial aid packages that were more generous than those doled out by other institutions. Recently, however, financial aid at the ‘Elite 8’ has become competitive with the athletic scholarships offered in major sports at other universities. 60% of students at Princeton receive financial aid, and the average aid grant is about $55,200 annually. Generous aid packages are generally given to families with annual incomes of up to $250,000—even higher-income families have strong arguments for receiving aid if they are sending more than one student to college.

For the vast majority of American college applicants, this means that Princeton would cover the entirety, or almost the entirety, of their college tuition. As the majority of Division 1 athletes do not receive full rides, the excellent financial aid packages offered by the Ivy League can prove to be the more lucrative option. Football players will likely never be venerated at Brown the way they are at Auburn, but it’s becoming possible that for many recruits—especially those who aren’t at the very top of the recruiting rolls—choosing the Ivy could be the sharper investment, both in the present and in the future.

Sources: Princeton University Financial Aid, Forbes, Wikipedia, Jaelin Llewellyn Rivals page, The Washington Post