In many ways, negotiating for an athletic scholarship is exactly like negotiating for just about anything. As anyone who has seen Jerry Maguire or an episode of Entourage can appreciate, successfully negotiating for something can be as simple as convincing your negotiating partner that you can offer something he absolutely needs. A program has something you want or need (scholarship money), and so you must show the program that you have something they want or need (a talented student-athlete). The key to negotiating for a scholarship is effectively leveraging the uncommon assets and characteristics you bring to the table as a student-athlete, so that a program can feel comfortable offering you a share of its limited pool of scholarship money.
It's important to remember that schools place great value on student-athletes who have unique skills other than simply their ability to play a particular sport. At Division III and Division I non-scholarship programs, for example, purely athletic scholarships are not offered, so an athlete's ability to play the saxophone, tap-dance or edit the high school yearbook can help earn the scholarship money necessary to allow him or her to play a sport at the college level. These schools are attracted to athletes to whom they can offer academic, need-based, or non-need-based scholarships, making performance in the classroom just as valuable as on-the-field talent when it comes to negotiating for a scholarship. Although a school's initial interest in you results from athletic talent, your extracurricular and academic talents can open the door to better scholarship offers, so be sure to make these schools aware of these special skills.
The more interest or offers you have received, the more valuable and attractive you will appear to coaches, and thus the more power you'll have to negotiate for scholarship money. Be sure that any school in which you're interested is aware that you've received active interest from other schools, and that you haven't placed all of your eggs in their basket. Programs don't want to 'miss the boat' on a great recruit, and, perhaps more importantly, they don't want to risk watching you accept an offer from a rival. Don't be afraid to initiate a friendly bidding war between rival schools vying for your talent. If a school believes that it is your primary or only option, it won't find it necessary to offer you a particularly generous scholarship.
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Lastly, remember that no negotiation is truly complete until both sides have signed on the dotted line. In the scholarship context, this means that a student-athlete mustn't rely on undocumented promises from coaches, and should always keep his or her options open until the official signing of the offer from a school. Be sure to ask for the scholarship offer in writing, and always know how much time you have to accept the offer.
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