Monday, March 10, 2008

College Athletic Scholarships

Regular readers will know that accurate depiction of the college application and financing process in YA fiction is a mini-crusade of mine. It's not because I think fidelity to reality is important per se (it's not), but because I think that reality in this case is vastly more interesting than the worn-out cliches that sometimes stand in its place in some novels.

For instance, I'm always vexed to find references to "full-ride scholarships," especially to small, division III NCAA schools. No such thing exists. I believe there's one in Chris Crutcher's latest, Deadline. I don't mean to lay all this on Crutcher's book (which deserves to be widely and thoughtfully read, as all of his books do), but the example is a good one. The small town quarterback on the perennial underdog team gets a ticket to bigger things in the form of a scholarship. Crutcher's coach says, commenting on the possibility of a miraculous undefeated season:

"... Scouts at every game. He should probably come out of this with a full ride. Your brother's probably never going to be pro, but he can be a hell of small-college quarterback and he can get a good education in the bargain. I know your parents are going to be strapped sending the two of you off next year. Cody shows his best stuff these last games and there are books and tuition for one."
Actually no, there won't be. This makes for a great story (obviously, since it's a very well-worn device), but it's just not true. The reality, as this article in the New York Times points out, is vastly more complicated. For instance, the average football scholarship for NCAA divisons I and II is just under 13,000 or about two-thirds of annual tuition, room, and board. The average scholarship for any sport is well short of the actual cost of tuition, room, and board to almost any college in a position to give an athletic scholarship (if you're actually interested, ice hockey is your best shot for close to a true full ride). The article suggests that if you total up the cost of what it took throughout high school to have a shot at a college athletic scholarship, you'll find that the math makes no sense. You'd be better off putting a small fraction of that money in a good test-prep program and going for the more abundant academic scholarships.

Beyond this, the very notion of the full-ride athletic scholarship at any level is largely a creation of popular culture. There's no such thing as a four-year guaranteed athletic scholarship; all scholarships are renewed (or not) annually. If Cody from Deadline blows out his knee in the first game at college and can't make the team the following season, his scholarship won't be renewed. Hardly a "good education in the bargain."

Far from threatening the time-honored place of college-sports anxiety in YA fiction, I'd say the article is full of material for new motivations for characters and story lines for books. I'd love to see authors making use of it.


debbiereedfischer said...

I agree with you on this. It IS more complicated than books and TV shows would have you believe. The reality is that even academic scholarships aren't a full ride. For private colleges, your average middle-class student has too much money to qualify for financial aid, but not enough to pay the tuition. My character in BRALESS IN WONDERLAND has to model to get extra money for tuition and expenses, because academic scholarships don't cover enough and she isn't poor enough for financial aid.

By the way, how do you have time to post this? Isn't Henry making you run in circles 24/7?

Maggie Stiefvater said...

As someone who had a weird relationship with college scholarships, I can vouch for this -- they are weird fiction worthy things.

I have to ask if you'll talk about an issue that folks are talking about a LOT on LJ blogs, vaguely related to this -- how much of a place does the college experience have in YA fiction?