Where do I start?
Start by registering with the NCAA eligibility center. Although there is no deadline, the NCAA recommends that you register early--by the start of your junior year. And be sure to update your participation information regularly. For specific information on eligibility requirements refer to the college-bound student-athlete guide available at NCAA.org.
Your second priority is to make sure you are taking the right steps and following all the rules outlined by the NCAA. Familiarize yourself with the academic and amateurism requirements in the college bound student athlete guide, and be sure that you are on track to meeting them. Academic refers to your grades, GPA, test scores and core classes. Amateurism refers to your status as an amateur versus any interaction you have had on the professional level.
Keep in mind that athletic scholarships are awarded through the colleges, not through the NCAA. Once you have chosen a handful of schools that you are interested in, you should find out what the individual schools' requirements and application procedures are in addition to the requirements outlined by the NCAA.
Notice that requirements are different for division I and division II schools: division III schools do not offer athletic scholarships so check with the institution you plan to attend.
How do I choose between Division I, II or III schools?
You should evaluate your talent honestly and select a number of schools that suit your athletic ability and that interest you academically. Make a list of schools that include dream colleges, realistic options and fallback schools.
Can I get a scholarship if I am attending a Division III school?
Since division III schools do not offer athletic scholarships, you don't have to register with the eligibility center. If you are interested in a division III school, you should contact the coach and the institution to find out what their requirements are.
Although division III schools do not offer athletic scholarships, they will most likely help you find funding from other sources if they really want you to play for their school. The better your grades and test scores, the more money you will likely receive.
How can I get my hands on some of those unclaimed scholarships that people are talking about?
"There is the perennial rumor that 'millions of dollars go unclaimed each year' but that is usually unfounded and pertains to non-athletic scholarships that might have very specific criteria," says Sue Biemeret, a college consultant at Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire, Illinois.
For example, there are scholarships for students with a particular surname; if no one applies to that college with that surname, the scholarship may go unused that year.
That said, there are scholarships out there that are not well-known. Some sports are less popular and less competitive than others. If you play two sports--or think you could pick up a less popular sport--start thinking about which one will more likely put you through college. It might be easier to get a scholarship for rowing or golf than for soccer.
Sara Allen played both soccer and lacrosse in high school. During her freshman year, she realized that there was more of a demand for female lacrosse players then for soccer players at the college level. She continued to play both sports in high school but focused her recruiting and scholarship efforts towards lacrosse. It paid off. She received a full ride to The University of Richmond in Virginia.
Women's sports that are defined by the NCAA as emerging sports are intended to provide additional athletic opportunities to female student-athletes. They are new and therefore less popular. Emerging fall sports for women include archery, badminton, equestrian, rugby, squash, synchronized swimming and team handball.