One of the most difficult topics to discuss when going through the college recruiting process is that of scholarships. It is awkward to discuss money in general, and even more so for a teen to ask an adult coach about it. Coaches are well aware of the high cost of attending college these days, but vary greatly in terms of their approach to discussing it with potential recruits.

There are many different types of scholarships including athletic, academic, leadership and service, and need-based so don’t focus only on discussing athletic scholarships. Availability of scholarships varies by college and depends on the school’s Division. NCAA Divisions, NJCAA and NAIA have different rules regarding scholarships.

Many coaches prefer to wait to discuss money until an official or unofficial visit has occurred. This lets them gauge the swimmer’s interest and to see if they would be a good fit for the team. Some bring it up when scheduling visits with a swimmer. In any case, don’t ask about scholarships until a rapport has been established, preferably over the phone, but at least via email.

The best approach is to be upfront about it if finances could be an obstacle to your swimmer attending that particular college. There is no point in a swimmer accepting an invitation for an official or unofficial visit to a school if he won’t be able to attend. He should phrase his question tactfully and let the coach know this. I provide College Swimming Guide members with lists of questions to ask coaches and suggestions of ways to word some of the more important conversations like scholarships since it’s best to have a plan for this before getting to that conversation.

The coach may not have a specific answer off the top of his head, especially if it’s a newer assistant coach, so he may have to look into it before giving specifics. Some coaches can ask for an early read from both Admissions and Financial Aid on an athlete to be sure the student will be admitted and to see if they are likely to qualify for any scholarships. At some schools, coaches are limited as to how many they can ask for each year. Whether this is the case or not, a coach certainly won’t want to ask for a pre-read on every swimmer he communicates with or he will quickly wear out his welcome in the Admissions Department!

College Swimming Guide members have access to a Directory of College Swim Programs which includes input from college swim coaches. I communicated with coaches all over the country and asked them fifteen different questions ranging from what they are looking for in a swimmer to their typical practice schedule to when they prefer for potential recruits to bring up the topic of scholarships. Their answers vary on many of the questions, but have been consistent with regard to scholarships – they want to know that a swimmer is sincerely interested in their program before discussing scholarships.

Just like your swimmer only wants to spend time talking to coaches who are truly interested in them, coaches want to focus their time and energy on swimmers who are likely to attend their school. There is no point in a coach or swimmer wasting each other’s time if it is doubtful that the swimmer will be accepted or if the swimmer can’t afford to attend the school.

Coaches will usually try to find as many sources of scholarships within the school as they can if they are really interested in a swimmer. The amount of money available varies between schools and even year to year.

Swimmers are likely to be nervous when broaching the topic of money with a coach so it’s a good idea to role play the conversation with them so they are prepared. Once they have had the conversation a couple of times, they will feel more at ease. As long as they ask politely and have a rapport with the coach they are talking to, the conversation should go smoothly.


Michelle Lombana is committed to helping parents like her whose children want to swim in college.  When she’s not researching scholarships for swimmers, she can be found at


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