ATHLETIC SCHOLARSHIPS are rare. Only about 1% to 2% of undergraduate students in bachelor’s degree programs receive sports scholarships, says Kathryn Randolph, associate content editor at Fastweb, an online scholarship matching and search service.

According to the National Collegiate Athletic Association, more than 150,000 student-athletes receive around $2.9 billion in athletic scholarships in Divisions I and II each year.

For those who do receive sports scholarships, the funds can play a big role in helping families pay for college. Bruce Mesa Sr. knew a football scholarship could be a possibility when recruiters started visiting to see his son play as a junior at Catholic Memorial High School in Waukesha, Wisconsin. An offensive lineman, Bruce Mesa Jr. was one of the few in the school’s history to play all four years on the varsity team.

Mesa Sr. knew his son wasn’t going to play for a NCAA Division I school – at 6 feet, 2 inches tall, Mesa Jr. didn’t have the height. But by focusing on smaller colleges, Mesa Jr. received some generous scholarship offers.

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