soccer, sport, AthleteThe fame and fortune of being a professional athlete can be very attractive to a young athlete who is trying to figure out what to do with their life. What’s better than taking something that you’re really good at and making a career of it? But be aware of the facts. The number of high school athletes who actually go on to play college and pro sports is extremely low, and that’s putting it mildly.

The stark reality is that most high school athletes never play collegiate sports of any kind at any level. And only about two percent of high school athletes are awarded athletic scholarships to compete in college. So what’s the probability you’ll play college or pro sports? The NCAA annually updates this information (last updated in 2019)

  Men’s Basketball Women’s Basketball Football Baseball Men’s Ice Hockey Men’s Soccer
High School to College (NCAA) 3.4% 4.0% 7.1% 7.3% 12.1% 5.5%
NCAA to Pro 1.2% 0.9% 1.6% 9.8% 6.9% 1.4%


If you seek to be one of the few who “make it,” what should you be doing to increase your chances, and how should you plan for the future?

Ask yourself these questions. You’re in high school and you dream of playing your sport in college and at the professional level. How have you been preparing? Have you been conditioning outside your regular season? What position(s) have you been focused on? Have your skills been improving? Do you meet grade requirements at your school in order to be eligible?

Get registered. As a junior or senior in high school, you must register with the NCAA eligibility center and work on getting recruited to a college. Identify requirements to get into your desired college division: NCAA, NAIA, NJCAA. Proposition 48 is an NCAA regulation that specifies minimum courses, grade, and standardized test score requirements. If you do not meet requirements, you may still be able to go to that college (depending on admissions standards), and then try out for the team once you’ve met requirements. When you take the ACT or SAT, include the college division as a recipient of your scores. The NCAA code is 9999. The NAIA code is 9876.

Focus on school.  If you get to your dream college, you have to take so many classes and get certain grades in order to be eligible to play sports. What are you going to study? You love your sport, so you might consider areas related to that; perhaps athletic training, coaching, or see this article about career options with a sports management degree.

Get noticed. Now, to your sport: Let’s say you play as a starter most of college. A college degree is not required to play professional sports; however, in order to get noticed, athletes typically must play in a high-profile college program. So staying in college and earning your degree is a good decision so you can get noticed.

Have a Plan B. On the other hand, maybe the first year you are not playing a lot because you are third string, behind the top athletes. You must be talented, healthy, eligible (translation = good grades and enough credits), and a hard worker. You are frustrated that you aren’t playing in competition, but you are getting better because you study your game and position and pay attention to the details, like improving your footwork. Your sophomore year you are healthy, eligible, and getting better. And after two years, you’ve got a good start on your degree. But what happens if you get seriously injured and have to sit out your junior year? And you never fully recover? Will you be happy with focusing on your major as you plan for your career?

Knowing the reality of how many people actually get to play athletics professionally will help you make career decisions. And for more information regarding the truth of athletic scholarships, see Top Myths about Athletic Scholarships.