The Pros and Cons of “Walking On” in College Sports

If you’ve seen the motion picture Rudy, keep reading.

If you haven’t, get off the Internet and go rent it. Go ahead, we’ll wait.

Everyone up to speed now? Good. Welcome to “Walk-on College Athletes 101.” We’re here to erase some myths that are out there about walk-on athletes, and walk-on opportunities at the college level. Class is in session.

I know, I know….you’re a star in high school. You’re all-league, all-this, all-that, most-likely-to-be-the-next-Michael-Jordan. You don’t really have time to think about what many high school athletes consider to be right up there with going to the prom with your cousin. That’s right, the dreaded invitation to be a “walk-on college athlete.” No scholarship money, no free books, no interviews with ESPN. They want you to come to practice and prove that you belong on the team.

Should you consider that kind of opportunity? Well, lets go back and use Rudy as our model for walk-on athletes, and I think you’ll find that walk-on opportunities may be a viable option for continuing your athletic career at the college level.

Rudy had no other options.

He wasn’t recruited, he wasn’t a star. He was a good high school athlete who loved sports, and wanted to continue his athletic career. When the options you thought would be there for you dry-up all of a sudden, pursuing a walk-on opportunity with a college program can breathe life back into a dying athletic career.

Rudy wanted to play.

He loved the game. He had determination, drive and the desire to improve his game. Being a walk-on athlete is the harder road to take, no question about it. Do you want it bad enough? Are willing to work hard and prove your worth to a college coach? Don’t be scared, get out there and play the sport you love!

Rudy believed he belonged.

Like I said, being a walk-on athlete isn’t easy. But, Rudy truly believed he belonged on the Notre Dame football team. And, it turns out, he did. If you don’t believe in yourself and your abilities, then don’t waste your time pursuing college athletics. Someone needs to believe in your abilities, and that someone is you!

Rudy put his education first.

Since he wasn’t in line for the Heismann Trophy, Rudy got serious and hit the books. The result? A college education. Remember, no matter how good of an athlete you are, your education should be your top priority in college. Your chances of playing professional athletics after college are miniscule. Don’t waste the chance to be a part of a rewarding experience in college.

Rudy played by the rules.

He accepted what was offered at Notre Dame. Realize that many college programs – tennis, softball, golf, and others – don’t offer incoming freshmen scholarship money. Many coaches want to have incoming freshmen prove their worth, make the team and will then offer a scholarship during their sophomore year and beyond. If you are interested in a particular program at a certain school, find out what their scholarship policy will be.

Rudy wanted the challenge.

Like Rudy, some athletes that our national organization work with turn down a scholarship offer at one school to accept a walk-on opportunity at another school. Why? The challenge! One athlete I can think of turned down a $15,000 per year scholarship at a Division II school to walk-on at a Division I school. He wanted the challenge of a high profile program. Today, he has just finished his junior football season, has a full scholarship and is vying for the starting quarterback position on next year’s team. Don’t back away from the challenge if it’s what you really want to pursue!

A couple of other thoughts, class. First, remember that there are lots of talented athletes out there that are competing for the same scholarships you are hoping to receive. You may need to walk-on at a college to get the opportunity you desire. Secondly, don’t look past some of the same benefits that walk-on athletes enjoy, the same as full scholarship athletes: First choice of classes, preferred housing, and more. Finally, being a walk-on athlete doesn’t mean you can’t be the star! If you commit yourself to your athletic and academic career at the college level, and get the chance to show a coach your talent, anything can happen!

Need some homework? I recommend that you start contacting coaches at the colleges you might be interested in pursuing and find out what opportunities exist at those schools. Find out what their walk-on policy is, and find out how they award scholarships to athletes. Doing this will answer a lot of questions you might have as to what your future holds, and will allow you to approach the final months of your high school career with an eye towards college athletic opportunities.

Class dismissed!

Mark Wienner is President of Recruit, Inc., the nation’s premier source for recruiting information and resources for high school athletes and college coaches. 1-888-284-9227 or visit them on the internet at


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