The Walk-On Guide for College Athletes
What is a walk-on?
A walk-on is a rostered player who does not receive an athletic scholarship freshman year. They may or may not receive one later.
What is a recruited/preferred walk-on?
Recruited/preferred walk-on is a commonly used term to decide an athlete who is recruited by a college coach but is not offered an athletic scholarship for freshman year. These athletes typically have a lot of communication with the coaching staff and are usually offered a roster spot before tryouts.
Can a walk-on sign the National Letter of Intent?
No, a walk-on cannot sign the National Letter of Intent.
Should I accept an offer to walk on at my favorite school?
This is a very personal decision. Walking on has risks. You may not actually make the team and even if you do, you may not receive all the same attention and privileges as your teammates. It is important that you ask a lot of questions and know exactly where you stand so you can make an educated decision.
Walking on can go either way – you have probably heard stories of walk-ons in football who ended up as “tackling dummies” for the starters. On the other hand, there are also plenty of athletes who join the team as a walk on, make a name for themselves and even become stars.
Ultimately, you have to decide whether attending the school of your choice is worth the risk of potentially not receiving a scholarship. Even if the coach promises you a scholarship down the road, anything could happen in the meantime: an elite recruit at your position could join the team, the coaching staff could change, or you could be injured.
What questions should I ask coaches if I am considering walking-on?
- Am I a preferred or recruited walk-on?
- How many walk-ons do you take per year on average?
- How many have been invited to walk on?
- How many walk-ons do you plan on taking this year?
- How often do your walk-ons actually see playing time?
- Will you guarantee that I will earn a roster spot?
- Is there potential for me to earn a scholarship in the future? If so, what will this be based on and can you put it in writing? (Having this in writing is good, but it still lacks the binding nature of an NLI – it’s just the coach’s word)
- Will I have access to the academic support systems available for scholarship athletes, such as tutors, preferential course registration, etc.?
- Will I receive the same equipment, clothing and access to the training table as scholarship athletes?
- Do I report to campus at the same time as the scholarship athletes?
In the right circumstances, walking on can be a great choice. Weigh all your options carefully and don’t play the “name game” – remember that 80% of college opportunities are outside of the Division I FBS programs, including at excellent schools like Williams College, Harvard and the University of Chicago.
If you have more questions about walking on or recruiting, call 866-495-7727 to talk to a college scout, get your questions answered, and start building your game plan. Not ready to be scouted? Click here to build a free recruiting profile.
Would you take the scholarship and playing time at a smaller school, or try to walk on at a “big name” school? Tell us in the comments!