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Men’s Water Polo Scholarships

NCAA Division 1 and 2 programs are allowed to offer no more than 4.5 scholarships per team, while Ivy League institutions and Division 3 schools only offer merit-based scholarships to student-athletes who meet certain academic standards. The reality of men’s college water polo is that not all programs are fully funded, which means some have fewer than 4.5 scholarships to offer and others have no scholarships to offer at all.

Programs that do offer scholarships have to make the hard decision of how to divide the scholarship budget across the entire roster. College coaches are looking to award financial aid to talented athletes who will help push the team to the next level and, in many cases, these athletes are current roster holders, not incoming freshmen. This section breaks down the scholarship opportunities at each division level, shares tips for how to get a water polo scholarship, explains the NCAA eligibility requirements and ranks the top schools for men’s water polo scholarships.

How many scholarships are permitted per team in men’s water polo?

Division Level Number of Teams Total Athletes Average Team Size Scholarships Limit Per Team* Scholarship Limit Type**
NCAA D1 25 632 25 4.5 Equivalency
NCAA D2 8 165 21 4.5 Equivalency
NCAA D3 16 302 20 - N/A
NAIA 1 22 22 - N/A
CCCAA 34 566 17 - N/A
Totals 83 1,687 20    

*Scholarship Limits Per Team: This is the maximum number of scholarships that the NCAA allows a program to award student-athletes each year. Only fully funded Division 1 and Division 2 programs award 4.5 scholarships. The majority of water polo programs are not fully funded, so most college coaches have an even smaller scholarship budget to award student-athletes. Full-ride scholarships in water polo are extremely rare due to the lack of program funding. Ivy League schools do not offer athletic scholarships but instead award financial aid through academic scholarships.

**Equivalency Scholarship: Water polo is an NCAA equivalency sport, which means college coaches are given a pool of scholarship money based on the scholarship limit per team to divide up amongst recruits and current roster players. With only 4.5 full-ride equivalent scholarships to work with, water polo coaches typically award partial funding to multiple athletes. For example, a water polo coach could divide the equivalent of 4.5 scholarships in any portion among nine water polo players.

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How to get athletic scholarships for men’s water polo

College coaches generally award scholarship money to positions that directly impact the scoring of the game and to those who can play multiple positions on offense and defense: goalies and utility players. These positions are widely considered to be the most valuable and sought-after in college water polo, but it takes more than just playing one of these positions to earn a scholarship. NCAA Division 1 and 2 college coaches award scholarships to elite-level, all-star talent that will make an immediate impact on the team’s growth and success in their first season. 

Whether a student-athlete plays one of these positions or not, here are a few tips to better the athlete’s chances of getting an athletic scholarship. 

  1. Maintain good grades: College water polo coaches prioritize student-athletes that maintain high academic standing in high school. Student-athletes should research the academic standards at their prospective schools and focus on their NCAA academic eligibility.
  2. Do your research: Not all water polo programs offer athletic scholarships. Student-athletes should research what programs offer scholarships at the NCAA Division 1 and 2 levels, as well as the NAIA.
  3. Identify alternatives: Water polo programs have very few athletic scholarships to offer. Student-athletes should look for other forms of aid, such as merit-based scholarships, grants, work-study and other alternatives to cover college costs.

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Do D1 water polo athletes get athletic scholarships? Are there full ride water polo college scholarships?

  • D1 men’s water polo scholarships per team: 4.5
  • Total # of D1 men’s water polo teams: 25
  • Avg. team size: 25

The NCAA allows a maximum of 4.5 scholarships per Division 1 team. Due to low funding, some NCAA Division 1 water polo programs have even fewer scholarships to offer than the 4.5 maximum. While full-ride scholarships are uncommon, international athletes have the best chance of receiving full funding to compensate for the cost of relocating.

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NCAA Division 2 men’s water polo scholarships 

  • D2 water polo scholarships per team: 4.5
  • Total # of D2 water polo teams: 8
  • Avg. team size: 21

NCAA Division 2 programs are allotted the same maximum number of scholarships as Division 1 programs. Division 2 programs also face the same funding challenges as Division 1 programs, which means the number of scholarships actually available varies from program to program.

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NCAA Division 3 men’s water polo scholarships

  • D3 water polo scholarships per team: 0
  • Total # of D3 water polo teams: 16
  • Avg. team size: 20 

Division 3 institutions offer merit-based scholarships, rather than athletic scholarships, to student-athletes who meet certain academic standards. Water polo athletes who are awarded an academic scholarship at a Division 3 schools will likely receive a better financial aid package than athletes who are awarded athletic scholarships at Division 1 and 2 institutions.

Read more scholarship facts here.

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NAIA men’s water polo scholarships

  • NAIA water polo scholarships per team: 0
  • Total # of CCCAA water polo teams: 1
  • Avg. team size: 22

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CCCAA men’s water polo scholarships

  • CCCAA water polo scholarships per team: 0
  • Total # of CCCAA water polo teams: 34
  • Avg. team size: 17

While California Junior Colleges do not allow athletic programs to award scholarships, these schools generally cost less than four-year institutions. The average cost of tuition and fees at a junior college is nearly $6,000 less than that of a public four-year college.

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Men’s water polo scholarship requirements

In order to play for an NCAA sponsored program, student-athletes must meet the NCAA’s eligibility requirements to determine their academic eligibility and amateurism status. 

The below are factors in determining academic eligibility;

  • 16 core course requirements
  • Core course GPA
  • NCAA sliding scale 

The NCAA takes GPA in the 16 core courses and uses a sliding scale that combines the athlete’s SAT/ACT test scores and their GPA in these core courses. If the athlete’s GPA meets the NCAA’s core course GPA requirements, then the athlete is eligible to compete. 

View the NCAA eligibility requirements for student-athletes.

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Understanding scholarship offers and negotiating for the best offer

Water polo is not a heavily funded NCAA sponsored sport, which means scholarship budgets are small, and competition is high. Student-athletes who are not awarded a full-ride or partial scholarship can still earn a spot on the team as a preferred walk-on, recruited walk-on or unrecruited walk-on. Below we briefly describe each of these four different types of offers.

  • Full-ride scholarship offer: Water polo is an “equivalency sport,” which means college coaches are given a pool of scholarship money to divide up amongst the team. Because water polo programs are only allotted 4.5 full-scholarship equivalents, college coaches are more likely to award partial scholarships to multiple athletes, rather than a full-ride scholarship to few athletes.
  • Partial scholarship offer: Partial scholarships vary in amount and can be used to cover the cost of tuition, books, room and board and other fees. Student-athletes who receive an academic scholarship, grant and/or other forms of financial aid in addition to a partial athletic scholarship can combine their funding to cover the cost of college.
  • Recruited walk-on (preferred): College coaches who cannot offer athletic scholarships to every athlete can still offer recruits a spot on the roster as a preferred walk-on. This offer guarantees the athlete a spot on the roster but does not provide any financial funding.
  • Unrecruited walk-on: Student-athletes who are not offered a spot on the roster can still make the team as a recruited walk-on if the program hosts walk-on tryouts. Athletes must attend and impress the coach during walk-on tryouts in order to make the team.

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Best colleges with men’s water polo scholarships

Scholarship opportunities are available at every NCAA institution. Student-athletes competing at Division 1 and 2 programs are eligible for full or partial athletic scholarships, while student-athlete at Ivy League and Division 3 schools, who meet certain academic standards, are eligible for merit-based scholarships.

NCSA has created a Power Rankings report to help student-athletes and their families identify the best colleges with men’s water polo scholarships. This report analyzes a variety of factors, including academics, size, location and cost, to rank college water polo programs. Below is a list of the top 10 NCAA men’s college water polo programs:

  1. Stanford University
  2. Princeton University
  3. Harvard University
  4. University of California – Los Angeles (UCLA)
  5. University of California
  6. Brown University
  7. University of Southern California
  8. University of California – Irvine
  9. University of California – San Diego
  10. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

See a full list of the top ranked men’s college water polo programs. 

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