ROCKFORD, Mich. (WZZM) -- For most parents, the hope of their child getting a full ride scholarship to play a sport in college is just a dream. But if your child chooses the right sport or has a unique talent, universities may be willing to pay.
Strong academics and a high ACT score are the core to even be considered for a scholarship. But some sports give you better odds than others at earning college cash. And for non-athletes, taking an interest one step further can really pay off.
AJ Varekois has been playing golf every day since the age of 12. He devotes 80 hours a week to the sport and plays in all weather conditions until there's snow on the ground. His training includes private lessons and competition in national tournaments.
AJ has his eye on a dream, "Scoring a scholarship," he said. But only one percent of high school athletes actually land full ride scholarships.
AJ is competing against 3,000 other Division I golfers for financial aid, but for boys, football and hockey present the best chance of getting a scholarship, according to data provided to WZZM 13 by the NCAA. Wrestling had the worst scholarship chances.
For girls, golf and hockey is their best shot; cross country and track the most competitive.
But what if you focus on a lesser known sport, like fencing? Desree Ortega-Furgeson of Catholic Central became the best in Michigan and is now on scholarship at Penn State. She is just one of 387 Division I athletes.
There's a world of unique scholarship opportunities outside athletics. Rockford Schools counselor Sarah Young has the task of finding talented students and encouraging them to apply.
"I don't think as many kids are applying for scholarships as they could," said Young. She helped a few Rockford students get offers for their proficiency in Chinese.
Some scholarships are very specific, for instance, Calvin College offers aid just for being a twin, if both siblings go. But true full ride scholarships are rare. You'll likely need to excel in a few areas like water polo, swimming, or concert and marching band.
Rockford High School graduate Ashley Gremel was awarded the Morehead Cain, similar to a Rhodes scholarship. It's valued at $140,000.
So what made Ashley stand out? "I started a non-profit organization that was focused around knitting mittens and hats and scarves for the homeless."
Ashley's advice: focus, on your talent or passion. "Use that in the community and not thinking short-term how it's going to pay off."
In the end, universities offer scholarships to students they hope will go on to succeed in their field-- on the field by turning pro or make a difference.
Schools offer scholarships to students they believe will find success in their chosen fields, fields they found by following their passion.
Here's a look at how many Division I athletes are on scholarship at the major universities across Michigan: AJ will join about 650 other Michigan State University athletes with partial or full scholarships. The University of Michigan has 523.
How much is that worth? At MSU for example, four years of tuition, books, and room and board will cost a full-time student $87,000. At U-M it's valued at $100,000. Calvin College is $150,000 and offers only one full tuition scholarship.
Financial aid usually brings those numbers down, but one last piece of advice: it's important to remember there are many scholarships outside of colleges, so prospective students are encouraged to ask counselors about those opportunities.