The term "walk-on" generally refers to someone who has not been awarded an athletic scholarship but will be competing for a spot on the team.
A common misconception of walk-ons is that they have not been recruited.
In fact today most walk-on's have had some communication with a coach or have even been heavily recruited by a school.
The 3 Types of Walk-ons
1. Preferred Walk-On
A spot that on the team that is reserved for a student-athlete without scholarship is a preferred walk-on. Preferred walk-on spots are very important in headcount sports (NCAA FBS Football, Basketball, Women's Tennis, and Women's Volleyball) because scholarships must be given out in full to athletes.
The maximum headcount scholarships per team are less than the roster size. Leaving coaches no choice but to fill remaining roster spots with walk-ons.
2. Recruited Walk-On
An athlete that has been recruited and asked to try out for the team without a scholarship is considered a Recruited Walk-On.
An athlete that has built a relationship with a coach and has agreed to let them tryout or join the team with no scholarship.
Today it is not possible to just show up to a college practice and be asked to join. Walk-ons need to have a relationship with the coach to be given an opportunity. Many sports offer open tryouts at the start of the year to students that are enrolled in the school.
The Truth About Walk-Ons:
Walk-ons are a vital part of college athletics. 46% of NCAA DI athletes and 36% of DII athletes are walk-ons.
Most scholarships are year to year contracts. Just because you are a walk-on one year does not mean you can't receive a scholarship in the future.
How To Become a Walk-On:
In order to be a walk on you need to be involved in a recruiting process. Building a relationship with a coach is very important. Coaches rely on walk-on's and will turn to those they have built relationships with first. Focus on academics, make sure you are enrolled in the school you are trying out for. Maintaining a high GPA is important as it will keep you eligible for competition. The fewer roadblocks for a coach the easier it will be for you to fill a roster spot.
Being a walk-on not guaranteed, but neither is a scholarship. Make sure you will be content to stay at the campus if you have failed to make the team. Opportunities will arrive for roster spots if you want to pursue a walk-on spot make sure you are fully prepared for those opportunities.