Difference in College Sports Division Levels
Are you ready to start narrowing down your list of top schools? Maybe you’re wondering, where or how do I begin my search? With over 350 Division 1 schools, 300 Division 2 schools, and 440 Division 3 schools, there’s a lot to consider – and that’s just the NCAA divisions! There’s also the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) and many options at the junior college level. Finding the right college fit, or division level, can be a challenging process for high school athletes and their families, but it doesn’t have to be a stressful one.
There are many similarities across division levels, but you’ll find each college option is somewhat unique. First, you’ll want to determine your level of interest, talent and expectations surrounding college athletics. This will come in handy as you compare the various divisions available to compete in. Check out some of the best ways athletes can evaluate their true athletic talent as they begin their college search.
- Watch college games at every division level. Ask yourself, can I compete with these athletes today?
- Review rosters of schools at different division levels. There’s a lot of helpful information you can get from rosters including, athlete’s height/weight in your position, high school accolades and stats.
- Get evaluated by a third party to get an expert’s opinion on your level of talent. NCSA provides evaluations for athletes in 31 different sports.
- Compete against elite athletes. Join a club team and attend camps, showcases or combines for the opportunity to play against the best high school athletes in your area.
While it’s tough to predict what level you’ll be at in three, two or even one year, there are plenty of ways to figure out where you stand athletically, academically and socially. Learn more about each division below to find out which level is right for you.
- NCAA Division 1. The highest level of college athletics and most competitive. Less than 2% of high school athletes play at this level. D1 schools offer partial or full scholarships, typically have large budgets, expensive facilities, and the student-athletes are expected to train and travel extensively. The D1 athlete is truly dedicated to their sport for the next four years.
- NCAA Division 2. D2 athletes experience a high level of competition and a more balanced approach to their academic, athletic and social lives. D2 schools tend to be a mix of private and public institutions that are smaller to mid-sized. Scholarships are offered at this level.
- NCAA Division 3—No athletic scholarships are offered for D3 student-athletes, but there are many other forms of financial aid. The competition levels are still very high, but practice seasons are shorter, and there’s more of an academic focus. Athletes get a well-rounded college experience.
- NAIA. Much smaller community than the NCAA with a little over 250 schools. NAIA is a great option for athletes who love their sport but are looking for a smaller or private college, or a specific major.
- NJCAA—Junior college, or JUCO, gives student-athletes a sense of what college athletics are like at a two-year institution before transferring to a four-year college. Athletes competing at the JUCO level can improve in their sport, work on their NCAA eligibility or save money before transferring to a four-year college.
Now that you have a better understanding of the different sports division levels that are available for you to compete in, what other factors play a role in finding a school that is best for you?
Finding your college match is about where you fit academically, athletically, financially and socially. Keep these factors in mind as you build your target list of schools, visit campuses and do your research.