NCAA Division Breakdown: Student-Athlete Overview
This article was written based on the information and opinions presented by Kevin Dupont in a CollegeVine livestream. You can watch the full livestream for more info.
If you excelled at sports in high school, you might want to keep going and play on a college team. Competing in the NCAA—the organization that regulates student athletics in the United States—may be a long-standing dream of yours. Student-athletes work incredibly hard, though, so you should know what you’re getting into. This article will take you through the different NCAA divisions and what they mean for your college experience. It will also explain how the admissions process works if you want to play college sports.
NCAA Division I
NCAA Division I is the most competitive environment for college sports. Not all Division I universities—like those of the Ivy League—give scholarships, but many do. There are also more sports offered for women than for men, and some sports are given more scholarships than others.
The life of a Division I student-athlete can be tough. You have to be committed to athletics while still showing up for your schoolwork. You’ll spend a great deal of time on the road, traveling across the country for games and events. You won’t have much class time, so you’ll need to be self-disciplined to get the academic experience that you want from college.
NCAA Division II
There are many great NCAA Division II schools. Popular ones include California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo; the University of Texas at Tyler; Hawaii Pacific University; and Simon Frazier. Simon Frazier is a Canadian university in Vancouver, and it is the only international university that is sanctioned by the NCAA. If any Canadian students want to participate in NCAA athletics or any international students want to go to Canada, there’s an option for them.
Most Division II schools offer scholarships. These generally won’t cover all your tuition, like the ones offered by Division I schools, but you’ll get a bit of money. Athletics will still play a major role in your life and college career, but less so than if you were to play for a Division I school.
NCAA Division III
There are many opportunities for those who play for a Division III school. The profile of a student-athlete at the Division III level would be similar to the general admissions profile. Competing in a sport at this level will give your application a bump, albeit less so than in Division I or II. Still, playing Division III sports can be rigorous. If you’re thinking of competing in the NCAA, you need to figure out what you want out of your college experience so you can choose the right school and the right division for you.
Prospective Division I and Division II applicants will have a slightly different college admissions process than regular college applicants. The NCAA Eligibility Center will play an essential role in their journey. Students who want to be recruited should make an account and upload certain documents so their eligibility can be verified.
Amateur status is crucial. If someone is competing at the professional level, particularly in tennis, where players can often get prize money, this needs to be verified. Student-athletes who might get paid can accept prize money that covers their expenses, but nothing more.
Standardized test scores are generally required, but the COVID-19 pandemic has waived this to a certain extent. A vital part of the admissions process is the National Letter of Intent. This document is similar to an early decision agreement in that students commit to their college of choice. You need to be certain about the university that you want to attend because it’s binding. Note, however, that the NCAA does not permit Division III schools to use the National Letter of Intent or any other pre-enrollment form that is not executed by other prospective students at the school.
If a student doesn’t adhere to the National Letter of Intent stipulations and transfers from the school that they signed with, there is a one-year penalty where students can’t compete. For example, if you sign a National Letter of Intent with UCLA and then want to transfer to the University of Texas at Austin, you can’t play for the latter college for a year. There is an exception: if someone plays for a Division I school and then transfers to a Division III school, they’ll be allowed to compete for their new college.