So They Wanna Play in College?

For many young adults in the US, athletics are the cornerstone of the high school experience. Daily practices and weekly games govern the calendar, and pep rallies on Fridays raise school spirit. Beyond that, student-athletes learn important life-lessons involving teamwork, time-management, and perseverance. Sports can also serve a source of motivation; many students report that sports are what keeps them in school. Many teens have played their sport for a number of years, and have invested countless hours honing their skills at the JV, Varsity, or even Club level. As parents, you may not be surprised when your teenager isn’t quite ready to hand in the soccer cleats and call it quits at the end of Senior year. In fact, it makes sense for them to continue playing the sport they love in college too, right? After all, there might be money on the line – your child could get recruited for a full-ride on a Div. I team.

Before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s consider the many options.

First of all, it is important to consider that there are three main governing bodies of collegiate athletics – the NCAA, the NAIA, and the NJCAA. The NCAA, the National Collegiate Athletic Association, governs about 1200 schools. Athletic scholarships are only available for those on Division I and II. The NAIA, or National Association of Intercollegiate Athletes, governs just over 60,000 students, and is mainly made up of private universities, which tend to be smaller in comparison with the NCAA. Finally, the NJCAA, or National Junior College Athletic Association is comprised of about 520 2-year community colleges.

When people think of collegiate athletics, they normally think of the NCAA, Division I. However, if you only fixate on this option for your son or daughter, you may find that you are limiting their options.  While it is true that most full-ride offers are granted from Div. I, it is also true that there is considerable competition to attain such a scholarship. Players are recruited from all over the nation – and the world. Also, Division I schools tend to be larger, more selective universities. Many of the universities at Division I include very large public universities, with large classes. If your child is not one who is able to advocate for him or herself, she may find herself lost in shuffle. Playing on scholarship for a Division I team is a tremendous commitment, tantamount to working a demanding full-time job, while still maintaining solid grades in college. A survey by the NCAA found that football required 43.3 hours per week; college baseball, 42.1 hours; men’s basketball, 39.2 hours; and women’s basketball, 37.6 hours (O’Shaughnessy).

The NCAA doesn’t end with Division I – there are excellent schools at Division II and III as well. In fact, some Division II schools do grant athletic scholarships – maybe not full-rides, but let’s keep in mind that full-ride scholarships are few and far between. According to Lynn O’Shaughnessy, a reporter with Moneywatch, only 2% of athletes earn athletic scholarships from the NCAA every year. For those who do, the awards can be “dinky”; the average scholarship is $11,000 per year. Finally, let’s consider Division III. While it is true that Div. III schools do not offer athletic scholarships, an astounding 75% of students will qualify for merit academic-based aid, or needs-based aid, not tied to their sport (NCAA Recruiting Facts).

Universities within the NAIA are certainly worth considering. Student athletes can earn scholarship money at the NAIA level Division I level, with an average of $6,000 per year (NCAA, NAIA, NJCAA: What’s the Difference?). Unlike some of the larger universities at the NCAA Div. I level, many schools in the NAIA are smaller, and they are private. Classes are likely to be smaller, and they are usually taught by professors.

Finally, NJCAA offers a great deal of flexibility for students. Classes at community colleges are often quite small, and there are many choices as far as programs of study, including trades. Unlike the NCAA and NAIA, there are no academic requirements for those entering community colleges. For those who failed to qualify academically for the NCAA or NAIA schools, the NJCAA can be a stepping stone; students can transfer to more competitive universities, depending upon their grades.

Eligibility Requirements for Student Athletes

Whether your student-athlete is playing at the Division I level on full scholarship, the Division II level of NAIA, or at the NJCAA level, there are eligibility requirements for all athletes. Generally speaking, eligibility for the NCAA, especially Division I, are the most stringent, hinging on course work (including 16 core courses), GPA, and test scores. Students must apply with the NCAA Eligibility Center, and send their test scores and official transcripts to the NCAA. Once an athlete is playing at the college level, academic requirements continue; students must maintain full-time status, and keep their grades up. The NAIA also requires a full slate of high school coursework, as well as GPA and standardized test score requirements. For more information, read the information on the links below carefully. As for the NJCAA, high school athletes must obtain a high school diploma prior to moving on the community college level, and once they are playing at a JC, they must take no less than 9 credit hours.

Because eligibility requirements change often, it is vital to have current information. Please visit the following links for the most up-to-date information regarding eligibility:



Think Best Fit First

With so many options to consider, how should families of student-athletes proceed? My advice is to look for best fit. When I say best fit, I don’t mean best coach, or team. After all, coaches come and go. Successes and rosters of teams do as well. Instead, go back to the drawing board and consider: what kind of student is your child? Would he do best at a large, competitive university, or a smaller one, where he is likely to form relationships with professors? Does your child know what she wants to major in? What is that program like at your prospective school – or is it even offered? Finally, how do your child’s grades and test scores match up with the rest of the student body? Even if there have been a flurry of emails from coaches, take them with a grain of salt. Often, coaches send out mass emails to many prospective students – without having any knowledge that the student has a shot at being admitted. If there is a large disparity between your child’s skills and those of other incoming freshman, that should be a red flag. While there are some cases in which star athletes are afforded a “bump” in terms of admissions, it is not the norm. As parent, it is vital to consider where your child will “fit” best – academically, socially, and perhaps lastly, athletically.



NCAA Recruiting Facts. NCAA. July, 2016.

NCAA, NAIA, NJCAA: What’s the Difference? United Sports, USA. 1 Oct. 2015.

O’Shaughnessy, Lynn. “8 Things You Should Know about Sports Scholarships.”  Moneywatch. 20 Sept. 2012.

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