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What are NCAA Divisions? Division 1,2, & 3 Explained

The NCAA created three divisions in 1973, to provide fair opportunities for students to compete in athletics throughout North America. Currently, there are 1,268 institutions providing almost 500,000 student-athletes these opportunities. Attending any of these colleges or universities is considered an honor, but how do you know which is right for you? Although the divisions all abide by NCAA regulations, they each provide their own unique college option for student athletes.



Division I schools are considered the highest level of sports

competition. There is an average of 18 sports in competition at Division I schools. Typically, these schools have high enrollment rates, large campuses, national/regional prestige, and sports generate a considerable amount of revenue for the school. Most students aspire to attend a Division I school, for both athletics & academic purposes.


Division I athletes have to meet NCAA eligibility requirements to participate in collegiate sporting events. Once on campus, the athlete will most likely dedicate the next 4 to 5 years of their life to their sport. This is not a lifestyle for the weak-minded, as the typical athlete will spend more than 85 hours a week attending classes & participating in sports related training. Athletes will have a much different college experience than their classmates, as they will often be separated from the general population due to their sport demands.


Division I schools are currently providing athletics aid to 59% of competing student-athletes. In addition to Division II, there are over 3 billion dollars in sports scholarships being received annually. As great as those statistics sound, prospective student-athletes should be realistic about their aspirations. Only 2% of High School students receive some type of athletics aid. Once in college, 2% of college students will play professional sports. Almost half a million students will be professionals in areas outside of sports. Athletic aid is a great opportunity, but being realistic of athletic ability and aligning that with educational goals will ensure a positive college experience.



Division II schools can be as competitive as Division I schools, but typically have a smaller amount of student-athlete participation. There is an average of 15 sports in competition at Division II schools. These schools can be similar to Division I schools regarding enrollment, regional prestige, and having sports generate revenue for the school. The majority of students who attend Division II schools are looking for a different type of athletic & academic institution, unique to their own preferences.


Division II athletes have to meet NCAA eligibility requirements to participate in collegiate sporting events. Similar to Division I schools, sports will demand a large portion of the athlete’s time and resources. Athletes will often be separated from their college peers for sports related events, but the overall college experience is not as intense as attending a Division I school. Campuses are typically smaller, creating a more personal vibe for student-athletes among their classmates.

Competition in Division II schools is very high, with most sports competing against Division I schools annually. In some sports, Division II athletes take a path into professional sports. Unlike Division I sports, most athletes have roster security once they make the team.


Division II schools are currently providing athletics aid to 62% of competing student-athletes. These schools offer athletic scholarships, but have fewer available than Division I schools. Full athletic scholarships are more often found in Division I, while most Division II athletes receive partial athletic scholarships.



Division III schools compete on a more regional basis than Division I & Division II schools. Division III schools have an average of 18 sports in competition annually. More students are involved with athletics in Division III schools, which is why their 191,000 athletes accounts for the highest average percentage of students participating in sports.


Division III athletes do not have to meet NCAA eligibility requirements to participate in collegiate sporting events. Each school has its own eligibility requirements for student-athletes. Athletic scholarships are not available at Division III schools, so Academics take precedence on campus. This leads student-athletes to have a much more well-balanced college experience. Division II athletes often feel more included in their college community than their counterparts in Division I & Division II.

Competition in Division III sports is designed for students who want to continue their athletic careers after High School. These schools offer unique experiences for their athletes and students, such as study abroad & international matches. With the emphasis on creating a meaningful college experience, Division III schools provide their students with unique competition opportunities.


80% of Division III athletes receive non-athletics aid (academic scholarships, grants, or need-based scholarships), since athletic scholarships are not available.



NCAA sports are not the only option for college athletes. NAIA or NJCAA are great alternatives for athletes wanting to continue their career after High School.

NAIA (National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics)

The NAIA has more than 275 schools, where over 75,000 student-athletes compete in sporting events. NAIA athletes must meet their individual school’s eligibility requirements, and register with the NAIA Clearinghouse to participate in sporting events.

The college experience of a NAIA student-athlete is similar to that of Division III schools. Sports & academics are more evenly distributed, with NAIA schools giving out $800 million a year in athletics scholarships. NAIA competition level often compares with Division III. The use of athletic scholarships allows some of the best schools to recruit aggressively and resemble Division II schools in terms of competition.

NJCAA (National Junior College Athletic Association)

Junior Colleges are another alternative to either NCAA or NAIA schools. Competition levels vary, but these schools can oftentimes be used as a way onto a 4 year school’s roster. Financially, Junior colleges offer various financial aid possibilities that could prevent a student-athlete from having to pay for an expensive 4 year school to obtain their educational degree. If being closer to home, testing what college is like, or just wanting to further your athletic career fit the athlete’s preference, NJCAA schools are a viable option.



If you are a student-athlete, you should be realistic about your athletic abilities, your athletic goals, and your willingness to compete in your sport. If you want to go pro, maybe you should attend a Division I school and find out how you measure up against the top athletes in North America. If you are not being recruited by Division I schools, but Division II teams are interested, it might be best that you attend a Division II school and have a chance to compete. Not everyone is a Division I athlete with pro potential, but don’t let that stop you from competing at the level you are most suited.

If you just want to continue your athletic career, Division III is a great way to experience college and play sports. If your situation needs to be tailored more to your life preferences, NAIA or Junior college sports are great alternatives.

No matter the level, everyone has the opportunity to play sports in college, but it’s up to the student-athlete to decide which situation works for them. Knowing what to expect from the various levels will help you make an informed decision about your collegiate sports goals.


Now that you are familiar with the different NCAA divisions, you should Schedule a Free Assessment to begin your recruiting process.

If you have already begun the recruiting process, be sure to increase your efforts through Recruitment Services.


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