It is essential to know and understand the different types of leagues and divisions in order to decide which athletic program and school will best fit your needs for the next four years of your life. So, let’s take a look.
NCAA— This is the primary collegiate association. The National Collegiate Athletics Association is subdivided into three Divisions:
NCAA Division I—This level is considered to be the highest and most competitive level of play, and is the level to pursue if your ultimate goal is to go pro. To play at this level, you will need to be an outstanding athlete, fearless, and not afraid of hard work. DI schools have the best facilities and the largest budgets. They therefore also offer the most athletic scholarships. DI schools also travel nationally to compete. Your life will be practice, train, travel and study, including on the weekends.
Sports Conferences in this division: SEC, Big 10, ACC, and Pac 12
Ivy Leagues Institutions are also DI, but they do not offer athletic scholarships. However, there is need-based financial aid as well as academic scholarships. Ivy schools require you to not only be a top athlete, but a top student as well.
Ivy League schools,: Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Columbia, Brown, Cornell, Dartmouth, and the University of Pennsylvania.
Related: school ratings
NCAA Division II—Around 300 schools make up DII sports, so it is important to research schools and narrow down your options. They are generally not as competitive as DI schools, but have a good school-sport balance. Researching a mix of schools even if they are in a different division can open your eyes to other options. Most DII athletes receive partial athletic scholarships because DII schools are on an equivalency system and their budgets are not as large as DI budgets.
NCAA Division III—DIII schools do not offer any athletic scholarships, but they can offer merit-based and need-based financial aid. The competition level is not generally as high as DI and DII programs, but you will have a balanced college experience. DIII schools are a better fit for you if you love your sport, but your primary focus is on your education. The practice seasons are shorter, allowing you to engage in college activities. You will experience a well-rounded, balanced lifestyle. Playing for a smaller school will also give you the opportunity to know your professors better.
NAIA—There are around 260 private institutions and more than 60,000 student-athletes in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics. The sports are considered to be as competitive as many DII programs. The NAIA also offers equivalency scholarships for athletes. The NAIA, being a different association, does have different rules and requirements for eligibility than the NCAA. The high level of competitiveness combined with the school-sport balance offered at NAIA schools makes them another option worth looking into.
NJCAA— Also known as JuCo, or junior college association. This is a two-year institution that some athletes look at if they need extra time to improve their skills and grow as an individual. JuCo gives athletes a chance to get a better handle on their academics and athletics. They can then confidently transfer to a four-year college. Working on your eligibility and saving money are two more good reasons to attend a junior college.
* Originally published on September 3, 2021, by Keirsten Sires