Full-ride scholarships are rare, and unless you’re one of the top players in the nation, you should expand your search to learn about every opportunity available.
Division I schools have a reputation, and it’s a good one. Televised games, sponsored gear, preferential treatment. But is it really true? Is DI really the best division out there? Let’s take a look.
Read more: The difference in the college division levels
DI IS COMPETITIVE — BUT SO ARE THE OTHER DIVISIONS
According to the NCAA, nearly eight million students currently participate in high school athletics, and only about 480,000 compete as NCAA athletes. Less than 2 percent of high school athletes (1 in 54) went on to play at NCAA DI programs for the 2016-17 school year.
However, an even smaller amount — 1.3 percent to be exact — went on to compete at the Division II level. Overall, most college athletes compete at the Division III level.
This all adds up when you look at the number of programs; across the country, there are 347 DI programs, 312 DII programs, and 442 DII programs.
But the point is that student-athletes who are unfamiliar with DII programs shouldn’t assume it’s easier to get roster spots compared to DI.
James Walton, NCSA recruiting coach and former DII college athlete, explains that there is overlap in every division.
“I would constantly see athletes with Division I ability on the football field and on the track,” he says. “Being in the conference I was in (MIAA) allowed me to compete against the best-of-the-best in Division II, and I believe that was a big factor in the success I had in my sports.”
Read more: Discover what DII athletics are really like
Another great example is the NAIA: Top conferences are usually compared to DII programs. Joe Leccesi, an NCSA Recruiting Coach, was a former coach at one the top NAIA programs and recalls beating DII programs they competed against. “The players may be an inch shorter or a step slower than DI players, but the competition is great,” he said.
DI MAY NOT BE THE BEST FOR SCHOLARSHIPS
Not only can you find competitive opportunities outside of DI, but you can also may find more scholarships. Recent data from the NCAA shows that 59 percent of DI student-athletes receive some form of athletics aid, 62 percent of DII student-athletes receive some form of athletics aid, and 80 percent of DIII student-athletes receive some form of academic grant or need-based scholarships.
Read more: Do DIII schools give scholarships to athletes?
If your main reason for competing in college sports is so you can pay less for college, then DI may not be the best division for you. Full-ride scholarships are rare and unless you’re one of the top players in the nation, you should expand your search to learn about every opportunity available.
DI IS NOT GOOD FOR ME Because of the Time Commitment
Another major difference between DI and the other divisions is the amount of free time you’ll have outside of your sport. Competing in a DI sport is considered a full-time job. From the beginning of your day to the end, your college experience will revolve around when you train. Even in the offseason, you’ll be expected to be on campus to practice. Kristin Heidloff, an NCSA Recruiting Coach and a former Division I athlete, recalled the longest winter break she ever had — five days.
So, it’s important to keep in mind that your college experience goes beyond your sport. Every division has something different to offer. DIII and NAIA programs tend to be smaller schools, while DI colleges often enroll the most students. And DII may provide you with the opportunity of playing all four years, while at a D1 program, you may be benched for the first three. Consider every factor that matters to you.
It turns out there is no universal “best” division when it comes to college athletics. Picking the school and program that matches your academic, athletic and personal preferences is what’s best for you. And you shouldn’t doubt that for a second.
Read more: How to find your best college match