There are over 400,000 athletes in 1,200 colleges and universities across the United States, according to the governing body of college sports, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) [link: www.ncaa.org]. If you’re a high school athlete, you are faced with the decision to play or not to play sports in college. For some, this choice is clear-cut. For others, however, it can be more complicated. There are divisions within college athletics and even more options beyond just the varsity level. We talked to collegietteTM athletes and consulted the NCAA to help break down your choices for college athletics.
Varsity Level: Divisions I, II & III
According to the NCAA Eligibility Center, each school chooses their division voluntarily based on student enrollment, financial estimates and fan support. Each division operates a little differently to give students the opportunity to find the best fit in academics and athletics.
Although it is uncommon, is it possible for a school to have sports in different divisions. For example, Johns Hopkins fields a Division I lacrosse program, while the rest of their sports compete in Division III. Most of the time, the size of the school and the facilities they have will prevent supporting separate divisions in different sports.
Division I is the most competitive of the collegiate athletic options. The majority of these schools are public universities, according to the
NCAA. Division I schools are appealing to many students because they are able to offer financial aid to athletes. Each Division I institution is required to offer a minimum amount of financial aid and scholarships to its recruits each year, while not exceeding the established cap. Scholarship awards vary by school and sport, but range from $500 to $30,000 per year, according to Athletic Scholarships. For example, there are 192 Division I schools that offer swimming scholarships to women, while only 77 Division I schools offer field hockey scholarships. In sports like these, coaches can divide the amount of scholarship money they have been allotted between as many recruits as they would like. Other sports, like volleyball, are referred to as “head-count” sports where a set amount of money (usually a full ride scholarship) is available for only a certain number of players. In Division I Volleyball, 12 scholarships are available per team.
We talked to Julia about her experience playing Division I Softball at Harvard and how she knew it was the right decision for her.
Julia’s Experience: Division I
Her Decision: Division I Softball at Harvard University
Her Background: Julia played both softball and volleyball in high school.
How She Decided: Julia says the recruiting process was very intense and included playing inshowcase tournaments, where college scouts could see her play firsthand, making a recruiting video, emailing and visiting coaches, and working hard to keep her skills sharp. The recruiting video, which compiled clips of Julia pitching, hitting and fielding, was sent to dozens of colleges where she hoped to play. “The end goal,” says Julia, “is that they are impressed with your skills through the video, then fly out to watch you play live and eventually to recruit you to play for them.” Julia says it was passion and a competitive edge that led her to Division I. “I think it was a gut feeling,” she says, “I knew it would be a large commitment to play at the D1 level, but it was something that I eventually decided would benefit my college experience and give me a chance to play a sport I love competitively.”
How She Adjusted to College Athletics: The time commitment to sports in college is much greater than in high school and extends beyond practices and games. In addition to intense workouts and practices, you really become immersed in athletics. “It has become a lifestyle rather than an extracurricular,” says Julia. As an athlete, she has become a part of a unique community at her school. “I feel connected with athletes on every team at my school through our shared commitment, competitive drive and school spirit.”
Her Advice: “Think about all the reasons you love the game. If you can't imagine your life without these aspects, then definitely play! As far as what level to play at, think about your ideal level of commitment and consider other things you want to have time for and get involved in during your college years.”