If you’re an aspiring college athlete looking for a scholarship, it is not only important to know how to get recruited and the best ways to stand out, but also which athletic association and division is the best fit for you. Each association and division has different member schools, eligibility requirements, communication protocols, and scholarship opportunities.
NCAA Division I, II, III, or NAIA?
The NCAA divides their membership colleges into three divisions:
Among the three divisions, Division I schools have the largest student bodies and generally offer the most generous scholarships. These ~350 schools have strong brands and very competitive athletic programs. Utah is home to six Division I schools: Brigham Young University, Southern Utah University, University of Utah, Utah State University, Utah Valley University, and Weber State University.
There are over 300 Division II schools in 45 states, including Hawaii, Alaska, and Puerto Rico. Teams focus on regional competition to reduce missed class time. 48% are public schools; 52% are private. The median number of undergrads enrolled is 2,540 (compared to 9,000+ for Division I). Division II offers a “partial-scholarship” model for financial aid funded through a mix of athletic scholarships, merit-aid, and need-based grants. Westminster College and Dixie State University are the Division II schools in Utah.
Focused on academic success integrated with competitive athletics and non-athletics opportunities Division III is the largest division with ~440 colleges and universities. On average, 1 in 6 students is an athlete at Division III schools! Most of the schools are private (80%) and median enrollment is ~1,750. Tuition costs are often higher, and while are no athletic scholarships students may find they receive more financial aid through merit-aid and need-based grants. There are no Division III schools in Utah and only 35 schools in the Western region including Claremont McKenna, Pomona-Pitzer, Whittier, Occidental, and Colorado College.
As an alternative to the NCAA, 249 colleges are part of the NAIA (National Association Intercollegiate Athletics). Soka University, Evergreen State College, California State University – Maritime, and Carroll College are examples of NAIA schools. There are no NAIA schools in Utah. Schools tend to be smaller and the academic eligibility requirements are not as stringent.
Eligibility Requirements and Certification
Student-athletes must meet eligibility requirements and be certified for NAIA and NCAA Division I and II schools. Prospective NCAA students should start the certification process in their sophomore year by registering at the NCAA Eligibility Center. Prospective NAIA students can register at playnaia.org.
ACT or SAT test scores play an important role in the certification. Students must send test scores directly to the NCAA by specifying code 9999, or NAIA by specifying 9876 . Test scores on transcripts will NOT be used in academic certification.
For NCAA, an ACT sum score is calculated by adding English, math, reading and science subscores. If a student takes either test more than once, the best subscores from each test are used for the academic certification process. The minimum score is on a sliding scale based on your GPA. The higher your GPA, the lower the ACT sum score required.
For example, in Division 1, a student with a 3.475 GPA needs a ACT sum of 40 whereas a student with a 2.6 GPA would need to score a 64. You can take the test multiple times and the NCAA will “super score” the results: they take the highest score from each test section.
For NCAA Division III, each college determines the admission standards. If students are interested in Division III or are not sure where they want to compete, they should still create a profile page at the NCAA Eligibility Center.
To learn more about these associations and member schools, visit and explore their websites and the websites of colleges that peak your interest. Sports should only be one part of your college choice process – be sure to seriously consider other characteristics of a college such as location, size, school spirit, academic programs, etc…
Need More Help?
If you still have questions or are looking for more practice, Breakaway Prep Park City can help in a couple of different ways:
Creating a Balanced College List: Thinking about and planning for your college future is serious business, but that doesn’t mean it needs to be intimidating. Breakaway Prep Park City can help you put together a balanced college list that takes into consideration your interests, attitudes, and abilities. Contact us to learn more.
One-on-One Test Prep Tutoring: One-on-one we can work at the student's pace, customizing the approach and materials to match the student's strengths and challenges. No need to commit to a certain number of sessions or schedule. Most students find they get the best results by starting test prep 10-12 weeks before the test working a combined 3 hours a week (tutoring and homework.)