Is Division I College Really The One For You?

Just about every high school athlete dreams of competing in college at the Division I level. And, while the bright lights, the nationally televised games, and the big-name gear sponsorships are attractive, the reality isn’t quite as glamorous. That’s because, out of the nearly 8 million high school athletes in the U.S., only about 1.75% (1 in 57) will go on to play at the Division I level. So, if you’re part of that 98.25% of athletes that don’t wind up in Division I, you may need to look at Division II, Division III, NAIA schools, or even junior colleges. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. 

There’s Competition At Every Level

If you feel like you have Division I caliber talent, but aren’t getting any interest from DI schools, you’re not alone. The fact is, there are plenty of DI athletes competing at Division II and III schools, as well as in the NAIA and at junior colleges. Those athletes may have DI talent but not the size, they could be late bloomers, an injury may have derailed their recruiting, or they didn’t qualify academically. Whatever the reasons, many athletes have excelled in lower divisions and gone on to great athletic success

Overall, just over 7% of all high school athletes will play a varsity sport in college, so remember that a lack of interest from Division I schools doesn’t mean an end to your dream of competing in college. In fact, the competition in lower divisions can still be as fierce as in Division I. Though lower-division athletes may not have the height, the build, or the speed for DI, there’s plenty of talent overlap between divisions. And, remember the percentage. At the lower levels, you’ll still be competing against the top 7% of your peers, so the competition level will always be high.

Lower Division Colleges Have Higher Scholarship Rates

NCAA Division II schools actually have fewer scholarships to award than DI schools. However, the ability of a DII coach to award partial scholarships means Division II schools have more scholarship athletes than DI. In addition, though they don’t offer athletic scholarships, Division III schools do offer plenty of academic and financial aid packages and, as a result, DIII schools have even more athletes on scholarship than DI or DII. 

Remember too that full-ride scholarships are, in reality, exceedingly rare. And, the partial scholarship you land at a DII or DIII school may not cover all your expenses. However, those schools are generally more affordable than larger, Division I schools. And that means a partial scholarship at a lower level school may actually be a better deal financially for you and your family. And, if you can add in an academic scholarship to the package, that deal may be even sweeter.

Want Balance? Division I Isn’t For You

While lower division schools may not be able to offer the big time, bright lights environment of DI athletics, what they do offer is more balance. That is, more time to study. More time for extracurricular activities. And more time to simply enjoy the college experience.

For DI athletes at the highest levels, life revolves around their sport, whether it’s practice, travel, or training, even in the off-season. In other words, competing in DI is basically a full-time job with a full school schedule thrown in. Plus, as your Division I teammates may be every bit as talented as you are, there’s no guarantee that all your extra athletic work will pay off with playing time. 

By contrast, smaller schools offer the opportunity for more playing time, but also more time to enjoy college. That includes more time to participate in extracurricular activities and groups, more time for social activities on and off-campus, and more time to explore everything your school has to offer. Most importantly, competing at smaller schools means more time to work toward earning a college degree while you plan for your life after you stop competing. 

In the big picture, every division of college athletics has pros and cons. The key is to find the school that offers you what you’re looking for, athletically, academically, and socially. It really doesn’t matter whether it’s Division I, II, or III, as long as you find the one school that’s right for you.

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