At some point, you may have to decide if you want to play division I, II or III soccer. Most division I schools recruit nationwide, if not internationally and offer the largest number of scholarships. It's not unusual for the best teams at this level to feature players who have competed for national junior teams and many of their graduates pursue soccer in the professional ranks. Division II programs offer some athletic scholarships and may play a few division I schools but the quality of play is not as high. Division III schools do not offer athletic scholarships and rarely play non-division III schools. But there's less competition for a playing time than in a bigger program; if you're strong player, you’ll be on the field.
What is the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA)?
The NCAA, or National Collegiate Athletic Association, was established in 1906 and serves as the athletics governing body for more than 1,200 colleges, universities, conferences and organizations. The national office is in Indianapolis, Indiana, but the member colleges and universities develop the rules and guidelines for athletics eligibility and athletics competition for each of the three NCAA divisions. The NCAA is committed to the student-athlete and to governing competition in a fair, safe, inclusive and sportsmanlike manner. What is the NCAA and the Differences Between Divisions I, II and III?
NCAA Division I
Number of Required Sports: Division I members must offer at least 14 sports (at least seven for men and seven for women, or six for men and eight for women). The institution must sponsor at least two team sports (for example, football, basketball or volleyball) for each gender. The school also must have participating male and female teams or participants in the fall, winter and spring seasons.
Total Division I Membership: 335 members.
Public / Private: In Division I, 66 percent of the members are public institutions; 34 percent are private.
Financial Aid: Division I institutions must offer a minimum amount of Financial Aid but may not exceed established maximums. Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) football, men’s and women’s basketball, women’s gymnastics, women’s volleyball and women’s tennis are considered Head-Count sports for Financial Aid purposes in Division I. Financial Aid Equivalencies (one grant-in-aid package divided into smaller pieces) may be offered in all other sports.
Athletes must register with the NCAA Eligibility Center for Division I sports.
NCAA Division II
Division II schools tend to be smaller public universities and many private institutions, such as Sonoma, Chico and San Francisco State for public schools and Notre Dame De Namur for private. Athletic scholarships are offered in most sponsored sports at most institutions, but with more stringent limits as to the numbers offered in any one sport than at the Division I level. For example, Division II schools may give financial aid in football equivalent to 36 full scholarships, while each school in Division I FBS, the highest level, is allowed 85 individuals receiving financial aid for football. Division II scholarship programs very from school to school and it is good to inquire about them
Division II provides an intersection where athletically gifted students can compete at a high level, while maintaining much of a traditional student experience. Excellent outcomes come from athletics programs that are properly aligned with the educational mission of the institution. This balance is what distinguishes Division II from the others, and this philosophy is at the heart of all decisions made by the division’s governing bodies.
Total Division II Membership: Division II has 302 member institutions, with 281 currently classified as active member institutions and 21 institutions advancing through the membership process. These schools range in size from less than 2,500 to over 15,000, with the average enrollment being around 4,500.
Financial Aid: Very few of the 100,000 student-athletes competing in Division II receive a full athletics grant that covers all of their expenses, but most of them will receive some Financial Aid to help them through school. For the rest of their expenses, student-athletes are on their own—using academic scholarships, student loans and employment earnings just like most other students attending the Division II institution. This healthy partnership is the essence of Division II, where student-athletes are valued for their athletics contribution and for being an important part of the overall student body.
Athletes must register with the NCAA Eligibility Center for Division II sports.
NCAA Division III
Total Division III Membership: 442 Total Members (436 Active and 6 Provisional / Reclassifying) *Division III is the NCAA’s largest division. 81 percent (352) of active Division III institutions are private, while 19 percent (84) of institutions are public.
• Division III student-athletes report active academic engagement and participation in academic “extras,” such as research with faculty, study abroad opportunities and capstone/senior thesis projects.
• Division III student-athletes report significantly greater gains in time management when compared with non-athletes. Male student-athletes also report significantly greater gains in leadership when compared with male non-athletes.
• Division III student-athletes report greater involvement in volunteering. They also are more likely to report “leadership potential” as an important consideration in choosing a career.
• Division III student-athletes are more likely to report that they see themselves as part of the campus community.
Financial Aid: It is important to recognize that Financial Aid and funding differ at the Division III School versus Division I and Division II schools. Student athletes who play their sport at the Division III level do not receive Financial Aid related to their athletic ability. This is a result of their emphasis on the impact of athletics on the players not the spectators, allowing the primary focus to be on academics. Since athletics are funded like any other academic department, their recruiting budget is much lower. Division III schools offer Financial Aid packages in the form of academic scholarships, leadership scholarships, merit-based scholarships, grant money and needs based Financial Aid. A benefit of this structure is that, unlike athletic scholarships, academic scholarships cannot be taken away due to season or career ending injuries, only through the academic non-performance of the awarded scholarship.
The NAIA is an athletic association that organizes college and university level athletic programs. Membership in the NAIA consists of smaller colleges and universities across the United States.