The difference in NCAA Division Levels | What NCAA Division is right for you (2023)

The difference in NCAA Division Levels | What NCAA Division is right for you (1)

According to the NCAA, there are 350 Division 1 schools, 310 Division 2 schools, and 438Division 3 schools. To give you a better idea of size and how these divisions compare, about 176,000 student athletes compete at the Division 1 level. A little more than 118,000 student-athletes compete in Division 2 and Division 3 has just under 188,000 student athletes on its various rosters. And that’s just the NCAA divisions. There’s also the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) with more than 250 schools and of course many options at the junior college level for high school athletes. While there are some similarities, you’ll find each college option is somewhat unique.

For example, one difference is that all D1 and D2 athletes must meet certain eligibility requirements set by the NCAA. Division 3 eligibility requirements are set by the school.

Quick Links

Surprising DIII difference

What’s it really like?

DI: Your sport, your life

DI and the Ivy League 8

(Video) Things to Consider When Comparing NCAA Division Levels

DII: A balanced approach

Why choose an NAIA school

Don’t ignore junior colleges

How to gauge your talent

Student-athletes and parents should note that for the small percentage of high school athletes that end up playing at the D1 and D2 level, only about 57 percent of D1 athletes receive some type of athletics aid and D2 athletes fare just a little better at 60 percent that get athletics aid.

Here are a few things to consider when comparing NCAA division levels:

(Video) The Difference Between Division 1, Division 2, and Division 3

The surprising DIII difference

While D3 schools do not offer any type of athletic scholarships, parents will be pleased to know that 80 percent of D3 athletes receive non-athletics aid, often in the form of grants or need-based scholarships to academically qualified athletes. Another big plus for both parents and student-athletes is that 87 percent of all D3 athletes graduate from college. Although the other two divisions are not that far behind, that’s the highest percentage of any NCAA Division.

What’s it really like?

There are plenty of facts and figures about each division, but they only tell part of the story, or may give the wrong impression. For example, the rank order of the divisions may imply to some that anything below a Division I program is somehow settling for second best. While it’s true D1 offers a higher level of competition and is home to some of the largest and most prestigious schools in the country, it does not mean there are not stellar opportunities to compete at world-class colleges in divisions 2 and 3.

Many high school athletes who have the physical size, athleticism, and grades to compete at the D1 level opt to go to a D2 or D3 school for a variety of reasons. It may be that they just wanted to go to a smaller school, stay closer to home, or a chance to study abroad. And for some, they just didn’t want their college experience defined by the demanding lifestyle of a DI athlete.What colleges offer full ride scholarships?

View NCSA’s list of the Best Colleges for student athletes.

As your athlete begins to look at their college options, it’s important to understand the different college experiences for athletes in D1, D2 and D3 programs. Here’s a quick breakdown of what to expect:

Division I: Your sport, your life

The difference in NCAA Division Levels | What NCAA Division is right for you (2)

For NCAA Division 1 athletes, the rewards are many. Competing at a large university in front big crowds against some of the best athletes in your sport. But just know the competition for your spot on the team is fierce and your time is not your own–that includes weekends and off season. Practice, training, travel, and study. There’s also volunteer work.You will be tired. Internships, spring break getaways, even part-time jobs are pretty much out of the question. The D1 athlete is truly dedicated to their sport for the next four years. For some, it can be overwhelming-even exhausting. But almost every one would say they would not trade their D1 experience for anything.

View NCSA’slist of the Best NCAA Division 1 Colleges for student-athletes.

Division I and the Ivy League 8

Some of the oldest and most prestigious schools in the country make up the Ivy League. Brown University, Columbia, Cornell, University of Pennsylvania, Harvard, Princeton, Yale and Dartmouth rank among the top 20 NCAA Division 1 schools. More than 8,000 student-athletes compete every year for these schools. Most choose the Ivy League for its ultra-high level of competition in both athletics and academics. If an Ivy League school is on your target list, just note that these schools do not award academic or athletic scholarships. Financial aid is based on need determined by the Financial Aid Office at each school.

Insider tip: Time management is key. Learn from a former D1 how you can manage your workload better with these Nine Time Management Tips.

Division II: A more balanced approach

The difference in NCAA Division Levels | What NCAA Division is right for you (3)

Student-athletes who want a high level of competition but a more balanced approach to sports and academics are giving serious consideration to D2 schools. It’s also perfect for those who may prefer a smaller campus, or the opportunity to get playing time all four years. As one recruit put it, “I’d rather be a big fish in a smaller pond.” There are still the demands all student-athletes face, but it is not as intense and rigorous as the year-round total commitment of a D1 athlete.

View NCSA’slist of the Best NCAA Division 2 Colleges for student-athletes.

Division III: A well-rounded college experience

The difference in NCAA Division Levels | What NCAA Division is right for you (4)

D3 programs offer a more well-rounded college experience where academics take more of the lead. Just like their D1 and D2 counterparts, D3 athletes also must learn to manage playing their sport while pursuing their education. The time commitment, however, for D3 athletes is not nearly as intense which gives them more opportunity to explore life outside of the classroom and outside of their sport. D3 athletes often feel they are more a part of the general college community where D1 and D2 athletes feel a little more separated from the rest of the college or university.

View NCSA’slist of the Best NCAA Division 3 Colleges for student-athletes.

(Video) The Difference Between NCAA Divisions Explained

Why an NAIA school might be your best bet

The difference in NCAA Division Levels | What NCAA Division is right for you (5)

It may come as a surprise to some but the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) has actually been around longer than the NCAA. With about 250 mostly private, smaller schools, more than 60,000 student-athletes compete at NAIA colleges in a variety of popular sports. Many consider NAIA to be on par with NCAA D3 schools when it comes to life/sport balance and level of competitiveness. The NAIA awards close to $500 million in athletic scholarships every year. That, along with more aggressive recruiting is driving more talent to these schools and bringing up the level of competition. Today, top-level NAIA schools are considered to be similar to competing on a NCAA D2 team. Learn more about the NAIA and how it differs from the NCAA below:

Read more NAIA Schools: What You Need to Know

View NCSA’slist of the Best NAIA Colleges for student-athletes.

Don’t ignore junior colleges

Between the three NCAA divisions and NAIA schools, it’s easy for recruits to overlook junior college athletics as an option. However, according to the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) about 60,000 student-athletes participate in 28 different sports at 500+ schools nationwide–every year.

Many recruits pass on considering a junior college because there are many common misconceptions about what junior colleges can offer student-athletes. However, today’s junior colleges have a lot to offer, especially when it comes to scholarships and other cost-savings.

For some athletes, junior college is the best path to getting a four-year college roster. For others, it’s a chance to stay close to home, earn college credit, and continue on with their athletic career. Here are four reasons why junior colleges can be a great option for student-athletes:

Looking for more reasons to consider attending a junior college or pursuing junior college athletics? Here are a few more advantages of a junior college that other division levels may not have:

  • They’re more affordable (and offer athletic scholarships!). Not only are junior colleges less expensive than public and private four-year colleges and universities, they also tend to be more generous with academic and athletic scholarships.
  • It’s more practical than taking a year off. It is extremely difficult (if not impossible) to get recruited to play at a four-year college after taking even one gap year between high school and college.
  • Recruits can make an impact right away. Junior college athletics coaches look for players that can hit the ground running and may even recruit for starting roles. No benchwarmers here!
  • Increase your chances of getting recruited at a four-year college. College coaches like to recruit JUCO athletes because they’re a safer bet than their high school counterparts: coaches know these athletes can already balance college academics and athletics while maintaining their eligibility.

While nearly everyone starts out thinking D1 is the ultimate goal, it really comes down to what type of college experience will be right for your child. The good news is that with three NCAA divisions, NAIA schools and junior colleges, there’s something for every type of student-athlete.

Insider tip: View NCSA’s list of top college athletic programs across all division levels.

How to gauge your talent to find your best division

One of the first steps in the recruiting process is to accurately gauge your talent level and get an understanding of the divisions you might be suited for athletically. However, each day, we talk to athletes who don’t have a good grasp on what’s realistic for them.

(Video) College Volleyball Divisions and Their Differences. (Learn what makes each division unique.)

And we get it! It’s tough to predict what level you’ll be at in three or even two years. The good news: There are plenty of ways to figure out where you stand athletically. The bad news: It’s still going to require that you honestly evaluate yourself. Let’s check out some of the best ways to get a better understanding of your true athletic talent.

Watch college games at every division level

Watch college athletes closely and compare your current skill level to the competition. If you can, visit local schools and universities and see it live. And be realistic! If you need to improve drastically in order to get some playing time on a team, it might make sense to check out a game at a different division level and see how you compare.

Watch college athletes closely and compare your current skill level to the competition. If you can, visit local schools and universities and see it live. And be realistic! If you need to improve drastically in order to get some playing time on a team, it might make sense to check out a game at a different division level and see how you compare.

The head baseball coach at Webster University explained during a panel discussion, “Go watch a Division 1, a Division 2, a Division 3 or an NAIA game.” He added, “One of the best things I did—I played at Quincy University—I went and watched them play. I sat in the stands and said, ‘You know what, I can play here; I can do this.’ I also went and saw Illinois State play the University of Northern Iowa when I was in high school, and I thought, ‘Well, maybe not.’ Not that I wasn’t as good, but I wasn’t going to play… And I knew I wanted to play every day.”

When you’re watching a game, ask yourself these questions to help you figure out if this is the right level for you:

  • Could you compete with these athletes today? If not, are you on track to be at that level as a senior?
  • Would you get playing time if you joined this team? Is playing time important to you?
  • Can you picture yourself competing on this team and for this school?

Review rosters of schools at different division levels

There’s a lot of helpful information you can get from a college sport’s roster. To find it, go to the school’s website and find the roster of current team members. Typically, you can find it by searching for the athletic program and then your specific sport. Each athlete will most likely have a short bio that talks about their high school and collegiate accomplishments. Here are a few key things to look for:

  • Check out the body types of the athletes in your position. How do you stack up to their posted heights and weights?
  • Are you competing in the same tournaments and showcases as the current athletes?
  • Review their list of high school accolades (e.g., All-State, All-City, team MVP or captain), and consider how your current compilation of accolades compares.
  • For individual sports like track & field, swimming, etc., pay particular attention to the athletes’ current stats. Compare that to your current numbers

Keep an open mind as you’re looking through schools’ rosters. If you never imagined yourself competing at a D3 school—but those are the athletes who most resemble you—it’s worth it to continue investigating what that division has to offer.

Hint: There are countless benefits to attending a D3 school. Learn more about D3 colleges and universities.

Get evaluated by a third party

In many cases, it’s almost impossible to objectively evaluate yourself, especially on something as personal as your athletic talent. That’s where third parties come into play. Experts can either evaluate you in person or via your highlight film. If you use film, make sure it’s up to date.

You can ask your current high school and/or club coach to evaluate your talent level. Recruiting experts, like NCSA College Recruiting, provide evaluations for athletes in 31 different sports. Another avenue to investigate are evaluation camps. They are, as the name indicates, camps for college hopefuls in which coaches help athletes gauge their talent and give them suggestions on how to improve.

When getting a third-party evaluation, here are a few questions to ask the evaluator:

  • What level do you think I could compete at right now?
  • How much would I need to improve to get to the next level?
  • What are my strengths? What weaknesses should I work on?

Compete against elite athletes

Some high schools and clubs compete against tough teams who notoriously turn out college athletes. For athletes who already compete against the elite, every game is an opportunity to level set and see how they compare to other athletes in their recruiting class. Some athletes, however, play for smaller teams and don’t necessarily get a chance to compete against other college-bound athletes. In this case, it’s crucial to find camps, showcases, summer leagues or club teams that provide an opportunity to play against the best high school athletes.

Getting a better understanding of your talent is a great place to start when figuring out your best school. However, don’t forget that a great match is about where you fit athletically, academically and socially. You may have the talent to compete at the Division 1 level, but that doesn’t mean that will be the best fit for you academically and socially. Keep all three factors in mind as you build your target list of schools, visit campuses and do your research.

(Video) Finding Your Fit! Understanding the NCAA divisions


Is NCAA Division 1 better than Division 2? ›

Major Differences Between NCAA Divisions

Division I schools also are the largest on average. Division II still offers scholarships, but they are rarer and smaller, and Division II schools typically have fewer athletic department funds and fewer sports teams than Division I schools.

What's the difference between Division 1 2 and 3? ›

The divisions roughly correspond to the level of investment and interest a school puts into its athletics department. Division I is the biggest, most well-funded schools, while Division III athletic programs are generally much smaller. This same idea carries over to athletic scholarships, as well.

Is D1 better than D3? ›

The Biggest Difference Between D1 and D3 Athletics

You might be aware that D1 schools can offer athletic scholarships. And D3 schools can only offer financial assistance and merit aid. That's the biggest difference in terms of technicalities, but I would argue it's not that big of a factor at all.

Why is NCAA D3 Better than D2? ›

D3: D3 programs offer a well balance student-athlete experience. D3 athletes have less demanding practice schedules in the offseason and have more flexibility to study abroad and explore other areas of campus life compared to D1 and D2 athletes. D3 athletes are also more likely to play multiple sports in college.

Is D3 Better than D2 sports? ›

Many talented athletes choose D2, some for a more well-rounded college experience and others for the opportunity to get more playing time or to play all four years. D3, in general, provides a student-athlete with a “normal” college experience while allowing them to still compete in athletics.

Do Division 3 schools recruit? ›

Division III schools are allowed to send athletes recruiting materials, such as brochures or invitations at any time, unlike Division I. DIII schools can also contact recruits via phone call or any other method at any time with no restrictions.

Is Division 2 a good sport? ›

The best Division 2 teams are as good as most Division 1 schools. The level on average is below Division 1, but higher than Division 3. Division 2 schools are often the beneficiaries of transfer student-athletes, coming from Division 1.

Can you go from D3 to D1? ›

As a result, the NCAA granted a full year of eligibility in all sports to all D3 athletes. This gave many graduating D3 athletes a unique opportunity: They could use their eligibility as grad transfers in D1 programs.

Can Division 3 give athletic scholarships? ›

While Division III schools are not able to offer full or partial athletic scholarships, it's important to note that they can provide financial aid to their student-athletes in other ways. In fact, 75% of Division III athletes receive some type of financial aid—which can be need-based or merit-based.

Is it better to play D3 or NAIA? ›

On average, athletics at the D3 level may not be as good athletically as at an NAIA college simply because NAIA programs can give athletic scholarships to recruit their desired athletes. D3 colleges aren't allowed to give scholarships specifically for athletic ability or potential.

Is playing D3 worth it? ›

Besides monetary benefits, playing Division-III sports also can be a jumping off point for other athletic opportunities. With more and more Virtual Visits and the accessibility to new programs through the transfer portal, the best athletes can always move up after finding success at the D3 level.

Can D3 athletes go pro? ›

Going pro from D3 is possible and has happened, but it's rare. Players without a strong desire to go pro may be more willing to consider D3 schools. Playing time. Some players opt to play D3 at a program they know they will get playing time in rather than struggle to earn minutes at D1.

Should I go D2 or D3? ›

Studies have repeatedly shown that vitamin D3 is superior at raising levels of vitamin D in the body. These findings were supported by a recent review of the evidence which found that vitamin D3 supplementation increased vitamin D levels in the body better than vitamin D2.

What percent of D1 athletes go pro? ›

Do many NCAA student-athletes go on to play professionally? Fewer than 2 percent of NCAA student-athletes go on to be professional athletes. In reality, most student-athletes depend on academics to prepare them for life after college. Education is important.

Can a D2 school become D1? ›

Can a D2 school become a D1 school? Yes, a Division 2 school can become a Division 1 school. To do so, it will need to meet the Division 1 requirements. This means increasing the number of sports offered and sponsoring a minimum of seven men's and seven women's sports, or six men's and eight women's sports.

What GPA do you need to play D2 sports? ›

Earn at least a 2.2 GPA in your core courses. Earn an SAT combined score or ACT sum score matching your core-course GPA on the Division II sliding scale, which balances your test score and core-course GPA.

Is NAIA better than D2? ›

NAIA programs are pretty closely comparable to NCAA D3 schools, and top-level NAIA programs match the talent found at mid/high-level NCAA D2 schools. Sometimes athletes will select a top 25 NAIA program over a lower ranked D2 program because the competition level is actually quite similar.

How do D3 schools make offers? ›

Frequently asked questions about D3 athletic scholarships

You can email coaches at any point during high school and ask them to come to one of your games or matches. College coaches will verbally make an offer for you to join their roster, and offers can be made at a sports camp or an official visit.

When can D3 coaches talk to you? ›

NCAA Division 3 and NAIA football recruiting rules

They don't have limits on when coaches can contact recruits. The only standardized rule for D3 schools is that coaches are not allowed to meet with recruits or their families off-campus until the athlete has completed their sophomore year of high school.

How do you get a coach to notice you? ›

While coaches have their different methods for scouting out new talent, the best way to ensure a coach knows about you is to contact the coach yourself. Email, texting, phone calls and even social media messages are all acceptable ways for student-athletes to contact college coaches.

Can you transfer from a D3 to a D2? ›

NCAA transfer rules: Transferring between divisions

An important thing to consider is that those engaging in the transfer process from an NCAA D3 institution to a D1 or D2 university must register with the NCAA Eligibility Center.

Do Division 2 schools recruit? ›

Division II schools do recruit, but the rules and scholarship capacities differ from that of Division I and Division III. There are specific NCAA restrictions in place for when coaches may contact prospective athletes for Division II recruiting.

What is a Division 1 athlete? ›

NCAA Division I (D-I) is the highest level of intercollegiate athletics sanctioned by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) in the United States, which accepts players globally.

What determines d1 status? ›

Divisions are based on the size of the institution, the level of competition, and the funding of the athletic program. Division I schools, for example, tend to give out full scholarships to athletes, while Division III schools are not allowed to award any athletic scholarships.

Do D1 athletes have free time? ›

The premier collegiate student-athletes essentially have two full-time jobs: student and athlete. To meet the demands of both, many Division I student-athletes end up committing nearly 60 hours to school and sports, leaving very little time for anything else.

Can a D3 football player make it to the NFL? ›

Ali Marpet – G, Hobart and William Smith Colleges

Marpet became a D3 All-American First-Team player and was selected in the second round of the 2015 NFL Draft by the Buccaneers – the highest any D3 player has ever been drafted.

Can you transfer from juco to D1 after one year? ›

You need to graduate from your juco before you can transfer and compete at your new D1 school. If you transfer before you graduate, you may have to wait a year before you can compete.

What GPA do you need to play D3 sports? ›

There are no set NCAA GPA requirements for Division 3 as schools set their own admissions standards you must meet in order to compete.

Does Division 2 give athletic scholarships? ›

If you are looking for an athletic scholarship at a Division II school, rest assured that Division II schools do indeed give athletic scholarships. These scholarships are based on a partial scholarship model, which is sometimes known as an equivalency model.

Does NCAA Division 2 give scholarships? ›

For example, Division II schools may give financial aid in football equivalent to 36 full scholarships (whereas each school in Division I FBS, the highest level, is allowed 85 individuals receiving financial aid for football), although some Division II conferences limit the number of scholarships to a lower level.

Is the Division 2 better than the first one? ›

1's atmosphere is just amazing. 2 has a little bit better game play. Both are great, but I personally like 1 more. Just playing survival at night in a snow storm is one of the coolest experiences I've had in a game.

Is Division 1 or 2 better for basketball? ›

Division 1 and Division 2 basketball are two different types of basketball leagues. The former is the top league in college basketball, while Division 2 is a lower-level league.

Can a D2 school become D1? ›

An institution in Division II or III may elect to participate in Division I in one sport, other than football or basketball and must abide by the Division I bylaws governing the sport, even though their membership rests in another division.

Should I play the Division 1 first? ›

If you enjoy narrative story elements in games, then start with Div 1. If you just want a good looter shooter without the story you can skip to Div 2. You'll find a lot of people love Div 1 better for the atmosphere, story, DZ (when it was active), and Survival mode.

Can you still play Division 1? ›

The division 1 is still active with end game players. If you are new you will see a few others especially around a sale. Personally i think both games are very good, but the atmosphere of New York in winter of the first game is incredible.

Is the division still active 2022? ›

Tom Clancy's The Division 2 will receive further updates as part of a planned Year 5 for the game, Ubisoft has confirmed. This follows a return to new features over the past year, and two more previously-announced seasons due over the course of 2022.

What is the difference between Div 1 and 2 nurse? ›

A Div 1 is the equvilant of a RN in other states and terrorities. A Div 2 is an EN who may or may not be medication endorsed. A Div 1 has a longer more acidemic education than the more hospital based training of a Div 2.

Do D2 players go pro? ›

A select few D2 athletes also end up going pro, but D3 athletes almost never go pro.

Is D3 sports worth playing? ›

Besides monetary benefits, playing Division-III sports also can be a jumping off point for other athletic opportunities. With more and more Virtual Visits and the accessibility to new programs through the transfer portal, the best athletes can always move up after finding success at the D3 level.

Do D2 basketball players go pro? ›

#4 You Can Still Go Pro

In fact, players such as Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, andBen Wallace played at D2 schools.

What percent of D1 athletes go pro? ›

Do many NCAA student-athletes go on to play professionally? Fewer than 2 percent of NCAA student-athletes go on to be professional athletes. In reality, most student-athletes depend on academics to prepare them for life after college. Education is important.

Can a D3 school play a D1 school? ›

First, schools in Divisions II and III are allowed to classify one men's sport and one women's sport as Division I (except for football and basketball), provided that they were sponsoring said sports at Division I level prior to 2011.

Is NAIA better than D2? ›

NAIA programs are pretty closely comparable to NCAA D3 schools, and top-level NAIA programs match the talent found at mid/high-level NCAA D2 schools. Sometimes athletes will select a top 25 NAIA program over a lower ranked D2 program because the competition level is actually quite similar.

How does The Division 2 work? ›

The Division 2 is an online game for the most part, you'll explore a post-disaster Washington D.C, fighting dangerous gangs. You can team up with other players to do so, or go it alone. There's also PvP modes to enjoy too. Well, you'll take on missions that level up your character.

Where do you start in The Division? ›

Brooklyn. After initially creating your character and completing the very brief tutorial, you'll be tasked with completing a few missions in Brooklyn before heading to Manhattan to start the game in earnest. During these missions, make sure to collect everything you possibly can.

How many people still play The Division? ›

663 Players Online

You are viewing the live Tom Clancy's The Division player count on PlayerCounter. Come back to this page when you want the latest update on live Tom Clancy's The Division players or update to show the most recent amount of players online.


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