College Sports and NCAA Eligibility – What You Need to Know

ncaa college eligibility

Are you a competitive athlete hoping to play your sport in college? To have the opportunity to play college athletics, it is important that you plan early to make sure you are eligible.

Basic College Sports Levels

There are four primary levels in college sports and each level has its own requirements. There are two collegiate associations in the U.S. and they are the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA). The NCAA has three levels which are:

  • NCAA Division 1 (DI)
  • NCAA Division 2 (DII)
  • NCAA Division 3 (DIII)

The NCAA DI schools have the most scholarships and also the strictest requirements to be eligible for a scholarship. The NCAA DII and NAIA colleges offer fewer scholarships, but their eligibility requirements are a bit easier. The NCAA DIII schools do not offer scholarships, but they still have many athletic teams you can play for at their universities.

Full Athletic Scholarships Are Rare

It is important to first understand that full athletic scholarships are rare outside of football and basketball, but there are many partial scholarships available for student athletes that total over $2.9 Billion in scholarships given to college athletes each year across the U.S. Not all universities offer scholarships to their athletes. As mentioned earlier NCAA DIII schools are not allowed to offer scholarships to athletes, but even some NCAA D1 universities like Harvard, Yale, Princeton and other Ivy League schools don’t offer any scholarships to athletes. Most athletes that do receive a scholarship usually only receive a half scholarship or less, but when combined with other financial aid, a student athlete may receive a total amount of the athletic scholarship and other financial aid that can dramatically reduce the cost of attending college for the student.

Other Benefits Besides Scholarships

Even if you do not get any scholarship money there are many benefits for student athletes in college. Most schools will admit athletes with lower GPAs and SAT/ACT scores than general admission students. When athletes play for a college team they are likely to be given preferential treatment when scheduling courses, so it makes it easier to get into the classes they need to graduate on schedule. Additionally, many student athletes are provided with free tutoring for any course they take at the university.

Athletics and Academics

If you hope to play college athletics, it is important that you also focus on your academics during high school since the minimum GPA required for student athletes is 2.3 for NCAA DI and 2.0 for NCAA DII. The minimum high school GPA for NAIA colleges is 2.0, also. The minimum SAT or ACT score required is dependent on your high school GPA, but in most situations, you need to be able to score at least a 900 on the SAT to be eligible. You can see the sliding scale provided by the NCAA to determine what SAT or ACT score you need based on your GPA.

It is also important to understand that many colleges have GPA and SAT/ACT score requirements that are higher than the NCAA or NAIA minimum. For example, the University of California requires that students athletes have a GPA of at least 3.0 to be admitted. Many private universities require the high school student to have a 3.4 GPA or higher. For NCAA DIII schools there is not a minimum GPA requirement since these schools do not offer scholarships, but the entrance requirement is generally higher than the DI and DII requirements. It is also important to be aware that the NCAA has some course requirements for eligibility that may be more than what your high school requires for graduation. To be able to play a NCAA DI college sport, a high school student needs take four years of English, four years of science, four years of math and four years of social science.

Odds of Playing a Sport in College

What are your chances of playing a sport in college? Only about 7% of all high school athletes play a sport in college and less than 2% of high school students get a scholarship (partial or full scholarship). Again, there are many good reasons for playing a college sport even if you don’t get scholarship money. For those high school athletes that do play a sport for their college, their graduation rate is over 80% which is significantly higher than the national average college graduation rate which is less than 60%.

Recruitment Rules

If you are interested in playing a college sport, it is important that you know the rules for being recruited. College coaches are not allowed to proactively talk to high school students or their parents until September of the student’s 11th grade year. Prior to that point, college coaches can talk to high school students if 1) the coach receive a phone call from the student or parent 2) the coach receive an email from the student or parent or 3) the coach meets the student or parent at a sporting event (tournament or camp). Before September of the student’s 11th grade year, the coach cannot make any scholarship offers to the high school student. After September of the students 11th grade year, the coach can talk freely with the student and the parents about a scholarship.

NCAA Eligibility Center (f.k.a. NCAA Clearing House)

You also need to be aware of the NCAA clearing house which is now being called the NCAA Eligibility Center. All high school students that want to play a college sport need to register with the NCAA clearing house in order to be approved as eligible to play sports in college. To be approved by the NCAA you need to register at the Then when you take the SAT or ACT you need to use the code 9999 on the test to have it uploaded into the NCAA clearing house. Also, after both the student’s junior year and senior year his/her counselor needs to upload his/her official transcript into the eligibility center, so the student can be cleared to play college sports.

The Two-Year Junior College Option

If you are a senior and you either don’t meet the NCAA or NAIA eligibility requirements or you haven’t received an offer from a coach to play college sports, then there is the other option of playing for a 2-year junior college. This option allows you to continue to play your sport at a junior college and then, after two years, transfer to a four-year university. This is a good option for student athletes that are unable to meet the academic requirements in high school to go straight to a four-year university. Junior Colleges can also offer scholarships to student athletes, so this is a great way for you to get two years’ worth of paid, transferable college credit.