A Student's Guide To Playing Sports In College

Learn about organizations involved in college sports and the recruiting process, a student guide can prepare for a successful college sports experience.

Updated May 18, 2023 · 2 Min Read

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Playing Sports In College

Students who play sports in high school may want to continue these activities in college. Although the playing field shifts somewhat with progression to collegiate-level sports, many young people continue to participate in organized sports. By learning about the organizations involved in college sports and the recruiting process, a student can prepare for a successful and enjoyable college sports experience.

Levels of Play

The National Collegiate Athletic Association regulates college-level athletes in three different divisions. Colleges can participate in NCAA sports as Division I, Division II, or Division III schools. Larger colleges typically participate as Division I schools, and smaller colleges fall into the Division II or III categories. Division I and II colleges can offer students athletic scholarships, but Division III colleges cannot offer athletic scholarships to students. The NCAA has specific eligibility requirements for student athletes: Students must have graduated from high school, they must complete a minimum number of academic courses, they must maintain a minimum grade-point average, and they must meet minimum scores for SAT or ACT testing. Student athletes participating in NCAA sports can expect to spend a significant amount of time practicing. The time can vary depending on the division and the type of sport, but athletes can spend up to 20 hours per week practicing during the in-season.

The National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics is another college sports association. The NAIA governs college-level athletic programs throughout North America. Generally, colleges participating in NAIA are smaller than NCAA colleges. The NAIA divides colleges into two different divisions, and it offers 13 different sports. Division I of the NAIA compares to Division II of the NCAA, and Division II of the NAIA compares to Division III of the NCAA. The NAIA offers scholarships for student athletes.

Additional college sports associations include the National Junior College Athletic Association, the National Christian College Athletic Association, the United States Collegiate Athletic Association, and various independent conferences. Each association has specific requirements for eligibility, and schools participate in different associations depending on size and other criteria.

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The Recruiting Process

High school athletes typically begin the recruiting process before entering college. Because colleges have different sports programs and are part of different sports associations, explore the programs offered by various colleges to narrow your selection. Once you have a list of colleges that match your academic and athletic criteria, begin the recruiting process and visit schools. A high school coach can be a helpful resource during the recruiting process, and a high school counselor can assist you with NCAA or NAIA eligibility requirements and form submission. When pursuing a sports scholarship, follow recruiting protocol carefully. Coaches and guidance counselors can assist you with this. An athletic résumé can be an effective means of introducing yourself to potential colleges. Include athletic achievements and qualifications, education history, employment history, future goals, and references in an athletic résumé. After submitting an athletic résumé, you may receive requests for video recordings and high school coach evaluation of your play. You may also receive requests to interview with college coaches.

College Visits

The itinerary for a recruiting visit to a college typically involves touring the campus, meeting coaches, and meeting team members. Take notes throughout your visit about the facilities, and write down contact information for coaches and team members. Be aware that some sports associations limit the number of recruiting visits an athlete can make to colleges. For example, the NCAA limits athletes to no more than five official visits to Division I and II schools, but no limitations exist for unofficial visits. A key difference between an official and an unofficial visit involves expenses: Schools typically pay for all expenses involved with an official recruiting visit.

Committing to Play

When you are pursuing a scholarship, the end of the recruiting process may involve receipt of letters of commitment from colleges. A letter of commitment serves as a binding agreement between the athlete and the college, wherein the athlete agrees to attend the college for a specified period of time and the college agrees to provide financial aid for the student. Before signing a letter of commitment, ask questions about the amount of financial aid you will receive, living arrangements, expected playing time, and school atmosphere. After you sign the letter, you have committed yourself to this school. Your focus should turn to maintaining your eligibility so you can attend the school and participate in the sports program.

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