Choosing a college is one of the most important decisions you'll make, as the school you select needs to fit you as both a student and an athlete. This might mean turning down the bright lights of the big city to head to a low-key school that better suits your style. Going to a school where you feel out of place and uncomfortable could put you on a path to bad grades and poor athletic performance.
Taking the junior college route allowed Houston Astros outfielder Hunter Pence to accomplish his college athletic goals much sooner than he would have by playing on the big stage of Division I. "If you go to a junior college, you're going to learn a lot about the game and you're basically going to start from day one," he says.
Of course, what worked for Pence might not be best for you. Study the chart below. For each division and association of college athletics, it details both the benefits and the things you should be aware of. If you're looking to play against the best competition in the best facilities, Division I is your destination. If playing two sports and having small class sizes will put a smile on your face, Division III may be for you.
Reviewing the chart, you'll notice right away that NCAA and NJCAA Division III programs cannot offer athletic aid. Each association—NCAA, NAIA and NJCAA— prescribes the total number of athletic scholarships that can be made available for each sport.
Sports fall into two categories: headcount and equivalency. Headcount sports have a set number of full scholarships. If your sport offers 15 scholarships and a college gives you one, it has 14 left to offer. Equivalency sports have a set number of scholarships, but they can be divided among two or more student athletes. Say a sport has three scholarships available; a school could award a full scholarship to one athlete, split the second between two athletes, and divide the third among three or more athletes.
When talking with college coaches, ask whether your sport is headcount or equivalency. This will give you an idea of what kind of money you might be eligible to receive.
Be Aware Of
|Division I &
|Practice outfits and athletic equipment // Team strength and conditioning coach // State-of-the-art training and game facilities // Top-notch competition||Larger class sizes // Athletic time commitment // Pressure to perform // Traveling cross country||
|Division II||Lower student-teacher ratio // Less pressure to perform athletically // Less cross country travel||Lack of fan support for program // Athletic time commitment // Average facilities||
|Division III||Lower student-teacher ratio // Games played in immediate region // Easier to play two sports // Minimal summer commitment||Lack of fan support for program // No athletic aid available // Lack of facilities||
|NAIA||Low student-teacher ratio // Coaches have fewer recruiting restrictions // Less pressure to perform athletically // Transferring between NAIA schools is easy||Lack of facilities // Coaches may be faculty members as well // Athletic time commitment||
|Better opportunity to play right away // Chance to improve GPA to get admitted to a four-year college // NJCAA Division I programs can offer full athletic scholarships||NJCAA Division II programs can only offer tuition, fees, and books // NJCAA Division III programs cannot offer athletic aid // Lack of facilities||
Division I, Yes
Division III, No
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