Published on December 8, 2021
High school athletic directors and counselors play a vital role in preparing students for college academically. Below is an overview of the academic eligibility process to help guide student-athletes and ensure they are ready for college sports.
Academic eligibility is the status that determines whether a student will be able to practice and compete in varsity sports at the collegiate level – and is typically determined using some combination of a student-athlete’s high school coursework, GPA, and in some cases class rank.
The NCAA Eligibility Center (EC) is responsible for determining the academic eligibility and amateurism status for all Division I and Division II student-athletes. The EC is responsible for holding students and universities accountable to the by laws created by the NCAA DI/DII higher ed member institutions, which is why initial eligibility rules for these divisions are different.
Initial Eligibility is based on high school academic progress and completion and dictates whether or not a student can participate in NCAA DI/DII athletics or if they can take an athletic scholarship. Previously, this part of the NCAA was called the NCAA Clearinghouse.
NCAA Eligibility Center (EC) includes:
College-bound student-athletes who want to play NCAA sports at a DI or DII school need to register with the NCAA Eligibility Center at eligibilitycenter.org. Students planning to compete at the NCAA DI or DII level should complete a certification account by the end of their sophomore year. Students that are undecided about competing at the college level can still sign up for an “undecided” account at no charge to receive their NCAA Identification number.
For the NCAA, academic eligibility is typically determined using a combination of a student-athlete’s high school coursework and GPA.
Freshman student-athletes entering NCAA Division I and Division II programs must complete 16 units (32 semesters) of NCAA-approved high school core courses. These courses must be completed on a specific timeline and in specific subject areas. The NCAA also requires a minimum Core GPA to qualify, which is based on each student-athlete’s 16 NCAA-approved courses.
The minimum Core GPA needed to be eligible for Division I sports is a 2.3 GPA and at the Division II level, a 2.2 GPA is needed in order to be eligible.
Since 2020, the NCAA has waived standardized test requirements for those entering college in Fall 2020 through Fall 2023, now standardized tests will no longer be required to meet NCAA Initial Eligibility for all students, effective immediately.
There are no NCAA course requirements for NCAA Division III eligibility as you must simply meet the admissions standards for the institution you wish to attend to compete with full eligibility in accordance with the NCAA academic requirements.
Most high schools in the U.S. have a list of approved core courses by the NCAA. These approved courses allow the NCAA to evaluate an athlete’s eligibility based on their academic classwork and grades. The NCAA requires core courses to:
To compete at an NCAA DI or DII school, students must complete 16 NCAA-approved core courses. Only courses that appear on a high school’s list of NCAA-approved core courses will count toward the 16 core course requirement.
Additionally, for students looking to compete at the NCAA DI level, 10 of those 16 core courses must be completed prior to their 7th semester of high school – and 7 of those 10 core courses must be in the subject areas of English, Math, or Natural/Physical Science. Once a student begins their 7th semester, any course that is needed to meet the NCAA 10/7 requirement cannot be replaced or repeated. Students with solely international academic credentials (including Canada) are not required to meet the 10/7 requirement.
It’s important to know that not all high school classes that count towards high school graduation will count as NCAA core courses. Schools submit course names through the NCAA High School Portal and receive one of three responses:
The NCAA Eligibility Center calculates its own special GPA, called the “NCAA Core GPA”, when they are reviewing incoming college student-athletes for qualifier status at the NCAA DI or DII level.
NCAA Core GPA is based on the grades earned in the 16 NCAA-approved core courses that are completed in high school (32 semesters). If a student completes more than 16 NCAA- approved core courses, the NCAA will choose the best grades earned in the 16 NCAA-approved courses that meet the subject area requirements.
The NCAA Eligibility Center will calculate a student’s NCAA Core GPA as a weighted GPA only if their high school uses a weighted GPA and has updated its NCAA High School Portal to represent their current grade scale. Any Honors or AP courses taken will need to be registered properly by the school in order for students to earn extra points.
NCAA initial-eligibility rules require college-bound student-athletes looking to compete at a DI or DII school must complete 16 NCAA-approved core courses at their high school(s) by the time they enroll in college.
For students looking to compete at the DI level, the NCAA requires 10 of those 16 core courses to be completed by the start of the student’s 7th semester of high school. Specifically, 7 of those 10 courses must be in the subject areas of English, Math, or Natural/Physical Science.
Once senior year starts, grades achieved in the 10/7 courses must be used in calculating the student’s NCAA core GPA and cannot be replaced or repeated, so the term “locked in” is often used.
If a student-athlete does not meet the 10/7 Rule by the mandatory deadline, they will be deemed an NCAA DI Non-Qualifier and will be ineligible to play at a DI school right after high school.
Prospective student-athletes looking to continue their athletic and academic pursuits at a National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) school have different eligibility standards they must meet from those we’ve outlined in the NCAA academic requirements.
The NAIA recently announced that incoming freshmen can now become NAIA eligible without a test score or class rank – provided they meet the following minimum GPA (on a 4.0 scale), which has shifted from a previous set of rules:
Students who do not meet the 2.3 minimum GPA requirement upon graduation may still become eligible to compete at an NAIA school by meeting 2 of the following 3 criteria:
Governed by the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA), junior colleges or JUCOs are what many people refer to as “community colleges” – and the academic eligibility for JUCOs differs from NCAA and NAIA in several key respects.
For one, whereas the NCAA’s division-based eligibility requirements are consistent across member schools, JUCOs are allowed to set their own standards. Typically, these standards are easier to meet than those of the NCAA/NAIA, and students who fall short are sometimes offered special classes to meet the necessary qualifications post-enrollment.
If a student-athlete does not meet the minimum academic requirements set out by the NCAA, NAIA or NJCAA – they will not be able to take an athletic scholarship, compete or practice.
High school athletic directors and counselors are heavily involved in assisting college-bound student-athletes with the academic eligibility process. Maintaining your school’s NCAA and NAIA accounts to ensure they are accurate and up to date is extremely important. Both conferences allow for only two contacts at each school to be listed as the primary and secondary contacts on the NCAA Eligibility Center High School Portals.
It is the responsibility of the student-athlete to understand the academic requirements and make sure they are on track to meet those requirements with the help of their high school guidance counselor and athletic director in addition to school administrators.
Steps include planning strategically and proactively ahead, taking the proper high school classes and taking them seriously and protecting their amateur status.
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