What are NCAA Core Courses and Why Should You Care?

Updated on May 16, 2024

NCAA schools require college-bound student-athletes to build a foundation of high school courses (core courses) to prepare them for the academic expectations in college. Previously, we discussed why high school course selection matters. Now we are now digging deeper into why you should care about NCAA Core Courses.

The NCAA requires freshman student-athletes entering NCAA Division I (DI) and Division II (DII) to complete 16 units (32 semesters) of NCAA-approved Core Courses. These courses must be completed on a specific timeline and in specific subject areas. The NCAA also requires a minimum NCAA Core GPA to qualify, which is based on each student-athlete’s 16 NCAA-approved courses. Any courses taken that don’t fall into the designated 16 units will not count towards a student’s NCAA Core GPA.

Students who meet the full DI or DII qualifier status have the ability to receive an athletic scholarship, practice, travel, and compete in their first year of enrollment in college. DI has an Academic Redshirt designation – where students who fall just short of Full Qualifier status can still receive an athletic scholarship and practice during their freshman year, but they cannot travel and compete. DII designates these students as Partial Qualifiers. Taking at least 4 units (8 semesters) of NCAA-approved core courses every year, starting the first year of high school, is key to staying on track. 

When students fall off track, they can still get back by taking summer school and re-taking courses if they plan accordingly. Read more in “How To Do Reclassification Right” to learn what key things student-athletes need to pay attention to in order to stay academically eligible for college sports.

Generally, Core Courses must meet the below requirements to be approved by the NCAA. However, they must first be formally submitted by the individual high school and approved by the NCAA to gain official approval. Honest Game works with high schools to make sure their courses are accredited through the NCAA.

  • Be an academic, four-year college preparatory course receiving high school graduation credit in one or more of these areas:

  • Be at or above your high school’s regular academic level
  • Be taught by a qualified instructor

It’s important to note that not all high school classes are NCAA Core Courses. Some examples of courses that do not qualify as an NCAA Core Course include:

  • Courses in non-core areas, such as driver’s education, typing, art, music, physical education, or welding.
  • Courses that prepare students for the world of work or life, or for a two-year college or technical school, such as personal finance, consumer education, or tech prep.
  • Courses taught below grade level, at a slower pace, or with less rigor or depth, such as basic, essential, fundamental or foundational courses.
  • Courses such as film appreciation, video editing or greenhouse management.

How To Plan Your High School Courses to Meet the 16 Core Course Requirement

NCAA DI and DII require 16 Core Courses to be a full qualifier. Check out the sample schedule below for an example of how to meet core-course requirements!

Do Courses Taken Before High School Count?

If you take a high school class is taken, such as Algebra I or Spanish I, before officially enrolling in high school in eighth grade, the class may count toward the 16 Core Courses if it appears on your high school’s list of NCAA-approved Core Courses and is shown on your high school transcript with grade and credit.

Do Online Courses Count?

Nontraditional courses are taught online or through distance learning, hybrid/blended, independent study or individualized instruction. Generally, for a nontraditional course to count as an NCAA-approved Core Course, it must meet ALL of the following requirements:

  • The course must meet all requirements for an NCAA-approved Core Course.
  • All students in the course must have regular instructor-led interaction for the purpose of instruction, evaluation, and assistance for the duration of the course. Interactions such as exchanging emails between the teacher and student, online chats or phone calls, as well as feedback on student assignments count.
  • The course must have a defined time period for completion. It should be clear how long students are required to be enrolled and working in the course, as well as how long a school would permit a student to work on a single nontraditional course.
  • Student work – including exams, papers, and assignments, must be available for evaluation and validation.
  • The course should be clearly identified as nontraditional on the student’s official high school transcript.

For information on how COVID-19 has impacted nontraditional and online classes, visit on.ncaa.com/COVID19_Spring2023.

What is the Difference Between Retaking a Class and Credit Recovery?

If a school allows a student to repeat a course covering the same curriculum, time frame and teaching/classroom environment, and they subsequently earn a higher grade, the NCAA will count the higher grade and credit towards the student’s 16 core course requirements. For many schools, both grades will be taken into account to calculate the GPA. The NCAA will only take the better of the two grades.

This is different from a student taking a course via a “Credit Recovery” platform or learning module. Some school platforms or modes of non-traditional Credit Recovery have been deemed by the NCAA as not meeting NCAA core requirements. A note such as “Credit Recovery coursework from this school/program does not meet NCAA core-course legislation” will be noted on the high school’s NCAA Eligibility Center portal. A credit recovery grade earned in a non-approved for NCAA course will neither count towards the 16 required NCAA Core units nor will it count towards the NCAA Core GPA.

Can College Courses Be NCAA Core Course Eligible?

College courses may be used to satisfy NCAA Core Course requirements if the courses are awarded a grade and credit by the high school for any student and meet all other requirements for Core Courses. College courses must be placed on the student’s high school transcript with clarification of college completion, and must be completed prior to initial full-time enrollment at a 4 year college or university. 

If the college course does not appear on the high school transcript, it may not be used towards NCAA initial eligibility standards, but it could be used for continuing eligibility standards once you enroll at a 4-year institution. 

Make sure to have your college transcripts sent to the college you enroll in for freshmen year so those credits can be applied towards your NCAA continuing eligibility standards. Once you graduate from high school, taking a full load of college courses (usually 12 or more credits) could trigger full time enrollment so make sure to monitor how many credits in total you have and when they are taken.

Need to know if your current course schedule meets the NCAA requirements? Honest Game Counselors are here to help navigate course selection and schedule planning for NCAA Eligibility. Schedule a time to meet virtually with our experts.

Joyce Anderson, Honest Game CoFounder and COOBy Joyce Anderson, Honest Game Co-founder and COO
Having served on the NCAA Eligibility Center High School Advisory Board and as the College Bound Student-Athlete Advisor at Evanston Township High School (Evanston, IL), Joyce has advised more than 2,000 high school student-athletes and families on academic eligibility and recruiting.