A walk-on student-athlete is not recruited and receives no athletic financial aid, but tries out upon arriving on campus and earns a spot on the roster.
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The National Collegiate Athletic Association is a nonprofit that sanctions 24 sports and has 1,268 member colleges, universities, and conferences.
NCAA DI colleges generally include the largest student bodies, largest athletic budgets and the largest number of athletic scholarships. There are almost 350 DI member colleges and universities, with 6,000 athletic teams and 170,000+ student-athletes competing every year.
NCAA DII colleges offer athletic scholarships (mostly partial combined with merit, need-based grants and/or employment earnings). DII includes 300 colleges and universities and 100,000+ student-athletes competing every year. DII colleges have student bodies ranging from 2,000 to 25,000 students (most are < 8,000 students).
While NCAA DIII colleges do not offer athletic scholarships, 80% of DIII student-athletes are granted financial aid. DIII includes 446 colleges and universities, and 195,000+ student-athletes competing every year. DIII colleges tend to be on the mid-size to smaller student bodies and encourage students to embrace being an all-around college student. While they don’t offer “athletic” scholarships, many student-athletes find access to merit, need-based and other financial assistance.
The National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics is a college sports organization that oversees student-athletes from 251 small colleges and universities in North America.
The NCAA Eligibility Center certifies the academic eligibility and amateurism of every NCAA DI and DII student-athlete to compete, receive a scholarship and practice.
The NAIA Eligibility Center certifies the academic eligibility of every NAIA student-athlete.
The NCAA DI and DII use slightly different sliding scales to assess your academic certification. NCAA DI requires a minimum 2.3 core GPA for a qualifier, with a minimum 980 SAT or a 75 ACT sum score. The higher a core GPA is above a 2.3, the lower the required SAT/ACT sum score. NCAA DII requires a minimum 2.2 core GPA for a qualifier, with a minimum 920 SAT or 70 ACT sum score on a specific DII sliding scale.
The NCAA allows a student to calculate a sum score from all past ACTs taken using the best subject area scores earned to compile a sum score from English, Math, Reading, and Science.
The NCAA DI, DII, and NAIA all have different specific academic requirements required for student-athletes to receive a scholarship, practice and compete. If you do not meet those academic requirements, you cannot compete, receive a scholarship or practice, unless that college chooses to apply for a waiver and the NCAA/NAIA approves that waiver (this rarely happens).
NCAA DI or DII qualifiers may compete, practice and receive a scholarship in his/her/their first year of full-time enrollment at an NCAA DI or DII school. See NCAA DI and DII sliding scale for qualifier test scores and NCAA core GPA requirements.
As an academic redshirt, you may receive a scholarship and practice, but may not compete in the first year of college. You must pass either eight quarter or nine semester hours in college to practice in the next term. See NCAA DI and DII sliding scale for academic redshirt test scores and NCAA core GPA requirements.
As a non-qualifier, you may not receive a scholarship, practice or compete in your first year of enrollment at that school. If you can get into a college as a non-qualifier, you could attend for one year as a non-athlete (no athletic scholarship), and attempt to join the team in your second year. See NCAA DI and DII sliding scale for test scores and NCAA core GPA requirements. A college may choose to apply for a waiver and the NCAA/NAIA may approve that waiver (this rarely happens).
The NCAA (DI only) requires that high school students complete 10 years of core courses, 7 of those in English, Math or Natural Science, before the start of their senior year of high school. Once senior year begins, the 10/7 course grades are locked in and cannot be replaced by new grades earned. This rule was enacted to prevent students from piling on courses senior year to gain academic eligibility.
NCAA core courses must be a four-year college prep course and in one of these core subject areas: English, Math, Natural Science, Social Science, Foreign Language, Comparative Religion or Philosophy. They must be taught at or above the high school’s regular academic level and appear on the student’s school transcript with credit towards graduation. Every high school has a different list of approved NCAA core courses.
NCAA DI and DII qualifiers must complete a total of 16 “years” or “units” of courses. Two semesters or three trimesters equal 1 year or 1 unit. A semester course would be equal to ½ of a unit. A trimester course would be equal to ⅓ of a unit.
The NCAA provides accommodation for students who currently have a diagnosed disability that has a substantial educational impact on a student’s academic performance. Most common EID’s include learning disabilities, ADHD, ADD, mental health disorders, medical conditions, hearing impairment, autism. Students with an NCAA approved EID can take three units of courses after high school graduation before starting full-time in college.
During a dead period a college coach may not have face-to-face contact with college-bound student-athletes or their parents, and may not watch student-athletes compete or visit their high schools. Coaches may write and telephone student-athletes or their parents during a dead period.
During a quiet period, a college coach may only have face-to-face contact with college-bound student-athletes or their parents on the college’s campus. A coach may not watch student-athletes compete (unless a competition occurs on the college’s campus) or visit their high schools. Coaches may write or telephone college-bound student-athletes or their parents during this time.
A National Letter of Intent, aka. NLI is signed by a high school student-athlete who agrees to attend a Division I or II college or university for one academic year. The college agrees to provide financial aid for one academic year to the student-athlete as long as he/she/they are admitted to the school and is eligible for financial aid under NCAA rules. NLI is voluntary and not required for the student to receive financial aid or participate in sports. Once the NLI is signed, all recruiting should stop from other colleges. You may request a release from an NLI. If you sign an NLI with one school and attend a different school, you will lose one full year of eligibility and must complete a full academic year before gaining eligibility. You can find the signing dates at http://www.nationalletter.org/.
A verbal commitment means that you have a handshake deal with the college coach that you have a spot on the college team. When a verbal commitment is made, you should stop recruiting with other college coaches. A verbal commitment is not an NLI. A verbal commitment does not guarantee an athletic scholarship. The coach can change his/her/their mind and so can you, however, it is frowned upon to do so. If the college coach leaves, the new coach can scrap the past commitments made and start from scratch.
An official visit is any visit to a college campus by a high school recruit paid for by the college. During an official visit, the college can pay for transportation to and from the college, lodging and three meals per day for the recruit and parents/guardians, as well as reasonable entertainment expenses, including three tickets to a home sports event. If a college coach does not offer you an official visit, he/she/they may not be interested in recruiting you.
An unofficial visit is any visit to a college campus paid for by the recruit. The only expenses a recruit may receive on an unofficial visit are three tickets to a home sports event. You should always try to connect with the college coach and team when you are on campus, regardless of whether it is an unofficial or official visit.
NCAA headcount sports for men are Football (FBS) and Basketball. For women, the NCAA headcount sports are Basketball, Gymnastics, Tennis, and Volleyball. For NCAA headcount sports, the number of scholarships is limited by number depending on the sport and cannot be split up. Each headcount scholarship offered is a “full scholarship”.
NCAA equivalency sports include all sports other than the few headcount sports. FCS football is an equivalency sport. Equivalency sports teams are also limited to a specific number of scholarships, however, those scholarships can be split up between team members. The college coach decides how much he/she/they will offer to each student-athlete.
A college coach decides which recruits will receive an athletic scholarship and that financial aid comes from the athletic department. A full-scholarship will include college tuition, some course-related fees, room & board and cost of books. Usually, athletic scholarships are granted year to year. You could lose your scholarship for poor behavior, poor academic performance or injury, although many injured college athletics will take a redshirt year.
A recruited student-athlete is actively pursued by a college coach, invited to visit the campus on an official visit, offered a spot on the team and often offered an athletic scholarship.
A preferred walk-on is a student-athlete deemed to be the right fit athletically for the college team, but the college coach has not offered an athletic scholarship. The student is flagged as a recruit in the admissions process and could look to earn a scholarship in their next year of college.