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As if deciding where to attend college wasn’t already a difficult decision, being an elite athlete also means that you need to factor in playing sports into this decision. While there are certainly many factors to consider, you need to determine where you would fit best when determining where to continue your athletic career. With so many potential colleges and universities to attend, how do you determine where to take your talents so that you’ll be in the best position to succeed?

The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) are separate governing bodies that oversee college athletics at four-year colleges and universities. Membership is voluntary, meaning that each school determines in which organization they compete. The question that most often arises is: what’s the difference?

The NCAA is broken into three divisions: Division I, II, and III. Each division has eligibility requirements, such as the number of sports a school must offer, the type of opponents they schedule, and event attendance. Also, one of the largest differentiators among the divisions is the amount of money spent on intercollegiate athletics. NCAA Division I contains 347 different schools across the country and over 165,000 athletes, with the median school spending over $28 million annually. Enrollment at these schools vary greatly; some schools have as few as 3,000 undergraduates, such as Tulsa (who will be attending the St Louis Boys Elite Prospect Camp). Others such as Ohio State (who will be attending the Ohio Boys Elite Prospect Camp) have over 40,000 undergraduates. Also, maybe try to find a small Div I school that is coming to a camp to go along with the smaller schools you’re talking about.NCAA Division II contains 315 schools, over 120,000 athletes, with the median school spending over $5,000,000 annually on athletics. Finally, NCAA Division III contains 444 schools, over 170,000 athletes, and median spending of $2,000,000 on athletics. Despite these differences, all divisions divide schools into conferences and allow schools to compete for national championships.

The NAIA is home to almost 300 schools and more than 60,000 student-athletes. All sports compete in a single division except men’s and women’s basketball, which has two divisions. NAIA colleges are traditionally smaller and do not spend as much annually on athletics that an NCAA Division I or II school would.

One-on-one coach interaction at EXACT Soccer Elite Prospect Camps
One-on-one coach interaction at EXACT Soccer Elite Prospect Camps

While NCAA Division I schools receive the most attention from a media standpoint, there are three times as many opportunities to play sports competitively at the NCAA Division II, III or NAIA level. This doesn’t make you less of an athlete, it simply means that you are being governed by a different set of rules and facing different competition. NCAA Division II athletics provides the balance of high level athletic competition while still allowing for a traditional collegiate undergraduate experience. NCAA Division III schools allow student-athletes to focus on academics by having shorter practices, fewer workouts, [kinda like number of competitions…fewer workouts?] and number of competitions. NAIA schools focus on a combination of athletics and academics, with a focus on character and sportsmanship.

How, then, do you choose a school that is right for you? In addition to finding a school that aligns with your personal academic and athletic goals, you need to find a school that you feel comfortable attending. Proximity to home, choice of major or career path, size of the school and campus, and athletic and academic scholarships all need to be taken into consideration when determining where to continue your athletic and academic career. EXACT Sports brings college coaches from across the country and across all divisions to their Elite Prospect Campsand provides an opportunity for you to discuss any questions you may have in an open forum setting.