College Divisions



Intercollegiate competition is sanctioned by different college divisions.
The biggest and most important of all are the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) with its 3 divisions, the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) and the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA).

  • NCAA Division I
  • NCAA Division II
  • NCAA Division III
  • NAIA
  • NJCAA Division I
  • NJCAA Division II
  • NJCAA Division III

The vast majority of college sports action happens within these divisions and all of them allow member schools to award athletic scholarships to student athletes (except NCAA and NJCAA Division III). There are other divisions, such as the California Community College Athletic Association (CCCAA), which covers roughly 110 member schools all located within the state of California or the Northwest Athletic Conference (NWAC, 30 schools) with no or limited athletic scholarships available.


The NCAA is a nonprofit organization, which sanctions college sports for all its member schools and student athletes.

NCAA Division I

Division 1 is home to the largest universities and colleges, whereas Division II and Division III member schools are smaller in size. A common misunderstanding among athletes is that the level of Division II is by definition weaker than in Division I; or Division III compared to Division II. While it's true on average that D-I schools are stronger than D-II schools and D-II schools stronger than D-III schools, it is important to understand that a school's decision whether to compete in Division III or Division I is of strategic nature. A school decides whether it wants to be a D-II school or D-III school and has to apply for membership accordingly. It is not possible to move up or down the divisions based on athletic success and performance, but it is possible to transfer from one division to another, following a transition period, if the school makes the strategic decision to do so.

Running a Division I athletic program comes with the highest price tag, as the largest number of sports are required; consequently, most scholarship money, recruiting budget, and travel costs needed. A school is required to sponsor at a minimum:

  • 7 men's sports & 7 women's sports; or
  • 6 men's sports & 8 women's sports

There are additional requirements that need to be followed. For example, specific team sports must be sponsored by D-I programs. The largest football, basketball and hockey programs are D-I teams, with the majority of professionals coming out of these athletic powerhouses.

NCAA Division II

Smaller universities participate in Division II athletics. Division II has the fewest member schools compared to the total number of D-I and D-III institutions.

The requirements to compete in Division II are lower and thus less expensive, such as a school must sponsor at least:

  • 5 men's sports & 5 women's sports; or
  • 4 men's sports & 6 women's sports

NCAA Division III

Division III is the largest of all NCAA divisions, with its member schools being predominantly private schools (roughly 80%). D-III schools are on average the smallest in student enrollment and the student experience of playing D-III sports is different than competing in D-I:
The overarching guideline for all student athletes ("Student first, athlete second") is emphasized to the greatest extent in NCAA Division III, with the smallest number of competitions scheduled and organized team practice at the lowest level in terms of hours permitted.

Divison III programs may not award any athletic scholarships to its student athletes. Athletes may receive any other form of financial aid, such as academic financial aid or need-based aid, making the potential scholarship offers from a school often more interesting than an offer from another division, which does have athletic scholarships to award to students.

Click on below NCAA Divisions to get an overview of the college structure in your sport and the respective division, including the various conferences and university profiles.

Ready to Kick off Your Recruiting Process?


The NAIA calls itself “The expert in the business of small college athletics”. The NAIA used to run 2 divisions for men's and women's basketball, but competition moved to a single division set-up (again) with the start of the academic year 2020-2021, which means there is no NAIA I and NAIA II any longer.

NAIA schools are most comparable with NCAA II and NCAA III schools in terms of size, enrollment numbers, and level of competition; although there are exceptions with some of the strongest NAIA programs (across sports) competing on a level comparable to D-I schools.

Below Division Overview enables you to research your sport, available conferences and colleges within the NAIA.


The NJCAA governs intercollegiate athletics for community colleges and junior colleges; 2-year colleges which offer associate degrees before a student transfers to a 4-year university and completes an undergraduate degree.

Competition is set-up in 3 different divisions, with different implications for the schools as regards athletic financial aid:

  • NJCAA Division I
    may award full tuition, fees, room & board, and course-related books/supplies.
  • NJCAA Division II
    may award full tuition, fees, and course-related books/supplies.
  • NJCAA Division III
    may not offer any athletically-related financial aid.

Note that a school may choose to compete in NJCAA Division 1, even if no athletic aid is offered to its student athletes at all.

College coaches on the JUCO (Junior College) level are able to provide a great college experience with highly competitive games and tournaments. Because JUCO is a stepping stone for its athletes, college coaches are instrumental in putting together an attractive schedule to offer athletes the right platform to transfer to another school once they have earned enough college level credits. There are several reasons why JUCO is a great place for a number of athletes in case they are limited by:

  • Poor results in high school could make it impossible for you to get accepted by a 4-year school
  • Insufficient academic results to fulfill NCAA or NAIA Eligibility requirements
  • Lack of athletic track record (more time needed to develop as an athlete, injuries, etc.)
  • Lower financial possibilities to invest in education (2 years on 2-year and 2 years on 4-year school is often more affordable)
  • Level of English to get admitted (non-native international students only)

Next Read

Pick your sport in the menu on top of this page, choose one of the divisions above and start from there or drill down your school search starting with our interactive college map: Universities offering my sport