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What is the difference between the NCAA, NAIA and NJCAA?

There are over 2,500 colleges and universities througohut America. Below you will find information on the key differences between the main college regulatory bodies – NCAA , NAIA (4 year schools) and NJCAA (2 year schools). If you are reading this you are probably already aware how popular college sports are in America and is big business financially with most coaches have budgets of hundreds of thousands of dollars each and every year.

The NCAA has a three-division system of Division I, Division II, and Division III. Under NCAA rules, Division I and Division II schools can offer scholarships to athletes for playing a sport. Division III schools may not offer any athletic scholarships The top NCCA teams play in front of home crowds in the thousands and the all-time attendance record still stands at a staggering over 22,000.

Often the best student-athletes go to NCAA Division 1 teams and the majority of athletes who go onto be drafted and become professional do come from this level; however, this does not mean the standard of football is any lower in other divisions and definitely doesn’t mean you can’t go pro. We are strong believers that if you are good enough you will get picked up regardless of what division or team you play for. Your team also can’t get relegated or promoted based on performance so worth acknowldedging this fact when starting your college search. Below is some further information on these governing bodies and divisions, we also encourage you to browse through our Unversity Database where you can search thousands of schools and coaches all in one place.

What are NCAA Division 1 schools?

NCAA D1 (4 year schools) is the highest level of intercollegiate athletics sanctioned by the National Collegiate Athletic Association in the United States. D1 schools include the major collegiate athletic powers, with larger budgets, more elaborate facilities and more athletic scholarships than Divisions II and III as well as many smaller schools committed to the highest level of intercollegiate competition. When people think of playing at a US college, NCAA D1 is often what comes to mind but people often arrive at this decision without fully understanding how a school even egts D1 status. Yes often the standard is high with most D1 schools but a school doesn’t get D1 status based on how good they are at a specific sport. Worth mentioning a lot of student-athletes start off at NJCAA, NAIA and NCAA Division 2 and if they perform on the field and in the classroom, they are able to transfer.  So you may not go straight to Division 1, but you may end up there after 1 or 2 years. The impetus is on you to perform.One of our student-athletes Matt Bentley is a prime example of someone who initially secured a full scholarship at a NCAA D2 school before then transfering to Missouri State University (NCAA D1) in his senior year from which he then got drafted into Major League Soccer with Minnesota United FC in 2020.

What are NCAA Division 2 schools?

NCAA D2 (4 year schools) is an intermediate-level division of competition in the National Collegiate Athletic Association. It offers an alternative to both the larger and better-funded D1 and to the scholarship-free environment offered in D3. This is one of the most popular options for international student-athletes, particularly because of fewer regulations on the number of foreign players on a roster and also the lower academic barriers to be eligible. NCAA Division 2 schools are usually smaller than NCAA D11, but don’t let that put you off.

You will find that a lot of NCAA Division 2 schools have teams that are actually better than a lot of NCAA Division 1 teams. You will more than likely get to play against a lot of NCAA Division 1 teams in the Spring season as this is the ‘friendly’ part of the year. If going pro is your aim, NCAA Division 2 is still a great platform to be seen. Many players every year go pro from this level and Matt mentioned above is a good example of this.

What are NCAA Division 3 schools?

NCAA D3 (4 year schools) is a division of the National Collegiate Athletic Association in the United States. D3 consists of athletic programs at colleges and universities that choose not to offer athletic scholarships to their student-athletes. D3 is the NCAA’s largest division with around 450 member institutions, which are 80% private and 20% public. The median undergraduate enrollment of D3 schools is about 2,750, although the range is from 418 to over 38,000. Approximately 40% of all NCAA student-athletes compete in D3. To make it financially feasible for international student-athletes it is important that you have an extremely strong academic profile as you will be relying on academic scholarship.

What are NAIA schools?

The NAIA (4 year schools) is an athletic association that organizes college and university-level athletic programs across the U.S and Canada. The NAIA has 250 member institutions, sponsors 14 sports in which it conducts 25 national championships and has its headquarters in Kansas City. It has 21 member conferences and the Association of Independent Institutions.

This level is somewhat similar to NCAA Division 2 in terms of size of the school and also the level of sports. You do often find that an NAIA team have a lot of international players. This is due to the few regulations in comparison to other levels. If going pro is your aim, then many players from NAIA make it every year. It is a great platform as the scouts realise there are a lot of talented international players on show.

What are NJCAA schools?

The NJCAA is an association of community college and junior college (2 year schools) athletic departments throughout the United States. It is divided into divisions and regions. The current NJCAA has 525 member schools and holds 24 separate regions across 24 states.

Each institution belonging to the NJCAA chooses to compete on the Division I, II or III level in designated sports. Division I colleges may offer full athletic scholarships (tuition, fees, room and board). Division II colleges are limited to awarding tuition, fees, course related books, and up to $250 in course required supplies. Division III institutions may provide no athletically related financial assistance. However, NJCAA colleges that do not offer athletic aid may choose to participate at the Division I or II level if they so desire.

You attend a NJCAA school for two years and then you transfer to a 4 year institute (NCAA or NAIA) to complete your degree. The level of soccer is often on par with NAIA and NCAA Division 2. This is a great route for players looking to get higher scholarship money, but who maybe could enhance their academic standing.

Below are some key factors to consider when deciding what school is right for you. We also encourage you to browse through our Unversity Database where you can search thousands of schools and coaches all in one place.

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U.S Colleges & Universities
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NCAA Member Schools
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NAIA Member Schools
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NJCAA Member Schools

Additional Factors to Consider

Roster Size

It is not unusual for a top NCAA D1 soccer programme to have a roster of over 50 players including their Junior Varsity team, so this may mean places for spots on the team are incredibly competitive and you may not get much playing time in your first season. This can particularly be true for goalkeepers if they go to a team that already has 2 or 3 more senior players in that position.

City, Suburb or Town?

Concentrating the issue of location, the type of area can be as important as the region. Be aware that the majority of universities are not located in the center of large cities such as New York, San Francisco or Chicago. Many of the great universities—that attract thousands of international students each year—are in small cities, even towns. This can be a very big adjustment for students from huge cities, so take that into consideration. Yet, tens of thousands of students each year settle into their studies in small cities or towns. Most people can adapt to a new reality. If living in a metropolitan or large city is really important to you, there are hundreds of schools in the heart of major cities but they are typically more expensive.

Total Costs

Try to calculate the total cost for your studies, including living expenses. You can often get this information on a colleges’ websites. Elite, private colleges and universities usually have higher tuition costs than public universities. Generally speaking, the areas away from the East and West Coasts have a lower cost of living, in some cases, considerably lower. California’s two excellent university systems—University of California and California State University—have dozens of attractive campus locations with relatively inexpensive tuition. But, the cost of living can often be twice that in other states, so your total cost may be higher in California.

Work Opportunities

When starting your search for a school and team in America being able to work on campus might not be high on your list of priorities; however, once out there you will realize that having a source of income can make a big difference and enable you to enjoy your experience more. Because with an F1 student visa you are unable to work off campus it usually means the school will give you prioritisation for job opportunities on campus that become available – these jobs can range from assisting your coach or being a teaching assistant to working in the library or campus café.

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