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Why Division III And The NAIA Could Be Your Best Recruiting Opportunities

football player lifted into the air by a teammate while vying for a college football scholarship

Your recruiting journey depends on your outlook.

We don’t mean that in terms of visualization, even though imagining yourself in competition can be helpful.

There’s a sweet spot between recognizing the reality of how you perform in your sport and in the classroom, (and accepting that maybe you won’t be able to play in NCAA DI), and dreaming big and working hard toward your ambitions.

When we recently talked about the three signs you might not be a DI athlete, we heard some feedback. Now, our point was that your recruiting journey should include talks with DII, DIII, NAIA and other colleges, to cast your net wide to get as much out of the recruiting process as you can. (And if you need help thinking about what school might be the best fit for you across the board, you can check out our power rankings).

But maybe we didn’t emphasize enough that you should look at opportunities in DIII and NAIA.

Sometimes we hear athletes say they want DI, or nothing — or “DI, maybe DII,” as if their choice of school should mirror the NCAA divisions. But just because a school is in DI doesn’t mean it should be your dream school. And just because a school is in the NAIA does not mean you should consider it your safety. Why say “DI or nothing?” Do you really want to end up with nothing: no scholarship, no team, on your own to workout and find clubs where you can play the sport you love?

You don’t really want that.

In 2013, Division III included 427 schools and more than 150,000 student-athletes. And, as we’ve written before, while DIII schools can’t offer “athletic scholarships,” athletes attending DIII schools receive aid in the form of need-based, academic or third-party scholarships.

3 Tips To Remember About Division III Recruiting

  • The average recruiting budget for an entire program is $500. So coaches won’t be able to travel unless they’re doing it on their own dime, and they have even more reason to rely on online services where athletes can put their information all in one place.
  • Unlike the restrictions placed on DI and DII coaches, anyone in Division III can contact recruits without any year-by-year restrictictions, schedules and regulations. There are still some restrictions on in-person visits, but coaches can call, email or text any athlete, at any time, for any reason. Of course the time they spend recruiting is bound by their time coaching and their overall recruiting budget. But all this means is that you should be even more proactive in reaching out to college coaches.
  • As opposed to the National Letter of Intent, Division III prospective athletes must apply, receive an acceptance letter and accept their financial aid package before they commit.

Don’t forget to consider whether your school has a program in your major or if it has a strong record of academic achievement. For example, Division III includes many liberal arts colleges with high “name-brand” recognition. Did we mention you can our power rankings to help you understand how schools compare to each other?

And the NAIA has huge opportunities for athletes as well.

The National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) is separate from the NCAA. We often include it in lists, but don’t talk about it further. Which is too bad! Because in 2013, approximately 250 schools in NAIA awarded more than $370,000,000 in athletic scholarships to student-athletes. We didn’t miscount our commas, there. $370 million.

  • The recruiting budget most NAIA schools have is small, just like NCAA Division III. So you might need to do some digging to find the coach you should reach out to (and you should be reaching out to coaches) but unlike DIII, NAIA offers athletic scholarships. We’ve heard them compared to the level of competition at NCAA DII schools.
  • There are no rules that dictate how coaches can communicate with you. Coach wants to send you a Facebook message your freshman year? Done. Tweet back and forth with recruits in their sophomore year? Also yes. No matter whether the communication happens online or in person. This just means it’s all the more important to be proactive when you reach out to college coaches.
  • But remember: NAIA schools can draft their own letters of intent, which are just as binding as the NCAA’s National Letter of Intent.

We want you to be happy in your choice of sport and college, no matter in what division of NCAA play, or the NAIA, it is.

What about you?

Do you have more questions about what level of athletic play you should be considering? Or does tapping into that $370 million in NAIA sound intriguing to you? We’re here to give you personal answers to all of your questions.

Ask away.

About the author
Andy McKernan

Andy McKernan is the content strategist at NCSA Athletic Recruiting. A content marketer with a background in creative writing, Andy brings several years of experience to NCSA.


  • Thank you for the information in very Intrested in playing football after high school and I do have 2 more years to get better but now I’m more aware about the colleges I should be Intrested in which is not only d1-d2 and d-3 but naia as well

  • I played NAIA and it was a great decision. Could I have gone DII? Absolutely. Would I have been a starter the entire time I was there? Probably not. NAIA is just as great as DII but it’s merits are seldomly publicized. Kudos for including them in your article.