Many believe that a high school diploma with a high enough overall GPA and meeting college prerequisites and other college requirements are all that's necessary to become an NCAA Division 1 or 2 student-athlete. However, that's not the case. You must pass a set of core classes with a minimum GPA of 2.0 although that minimum requires a relatively high ACT or SAT score; the higher your GPA in high school core classes is, the lower your ACT or SAT score can be. With how important NCAA core courses are, you should meet with your guidance counselor early in your high school career and continuously throughout.
Core classes allow the NCAA to standardize its NCAA eligibility requirements. Of course, other types of classes such as those related to music, art and physical education are valuable parts of your high school experience and will be ones that you'll likely take value from for the rest of your life. Admissions departments will also look at your results in non-core classes to see if they meet their own college requirements. However, non-core classes are irrelevant as far as meeting NCAA eligibility requirements are concerned.
NCAA eligibility requirements differ some between its divisions. They are most stringent for those heading to Division 1 schools and just slightly less so for prospective Division 2 student-athletes. Meanwhile, those looking to play for a Division 3 institution do not need to concern themselves with NCAA core courses as passing NCAA Clearinghouse requirements is not necessary for them.
One important thing to note is that receiving NCAA accreditation has no bearing on being admitted to a D1 or D2 university. In some cases, college requirements for admission won't be as stringent. In others, they'll be more stringent, sometimes significantly so as they ensure that you've met its college prerequisites and are prepared for its college courses. Also, admissions departments consider the entire package of who you are as a person, and this includes grades in classes that are not NCAA core classes. These will help show if you're prepared for its college classes.
NCAA core classes: The essentials
If you're planning to compete for a D1 school, you need to have course counts that include the following 16 core classes.
- English – four years
- Math (algebra 1 or higher) – three years
- Natural or physical science – two years including one of a lab science if possible
- Social science – two years
You should also take one more year of classes that can be defined as being included within the first three categories listed above. Additionally, take four more years of classes related to all four of those categories or philosophy, comparative religion or one or more foreign languages
The pace of completing these high school core classes is also important. For example, your course counts should include 10 of these 16 core classes, including seven of them within the first three categories listed above, prior to you entering your senior year.
NCAA eligibility rules for incoming D2 athletes are slightly different.
- English – three years
- Math (algebra 1 or higher) – two years
- Natural or physical science – two years including one of a lab science if possible
- Social science – two years
These course counts should also include three more years’ worth of high school core classes within the first three categories and four more years of classes included within these four categories or in comparative religion, philosophy or foreign language courses.
High school core classes: Your GPA
When your GPA is compiled according to NCAA eligibility rules, pluses and minuses are not taken into account; a B+ is treated the same as a B-. Numerical grades are also converted to letter grades. This is done by your high school informing the NCAA Eligibility Center about how letter grades are assigned on its numeric scale. Meanwhile, if one of the NCAA core classes only issues pass-fail grades and it was passed, the grade received would be recorded by the NCAA Eligibility Center as the lowest passing grade issued by your high school. In most cases, this would result in it being recorded as a D.
The NCAA GPA requirements depend on your SAT or ACT scores.
For prospective D1 athletes, you must have a GPA of at least 2.3 in order to be immediately eligible for play. But note that this must be combined with an SAT score of 960 or an ACT score of 75. At the other end of the scale, if your GPA is 3.55, your minimum test scores decrease to 400 for the SAT or 37 for the ACT.
If your combined GPA and test score is slightly lower than those minimums, you'll be eligible to take an academic redshirt year at your chosen university for your first year there. You'll be allowed to receive the first year of an athletics scholarship and can practice with your team, but you won't be eligible to play. With a GPA of 2.0, you'd need an SAT score of 1100 or an ACT score of 86 to meet NCAA eligibility rules.
High school athletes en route to a D2 school have slightly different requirements. To be immediately eligible for play, your GPA has to be at least 2.2. That would need to be combined with an SAT score of at least 920 or an ACT score of at least 70. Conversely, a GPA of 3.3 would allow your SAT score to be 400 or your ACT score to be 37 and still be automatically eligible to contribute in competitions.
Posting results slightly below those NCAA academic requirements would result in you being a partial qualifier. This is essentially the same thing as an academic redshirt for D1 athletes. In this case, you'd need a 2.0 GPA in your NCAA approved courses combined with a 900 on the SAT or 68 on the ACT or otherwise meet the corresponding sliding scale's requirements.
Core classes: Your plan
This is an area that you need to be on top of from the start of your time in high school. While in ninth grade, meet with your counselor, who will be able to provide you with a list of NCAA approved courses that your school offers. This will allow you to plan the next few years.
As a sophomore, you should register with the NCAA Eligibility Center. This should be done even if you're unsure if you need to. It's an easy process and can be quickly moved ahead to the certification step if that proves to be necessary. But you aren't required to register or meet these academic guidelines if you'll be heading to a D3 or NAIA school.
Your junior year, you need to check back with your counselor to ensure that you're taking enough NCAA approved courses to ultimately be certified. Also ask your counselor to upload your high school transcript to the NCAA Clearinghouse. It's recommended that you take the ACT or SAT at this time as well.
If you haven't taken your ACT or SAT yet, you need to do so during your senior year. If you have, you may want to take it again to hopefully improve your score. Also, at this time, complete the submission process with the NCAA Eligibility Center, including answering all amateurism and academic questions. Ensure that your counselor has submitted your official transcript once your time in high school is completed.
High school core classes
In most cases, you can use the NCAA's high school portal to see which of its courses have received NCAA accreditation. Take note of any NCAA core courses that have "A" or "H" listed under "Course Weight." This indicates that it's an advanced placement or honors class and will have a weighted grade attached to it. You can also see courses that have not been approved. Some examples can include English for foreign speakers, sports medicine and computer science.
Online and homeschooling
In many cases, high school students are homeschooled or engage in online coursework towards the completion of a high school degree. This can be done with core classes to the satisfaction of the NCAA as long as this course load meets some requirements.
One of those requirements is that you must regularly interact with your instructors. This is generally easily done while homeschooled, but it is sometimes not as clear in an online setting. Also, your work in these NCAA core courses needs to be kept and provided to the NCAA if necessary. These core classes must also have specific dates for their commencement and completion.
Requirements not met
If you fail to meet these requirements for your NCAA core courses including the ones that would allow you to be defined as an academic redshirt or partial qualifier, you are not eligible to take part in NCAA D1 or D2 athletics your first year. However, you can still be accepted at a school and take college classes. Many in this situation head to a junior college to take college courses and compete in their sport there. Several top athletes have taken this path and later excelled at an NCAA school athletically and academically.
However, if you're still in high school and can still meet these requirements with your core classes, work with your counselor, parents, tutors and anybody else who can help you raise your grades in these NCAA core classes. Note that if you are missing just one of these core courses and graduate within eight semesters of entering ninth grade, you can take that core class in the year that follows your graduation. It must be completed before you enroll in any college.
In order to ensure that you receive the best grades possible in your core classes and otherwise, take advantage of these tips.
- Focus. This includes in the classroom and while doing homework. Block everything out as best as you can.
- Plan and adhere to it. Keep on pace, making steady progress towards your goals. Avoid procrastination.
- Study with others who are also focused. In many cases, teammates can make great study partners.
In addition to knowing how to excel in these NCAA core courses, you should be informed about the recruiting process as a whole. That's where Next College Student Athlete comes in. Those at this organization understand just what goes into the recruiting process as many have experienced it themselves. In fact, Chris Krause, its founder, was inspired by his frustrations while going through his recruiting experience before the football player found his fit in Nashville, Tenn., at Vanderbilt University. That happened in the 1980s. In 2000, NCSA was established.
NCSA also knows what steps will help you impress coaches in addition to doing well in core classes. These include being proactive and contacting college coaches as well as doing things such as compiling and disseminating highlight videos.
Over the past couple of decades, NCSA has received tremendous accolades, including earning a near-perfect Google Reviews rating of 4.9. This is not only due to its ability to help high school students perform well in NCAA core classes but also helping them know what is necessary to do the same for college prerequisites and college courses. Being a part of a network of 35,000 coaches who are looking for athletes who can excel on the field and in their college classes is another benefit that NCSA offers.
If you would like assistance in determining which core classes to take and of any college prerequisites that may be necessary in your case, make sure to fill out your free profile today. NCSA can also be reached at 866 495-5172 if you'd like to receive information on how it can help with NCAA core classes and otherwise as you make the transition from high school student-athlete to college student-athlete.