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Playing Soccer in College: Everything You Need to Now

Playing soccer in college is a significant step up from high school and club soccer. Only the best take part in intercollegiate soccer in college, especially for those on top NCAA Division 1 soccer teams. However, the competitiveness is not just limited to the teams that are broadcast on television as only a fraction of youth players end up playing at any level of college soccer. Even a move to a Division 3 soccer squad will be a considerable adjustment from youth soccer.

Although many only look at the skills shown on the pitch when comparing high school and club soccer with soccer in college, a lot goes into those differences. One significant one to consider is a professional attitude. Those who are serious when appropriate and focused whenever practicing and playing tend to be those who are the better players on the squad and most apt to move on to play soccer in college.

There's also a step up with how long the matches are. High school games are 80 minutes in length while NCAA soccer contests last 90 minutes. So much of learning how to play soccer in college is garnering increased endurance to be on the field longer.

People often ask if you can you play soccer in college with no experience. You do not want to be asking college coaches how to become a soccer player, but you can play soccer at a college if you have no experience in either high school or club soccer. However, limiting yourself in that manner will create more considerable obstacles for you.

Learn how to play soccer in college with help from NCSA.

Those looking to head on to a soccer college have several schools located across the country to choose from:

  • NCAA Division I Soccer – 204 men's teams and 322 women's teams
  • NCAA Division II Soccer – 181 men's teams and 228 women's teams
  • NCAA Division III Soccer – 428 men's teams and 407 women's teams
  • NAIA Soccer – 218 men's teams and 219 women's teams
  • Junior College Soccer – 221 men's teams and 186 women's teams

About 45,000 players play NCAA college soccer, but note that this figure is just 6 percent of the 750,000 who play high school soccer.

Also, consider that the scholarship rules differ at the various levels of soccer in college and between genders. They range from 9-14 scholarships at four-year schools with Division 1 soccer schools on the men's side being allowed nine and women's squads at that level are permitted to offer 14.

Should you go to a soccer college?

Of course, you should carefully determine if you have the skills necessary to play at the next level. The best thing to do is get opinions from those you trust and blend those with as accurate of a self-assessment as possible. It's great to have an inner drive and belief in your abilities, but it's also important to focus on where might be the best fit for you. That includes academically and socially as a place that might be amongst the best soccer programs in college might not fit you mentally or emotionally off the field, and that aspect of your college experience is crucial too. You want the best overall fit, not just as it relates to soccer.

It's also important to consider whether you want to be battling for playing time at a more significant program or have a significantly more likely opportunity to play extended minutes from the start at a smaller school.

How do you get a college soccer scholarship? Regardless of where you're considering, in nearly all cases, one of the most important things that you can do for a scholarship is gain more exposure. Exposure can increase by playing for a top club or high school team that's in the youth soccer rankings and performing at top competitions, but that is not a requirement. Also, participating in soccer camps can help, especially soccer camps taking place at schools that you're considering.

Perhaps the most important thing that you can do is contact coaching staffs at soccer colleges that you're considering as the soccer scouting process is extensive and intensive on both sides, and you want to make sure that you are on the radar of any soccer coach you're considering. Share with them how you're doing on the pitch, your soccer in college youth rankings and your classroom performances. The more coaches you impress, the better it is as you'll have more options when the time comes to decide.

Solid grades will help too as more schools will be open to having you play soccer there, and coaching staffs will not have to be as concerned with how you're progressing academically while there. Also, if you're a top student, that'll make it easier to earn non-soccer financial aid, which is even more critical at non-scholarship schools such as at Ivy League institutions and in the Division 3 ranks.

Read about how to play soccer in college with help from NCSA.

College soccer recruiting

One of the most important things to learn when deciding on whether soccer in college is for you is the difference between the term’s soccer prospects, soccer recruits and soccer commits. A prospect merely is somebody who is eligible to play soccer in college; playing skills are irrelevant as far as this term goes. Conversely, a soccer recruit is somebody whom at least one soccer recruiter has shown interest. Finally, a commit is a player who has agreed with a soccer recruiter to play at the school, generally by signing a National Letter of Intent.

Note that a soccer coach cannot call high school freshmen and sophomores but can answer the phone if a freshman or sophomore calls them.

Differences between men's soccer and women's soccer

As far as the rules go, there are no differences between the genders in soccer in college. Matches are the same length, and substitution rules are identical and so on. However, a few other differences exist between the men's and women's sides of the sport, most notably related to scholarships. Although the limits are identical in Division 3, NAIA and junior college soccer (0, 12 and 18, respectively), there is a slight difference in Division 2 soccer (9 for men, 9.9 for women) and a significant difference in Division 1 soccer (14 for women, 9.9 for men).

What do college soccer coaches look for in recruits? What's necessary to be recruited to play soccer at a university will differ some but are similar in many areas as it relates to men's and women's players.

Also, consider that many soccer colleges only sponsor a men's team or a women's team, to ensure that a school you're considering offers a group in your gender. This difference is especially pronounced in Division 1 with 204 schools sponsoring men's squads but 322 offering women's teams.

Find out how to play soccer in college with help from NCSA.

College soccer rankings, standings, and statistics

You're going to want to keep up to date on teams that you're considering, partly to see if they'll be good fits for you as far as soccer in college goes and partly because it's always good to be able to speak with NCAA soccer coaches about their recent matches and how their seasons are going.

Several polls assess soccer in college rankings at all levels, both nationally and regionally. For example, a United Soccer Coaches poll lists the top-25 men's teams that play Division 2 soccer while a different one does the same for the top-25 Division 3 soccer teams on the women's side. If you're considering Division 1 colleges, also look at the RPI. The RPI offers soccer in college team rankings of every squad nationally from the best soccer college in the USA to the bottom one at that time. Also consider soccer statistics although those can be misleading, partly due to different strengths of schedule and soccer statistics in general not always providing an accurate assessment of a team other than the major ones of goals scored and goals allowed.

Of course, standings are essential, and they arguably play a more significant role in determining that season's best soccer programs in college than polls. Conference champions are, in most cases, automatically entered the NCAA soccer or NAIA soccer postseason tournament. Automatic qualifiers can be postseason tournament winners or if that league does not sponsor postseason soccer in college tournaments, its regular-season champion.

What college has the best soccer team? Of course, soccer in college excellence fluctuates from year to year, and a team that's not very good now relative to its competition might be amongst the nation's best by the time your time there is done. However, historically, the best soccer colleges on the men's side have been Indiana University, the University of Virginia and the University of Maryland while Saint Louis University has the most titles with 10. Meanwhile, the University of North Carolina has dominated women's college soccer with 21 national championships.

College soccer tournaments

Soccer in college tournaments as far as postseason play goes is organized similarly to how college basketball works. They're all single-elimination competitions in which teams that win move on or claim the national championship in the final round while squads that fall short see their seasons come to an end. In the early rounds, the higher-seeded team will host while later rounds will be played at a predetermined, usually neutral, site. In this sport's version of the Final Four, the College Cup, there is ESPN soccer as the four semifinal contests, and two championship matches are included in ESPN soccer's broadcast schedule.

The number of college teams that participate in these postseason tournaments is proportional to how many schools sponsor soccer in college at that level. For example, the Division 1 men's tournament is comprised of 48 teams while the Division 1 women's bracket is filled out by 64 schools that sponsor soccer in college.

Soccer in college news

As you're researching soccer in college, take a look at various news sources such as ESPN and TopDrawerSoccer.com. You can also check out all of the latest soccer in college scores by visiting the NCAA's website.

Get more info on how to play soccer in college with help from NCSA.

What NCSA can offer

Every year, soccer in college is a goal for high school seniors, and, in many cases, they are confused as far as what soccer recruiting entails. Fortunately, NCSA has decades of experience helping soccer in college became a reality for several student-athletes as well as helping soccer coaches fill their rosters with top players and students. Many at NCSA also understand intimately what is being experienced during this sometimes-overwhelming period of student-athlete’s lives thanks to personal experience and help everything make sense and be more organized.

Numerous players have voiced thankfulness at the assistance that they received from NCSA. For example, one who headed to Shenandoah University for the experience of soccer in college said that she felt like her options had increased considerably once she made an account and that this helped give her an edge over other athletes she was competing with for a spot. "I'm glad I was able to commit to Shenandoah University, and I have NCSA to thank for that."

Having more than 35,000 college coaches, not just those involved with soccer in college, in the NCSA network has a lot to do with the continued success that student-athletes who work with the organization have experienced over the years. Coaches are also thankful for these services as they help them fill out their rosters with players who are closer to the fit that they're looking for.

As a result of everything that NCSA has to offer, more than 90 percent of American schools with athletic programs have at least one student-athlete who worked with the organization on an athletic roster. In total, nearly 25,000 NCSA athletes ended up committing to play college sports within the past 12 months. If you'd like to be included in that total in the years to come, start your free recruiting profile today. Should you have any questions, give us a call at 866 495-5172.

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