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Best Colleges for Student-Athletes | 2019 NCSA Power Rankings

NCSA Power Rankings recognize the “Best Colleges for Student-Athletes.” What makes a school “best” for student-athletes? There are a number of factors student-athletes consider when choosing the right college or university – size, location, academics and cost, just to name a few. NCSA analyzes schools by what matters most to athletes and families to offer a comprehensive list of the top athletic programs in the U.S.

The 2019 NCSA Power Rankings are based on proprietary analysis using 2019 U.S. News & World Report Best Colleges, 2017 IPEDS graduation rates, 2017 IPEDS institutional net cost – or average cost after aid – and “NCSA Favorites” which identifies the most desirable schools according to current high school student-athletes on the NCSA platform.

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College search: Find the best colleges for you

Student-athletes typically have a couple dream schools in mind when they begin their recruiting journey. But the chances of coaches at those schools recruiting their position and offering a scholarship might be fairly slim. That’s why we tell every student-athlete to keep their options open, research several programs and build a school list to maximize opportunities and find their best college fit.

Starting early in high school, student-athletes should begin to build a list of potential colleges. This list should include five safety schools, ten target schools and five dream schools.

  • Target Schools: These are the schools where you have the most realistic chance of getting in and will be the right fit not only athletically, but academically, financially and socially.
  • Dream Schools: Maybe these schools are a stretch academically, where you will need to improve significantly to qualify athletically or maybe too expensive without significant financial aid. You should have these dream schools on your list but recognize they might be a stretch.
  • Safety Schools: These are the schools you have on your list as your back-up plan. Keep your options open and consider schools that you otherwise might not have before starting your research. While these schools may not be your first choice, they’re still a good fit.

 

What to look for in a college

  • Academic Fit: Being offered an athletic scholarship doesn’t guarantee your acceptance into a school—you must qualify academically, too. If your GPA or test scores were to go up a few points, how many new doors might open? You can use Parchment's website to easily compare where your grades and test scores stand among other students and see your chances of being admitted into a specific college. Also, think about what you’d like to study in college and how much time you need to focus on academics outside of your sport. Ask the coaches how other athletes manage their course loads and find out if potential teammates are studying your major.
  • Athletic Fit: While Division 1 offers a high level of competition, less than 2 percent of high school athletes go on to play at that level. Focus your efforts on finding the division level that is the best fit for you. Target schools where you can make a valuable contribution to the team. That might be Division 2, Division 3, NAIA or even junior colleges, all of which offer great opportunities and scholarships.  Learn the differences between divisions to understand which one is right for you.
  • Financial Fit: How much can you afford and how much aid are you eligible to receive at each school? Athletic scholarships are only one form of financial aid, and amounts can vary depending on a number of factors including sport, team size and equivalency vs. headcount sports. Cost should be top-of-mind when pursuing programs - be sure to find out what kind of financial aid and scholarship options are available at each school you consider.
  • Social Fit: This will be your home for the next four years, so you’ll want to choose a school where you’ll be comfortable and most like yourself. Soak in the environment when you go on campus visits, including the location, size, dorms and social vibe. Ask other students what they like about living on campus to see if you can picture yourself there. Don’t forget to consider how far you are from home and even the weather. It’s beneficial to keep a checklist going of which personal preferences matter to you most as you start researching schools.

 

What division level is right for you?

It’s important to include a mix of Division 2, Division 3 and NAIA schools on your college lists. The majority of scholarship athletes compete outside of Division 1. In fact, while 56 percent of Division 1 athletes receive some form of aid, 61 percent of Division 2 and 82 percent of Division 3 college athletes receive aid or need-based scholarships. The right division level for you comes down to what you are looking for in college.

  • NCAA Division 1: These programs are highly competitive, and being an athlete is considered a full-time job. There are more than 350 D1 schools and they typically offer partial or full scholarships, but less than 2 percent of high school athletes play at this level.
  • NCAA Division 2: These programs tend to be a mix of private and public schools that are smaller to mid-sized. There are more than 300 D2 programs, all of which offer athletic scholarships. Athletes typically find a balance among their academics, athletics and social life at these institutions.
  • NCAA Division 3: There are more than 440 D3 schools and 81 percent of them are private. In general, they tend to be smaller schools. D3 offers athletes more free time so they can have a well-rounded college experience.
  • NAIA: The average NAIA school has 2,000 students and there are more than 250 programs nationwide. Like Division 3, these schools are smaller.
  • Junior College: Junior colleges offer a 2-year associate degree, and most can offer scholarships. For many athletes, junior college is an opportunity to improve and grow, while discovering different subjects they’d like to major in.

Search the NCSA Power Rankings by sport and division level below:

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Best Baseball Colleges

Best Division 1 Baseball Colleges

Best Division 2 Baseball Colleges

Best Division 3 Baseball Colleges

Best NAIA Baseball Colleges

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Best Men’s Basketball Colleges

Best Division 1 Men’s Basketball Colleges

Best Division 2 Men’s Basketball Colleges

Best Division 3 Men’s Basketball Colleges

Best NAIA Men’s Basketball Colleges

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Best Women’s Basketball Colleges

Best Division 1 Women’s Basketball Colleges

Best Division 2 Women’s Basketball Colleges

Best Division 3 Women’s Basketball Colleges

Best NAIA Women’s Basketball Colleges

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Best Field Hockey Colleges

Best Division 1 Field Hockey Colleges

Best Division 2 Field Hockey Colleges

Best Division 3 Field Hockey Colleges

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Best Football Colleges

Best Division 1 Football Colleges

Best Division 2 Football Colleges

Best Division 3 Football Colleges

Best NAIA Football Colleges

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Best Men’s Golf Colleges

Best Division 1 Men’s Golf Colleges

Best Division 2 Men’s Golf Colleges

Best Division 3 Men’s Golf Colleges

Best NAIA Men’s Golf Colleges

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Best Women’s Golf Colleges

Best Division 1 Women’s Golf Colleges

Best Division 2 Women’s Golf Colleges

Best Division 3 Women’s Golf Colleges

Best NAIA Women’s Golf Colleges

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Best Men’s Ice Hockey Colleges

Best Division 1 Men’s Ice Hockey Colleges

Best Division 3 Men’s Ice Hockey Colleges

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Best Women’s Ice Hockey Colleges

Best Division 1 Women’s Ice Hockey Colleges

Best Division 3 Women’s Ice Hockey Colleges

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Best Men’s Lacrosse Colleges

Best Division 1 Men’s Lacrosse Colleges

Best Division 2 Men’s Lacrosse Colleges

Best Division 3 Men’s Lacrosse Colleges

Best NAIA Men’s Lacrosse Colleges

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Best Women’s Lacrosse Colleges

Best Division 1 Women’s Lacrosse Colleges

Best Division 2 Women’s Lacrosse Colleges

Best Division 3 Women’s Lacrosse Colleges

Best NAIA Women’s Lacrosse Colleges

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Best Men’s Rowing Colleges

Best Men's Rowing Colleges

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Best Women’s Rowing Colleges

Best Women’s Rowing Colleges

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Best Men’s Soccer Colleges

Best Division 1 Men's Soccer Colleges

Best Division 2 Men's Soccer Colleges

Best Division 3 Men's Soccer Colleges

Best NAIA Men's Soccer Colleges

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Best Women’s Soccer Colleges

Best Division 1 Women's Soccer Colleges

Best Division 2 Women's Soccer Colleges

Best Division 3 Women's Soccer Colleges

Best NAIA Women's Soccer Colleges

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Best Softball Colleges

Best Division 1 Softball Colleges

Best Division 2 Softball Colleges

Best Division 3 Softball Colleges

Best NAIA Softball Colleges

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Best Men’s Swimming Colleges

Best Division 1 Men’s Swimming Colleges

Best Division 2 Men’s Swimming Colleges

Best Division 3 Men’s Swimming Colleges

Best NAIA Men’s Swimming Colleges

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Best Women’s Swimming Colleges

Best Division 1 Women’s Swimming Colleges

Best Division 2 Women’s Swimming Colleges

Best Division 3 Women’s Swimming Colleges

Best NAIA Women’s Swimming Colleges

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Best Men’s Tennis Colleges

Best Division 1 Men’s Tennis Colleges

Best Division 2 Men’s Tennis Colleges

Best Division 3 Men’s Tennis Colleges

Best NAIA Men’s Tennis Colleges

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Best Women’s Tennis Colleges

Best Division 1 Women’s Tennis Colleges

Best Division 2 Women’s Tennis Colleges

Best Division 3 Women’s Tennis Colleges

Best NAIA Women’s Tennis Colleges

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Best Men’s Track and Field Colleges

Best Division 1 Men’s Track and Field Colleges

Best Division 2 Men’s Track and Field Colleges

Best Division 3 Men’s Track and Field Colleges

Best NAIA Men’s Track and Field Colleges

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Best Women’s Track and Field Colleges

Best Division 1 Women’s Track and Field Colleges

Best Division 2 Women’s Track and Field Colleges

Best Division 3 Women’s Track and Field Colleges

Best NAIA Women’s Track and Field Colleges

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Best Women’s Volleyball Colleges

Best Division 1 Women's Volleyball Colleges

Best Division 2 Women's Volleyball Colleges

Best Division 3 Women's Volleyball Colleges

Best NAIA Women's Volleyball Colleges

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Best Women’s Beach Volleyball Colleges

Best Women’s Beach Volleyball Colleges

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Best Men’s Volleyball Colleges

Best Men’s Volleyball Colleges

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Best Men’s Water Polo Colleges

Best Men’s Water Polo Colleges 

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Best Women’s Water Polo Colleges

Best Women’s Water Polo Colleges 

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Best Men’s Wrestling Colleges

Best Division 1 Men’s Wrestling Colleges

Best Division 2 Men’s Wrestling Colleges

Best Division 3 Men’s Wrestling Colleges

Best NAIA Men’s Wrestling Colleges

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Best Women’s Wrestling Colleges

Best Women’s Wrestling Colleges

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