With more than 250 colleges offering cheerleading programs across NCAA Division 1, Division 2 and Division 3, as well as NAIA and junior colleges, there are a variety of opportunities available for student-athletes who want to join a collegiate squad. However, there are a few key aspects that set each school apart, and recruits need to thoroughly research cheer colleges to identify which ones are the right fit for them. This section provides a comprehensive list of colleges with cheerleading and narrows down the list of the top programs in the country.
There are over 250 colleges that offer cheerleading programs, with opportunities available at the NCAA Division 1, Division 2 and Division 3 levels. There are also competitive programs in NAIA and junior colleges. When it comes to cheer colleges, there are different types of experiences available, even within the same division level. The majority of colleges offer coed programs, while some offer all girl, and others have both. Some programs also have a team-level structure in place, similar to JV and Varsity, where only the high-level squad competes.
But the biggest difference among programs is whether they’re competitive or not. Look at NCAA Division 1, for example. You can have two squads that provide very different college cheer experiences—one could be a well-known established competitor, like the University of Kentucky, while another doesn’t compete in events and solely cheers at games, like the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign.
If a student-athlete is interested in competing in college, then they have to narrow down their options even further by deciding whether they want to go to a school within the National Cheerleaders Association or the Universal Cheerleaders Association. The NCA tends to be more All-Star cheer, focusing on dance, stunt and tumbling. Cheerleaders who have participated in All-Star cheer usually thrive at schools that compete within the NCA. UCA is closer to traditional cheerleading and routines are heavily focused on stunts and the actual cheering.
Like we said, cheer colleges can vastly differ. That’s why it’s important for student-athletes to narrow down the kind of college they want to attend and thoroughly research the programs they’re interested in.
There are over 150 Division 1 colleges that offer cheerleading, and the majority of them are competitive, meaning they participate in the Universal Cheerleader Association or National Cheerleaders Association competitions. Teams that are not competitive cheer at football and basketball games or may be labeled as spirit squads. Both types of programs have scheduled practices, although competitive teams require more training and generally are a bigger time commitment. There are two categories within Division 1: Division 1A and Division 1. Typically, Division 1A schools are larger.
On average, Division 1 squads are harder to make, compared the other cheer college levels, but again, it truly depends on the program. Some of the top junior colleges and NAIA teams have similar talent as the NCAA. Highly-competitive Division 1 cheerleading colleges usually have better funding than other schools, so there may be a greater chance to earn a scholarship.
Many cheerleading recruits are attracted to the game-day environment at Division 1 schools, as well. These programs tend to be large, public universities with energetic game-day atmospheres that you often see on TV. Some of the well-known Division 1 cheerleading colleges include:
NCAA Division 2 offers fewer opportunities than its Division 1 counterpart, with 48 cheer colleges, but student-athletes should still consider these programs. While there are a handful of non-competitive Division 2 programs, most schools compete within the NCA or UCA. These colleges tend to be smaller than Division 1 schools and offer more balance when it comes to school and practice. Many student-athletes are attracted to this level because they can compete, while still focusing on academics, participating in internships or working part-time.
These programs offer all girls and co-ed teams, and a small number of programs offer both squads. Here are some of the top ranked Division 2 cheer colleges:
There are 28 colleges that offer Division 3 cheerleading. Like other levels, these colleges offer all girls, coed, or both teams. The majority of Division 3 cheerleading colleges compete in either UCA or NCA competitions; only a few are non-competitive. Most of these schools are smaller, and some are private. Many cheerleading recruits are interested in Division 3 because they can heavily focus on academics or internships, while still being a competitive college cheerleader. Student-athletes with a strong GPA and solid test scores often do well at this level, as they have a better chance of receiving academic aid, especially within private colleges. In college cheerleading, there really is no correlation between the division and how good the team is—and Division 3 is proof of that. At NCA and UCA National Championships, the top Division 3 programs have higher scores than some Division 1 teams.
The National Association for Intercollegiate Athletics is the governing body for all NAIA cheer colleges. There are 50 schools that participate in NAIA cheer and dance, most of which are located in the Midwest and southern states. For many student-athletes, the charm of NAIA schools comes from its smaller class sizes and overall flexibility between athletics, academics and a social life. The NAIA holds its own cheerleading championships, with the top 12 teams qualifying for the NAIA Cheerleading Championships. The top-ranked NAIA cheer teams are:
There are only nine junior colleges with cheerleading—but the top programs are some of the best in the nation, including Navarro College and Trinity Valley Community College in Texas. The junior college division is split into advanced and intermediate levels, with the majority of programs competing within the intermediate level. This distinction was made because the talent across junior college cheerleading greatly differs. Junior college is a great opportunity for student-athletes to boost their academic performance before transferring to a 4-year institution. Here is a list of junior colleges with cheerleading:
There isn’t a clear-cut “best of the best” when it comes to college cheerleading. Likewise, a certain division doesn’t create more competitive programs. The top Division 3 cheerleading teams match up to Division 1 programs when it comes to overall scores. In fact, two of the top programs in the nation are junior colleges. Therefore, the “best” college for a student-athlete completely depends on the type of program and experience they want.
Specifically, families need to decide whether they want a competitive program or a non-competitive program, a team that competes within UCA or NCA, and the type of squad—all girls, coed, small, etc. But even after a recruit narrows down their athletic needs, they need to factor in other important aspects of a college, such as academics, school size, location and campus life. To help you start, we’ve compiled a list of well-established cheerleading programs across the country:
Additionally, at the recent UCA College Cheerleading Championships, the University of Alabama, the University of Central Florida, the University of Tennessee, and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas all took home titles in their respected divisions.
Here’s a complete list of college cheerleading teams: