There are roughly 500 swimming colleges across all the major athletic divisions: NCAA Division 1, Division 2 and Division 3, as well as NAIA and junior colleges. This section gives an overview of the student-athlete experience at each level to help recruits understand where they may find the best fit. We recommend recruits use this information to create a target school list as the starting point to finding the best match, not only in terms of athletics but also social and academic factors.
Between the three divisions of the NCAA, the NAIA and the NJCAA (Junior Colleges), a total of about 500 institutions offer the sport of men’s swimming.
At the NCAA Division 1 level, there are 143 colleges competing in men’s swimming.
Division 1 is the highest level of men’s college swimming. Many student-athletes aspire to competing in the elite programs in Division 1. Here are some factors to consider about this level:
The highest level of athletic competition: For many student-athletes, the allure of competing at the D1 level lies in wanting to compete against the best of their peers. The level of competition will be generally much higher than the other division levels.
The largest athletic budgets: It’s no coincidence that D1 college men’s swimming teams often have the most modern and well-equipped facilities. These schools tend to have larger budgets to spend on their athletics departments.
Large campus and class sizes: At the D1 level, student-athletes are often on campuses with thousands of other students. Especially freshman year, student-athletes will take courses that are large lectures and may be taught by a teaching assistant.
On D1 college men’s swimming teams, athletes will find elite competitors who were likely the best athletes on the high school and club teams they came from. If a swimming recruit is ready to really commit to their sport, D1 might the right division level for them.
View NCSA’s Power Rankings for the best division 1 men’s swimming colleges.
There are 58 universities in NCAA Division 2 which have men’s swim teams.
At Division 2, student-athletes will find almost as much of the athletic talent seen at the D1 level with more balance between athletics, academics and a social life. Here are a few key reasons to compete on a D2 college men’s swimming team:
More balance: D2 college men’s swimming is almost as competitive as D1 but without some of the demands of a D1 schedule. Athletes at D2 schools have a little more time to spend on their personal interests, like hobbies, campus groups and academics.
The right size: At the D2 level, student-athletes will find a wide range of campus sizes. According to the NCAA, about 36% of D2 universities have a student population of 2,500–7,499 while approximately 51% have fewer than 2,500. Some campuses have up to 15,000 students. This means that student-athletes can find the right campus size based on their preferences.
D2 college men’s swimming teams are highly competitive. Student-athletes who want to swim with a program where they will be challenged, but they also have an overall college experience that allows more time for other interests might find the best fit at the D2 level.
View NCSA’s Power Rankings for the best division 2 men’s swimming colleges.
200 colleges and universities in NCAA Division 3 support men’s swimming teams.
Many student-athletes and their families aren’t aware that D3 is the NCAA’s largest division. D3 also provides a lot of flexibility for their student-athletes. Here are some benefits to swimming a D3 team:
Financial aid opportunities: While D3 men’s swimming programs don’t offer athletic scholarships, student-athletes can find other ways to lower their college costs if they have a strong high school transcript.
The most balance of all levels: D3 might be the right choice for athletes who are interested in pursuing other, non-athletic endeavors in college, such as campus groups or study broad. This is due to the amount of flexibility in D3 athletes’ schedules. They will still have a very busy schedule during the swimming season, but there will be more freedom during the off-season.
Competitive academics: Well-rounded student-athletes who want to make the most of their college experience, as well as put a large emphasis on their non-swimming career after college may be best suited for D3 school, where academics can be more of a leading factor.
View NCSA’s Power Rankings for the best division 3 men’s swimming colleges.
Within the NAIA there are 22 institutions offering men’s swimming programs.
For many student-athletes, the appeal of NAIA men’s swimming schools comes from their smaller class sizes and flexibility between athletics, academics and a social life. Here are a few key points to understand about NAIA athletic opportunities:
Campus and class size: NAIA men’s swimming schools tend to have smaller campuses and class sizes, often with a strong sense of community, compared to larger schools where student-athletes may have a more challenging time getting acclimated or feeling like part of the community.
Flexibility in the recruiting process: The NAIA does not have set recruiting rules and calendars like the NCAA does. This gives the colleges and potential recruits more autonomy in navigating their recruiting journey. NAIA schools can be a good option for athletes who bloomed later or were delayed in launching their recruiting process.
Balance between athletics, academics and a social life. NAIA men’s swimming colleges are known for their ability to accommodate student-athletes’ interests outside of swimming. If student-athletes want to join campus groups, study abroad or have an on-campus job, one of the NAIA men’s swimming colleges might be a good fit for them.
View NCSA’s Power Rankings for the best NAIA men’s swimming colleges.
There are 67 junior colleges supporting NJCAA or CCCAA men’s swimming programs.
Another route for men’s swimmers to compete in college is to join a team at a junior college. Some junior colleges are actually feeder programs for D1 college men’s swimming programs. Here are some of the main reasons to consider junior colleges:
Cost: Junior colleges offer great value to student-athletes. The average published yearly tuition and fees for a public two-year junior college (for in-district students) is around $3,440, compared to a private four-year college average of around $32,410.
Academic growth: For many student-athletes, junior college provides a lower cost alternative for completing some core course requirements. Student-athletes who didn’t have the best GPA in high school or aren’t quite ready to decide on a college major yet, junior college offers a great way to keep swimming competitively while developing their academics.
Athletic skill development: Junior college men’s swimming teams still compete at a high level. Student-athletes can use their junior college experience to potentially transfer to a school in another division level and continue to grow as an athlete.
Get an athletic scholarship: It’s a common misconception that junior colleges do not offer athletic scholarships. Student-athletes still need to go through the recruiting process, but don’t necessarily need to start the process as early as they’d need to with D1 or D2 men’s soccer programs.
Each year, NCSA calculates a list of Power Rankings to recognize the best colleges for student-athletes, broken down by sport and division level. There are many factors for student-athletes to consider when picking a school beyond just the athletic program. Student-athletes will have the best chances of success when they are at a school that’s a good fit in terms of the overall student experience. Power Rankings are based on several data sources, including how many “favorites” a school has on our platform – an indication of how many student-athletes are interesting in attending. Below are the best men’s swimming colleges according to NCSA’s Power Rankings:
North Carolina at Chapel Hill