How to Find the Right College Softball Team for You
There are more than 1,500 college softball teams spanning five different division levels: NCAA Division 1, Division 2, Division 3, NAIA and NJCAA. Each division level—and school—provides student-athletes with its own unique experience. We’ve broken down some of the main features of each division level to give you a better understanding of what they have to offer.
Use this information to help you create your target list of schools. We always advise that student-athletes include a mix of schools in their target list, as you never know which division level might be right for you athletically, academically and socially until you do your research. Every day, we hear from athletes who signed with a school they never would have thought of until they broadened their school search.
The spotlight is on you at D1 softball colleges
D1 college softball teams are known for their competitiveness and athletic rigor. If you’ve ever watched the Women’s College World Series or any D1 game, you know that the athletes play hard and practice harder. Here are a few distinguishing factors of D1 softball colleges:
- The highest level of athletic competition. For many student-athletes, the allure of competing at the D1 level lies in wanting to play against the best athletes. While there are tremendous athletes at every level, D1 college softball teams will have the deepest bench, and the average level of competition will usually be higher than the other division levels.
- The largest athletic budgets. It’s no coincidence that D1 college softball teams often have the newest equipment and some of the best facilities. They tend to have larger athletic budgets and can often spend more money on their sports teams.
- Large campus and class sizes. At the D1 level, you’ll likely be on a campus with thousands of other students. Especially your freshman year, you’ll have large lectures and you may be taught by a teaching assistant, or someone other than your professor. This means, athletes need to hold themselves accountable for their schoolwork, because their professors probably won’t be reminding them to hand in their homework assignments.
On D1 college softball teams, you’ll find serious competitors who were likely the best athletes on their club and high school teams. You’ll be in the spotlight, competing and practicing year-round. If you’re ready to really commit to your sport and be a college athlete, D1 might the right division level for you.
- How to find the ultimate college softball team for you.
D2 softball colleges: The best of both worlds
D2 is an interesting division, as you’ll find much of the athletic talent seen at the D1 level with a little more balance between athletics, academics and a social life. Here are a few key reasons to play on a D2 college softball team:
- Strong athletics with a balance. D2 college softball is nearly as competitive as D1, but without all the demands of a D1 schedule. Athletes at D2 schools have a little more time to spend on academics or other extracurricular activities.
- See playing time sophomore or even freshman year. Many D1-caliber athletes will opt to play on a D2 college softball team so that they can get playing time earlier on in their collegiate softball career. At the D1 level, many players might not actually play in a game until their junior or senior year of college. However, the D2 level can give athletes an opportunity to start competing earlier on.
- Find a school that’s the right size for you. At the D2 level, you’ll find smaller and larger campuses. According to the NCAA, about 36% of D2 university have 2,500-7,499 students on campus, while approximately 51% have fewer than 2,500. Some campuses have up to 15,000 students. And there’s more in between these numbers. In other words, you can find the right campus size for you at the D2 level.
D2 college softball teams are competitive in every sense of the word. If you’re looking for a highly athletically skilled softball program, yet a slightly more relaxed environment that still allows time for you to pursue other interests, D2 might be the right level for you.
Why you should consider D3 softball colleges
Did you know that D3 is the NCAA’s largest division? With 418 D3 college softball teams, it has about one-third more softball programs than D1 or D2. Of all the NCAA divisions, D3 provides the most flexibility for their student-athletes.
- Many opportunities for financial aid. While D3 softball colleges don’t offer athletic scholarships, they have plenty of other scholarship opportunities students can take advantage of. From academic scholarships, to need-based and merit scholarships, there are plenty of ways to help pay for your education if you have the grades and the resume to back it up.
- The most balance of all the NCAA division levels. If you want to study abroad during college or join some clubs, D3 might be the level for you. D3 softball teams have the most flexibility in their schedules. While you’ll still have a rigorous schedule during the season, you’ll have more freedom outside of your season to pursue other interests.
- Find an academically competitive school. Many schools at the D3 level are extremely academically competitive. By playing on a D3 college softball team, you have the opportunity to really excel athletically and academically.
For well-rounded student-athletes who want to make the most of the full college experience, D3 might be your best bet.
What’s unique about NAIA softball colleges?
For many student-athletes, the charm of NAIA softball schools comes from its smaller class sizes and overall flexibility between athletics, academics and a social life. Here are a few key points that make NAIA softball colleges unique:
- The campus and class size. NAIA softball schools tend to have smaller campuses and class sizes than DI or even many DII schools. Some student-athletes prefer to know their professors and have smaller, more interactive college classes. There can also be a strong sense of community, rather than feeling like just a number in a sea of students.
- Flexibility in the recruiting process. The NAIA leaves recruiting up to the colleges—there’s no recruiting calendars or rules to memorize. Coaches at NAIA softball schools can recruit at any time and through any means they see fit. Softball head recruiting coach Kalee Patterson explained that she liked that the window of opportunity was open longer in recruiting, enabling her to get recruited the summer after her sophomore year at a junior college.
- The balance between athletics, academics and a social life. NAIA softball colleges are known for their ability to accommodate student-athletes’ interests. If you want to study abroad, have an on-campus job or join another extracurricular activity, an NAIA softball college might be a good fit for you.
NAIA college softball teams schools offer student-athletes the opportunity to be just that: students and athletes. While you’ll be expected to train hard and play harder, you can take advantage of the other activities college has to offer. Plus, you’ll be surrounded by a close-knit community of students, professors, administrative staff and athletes.
Develop athletically and academically on a junior college softball team
Oftentimes, softball players opt to compete on a junior college softball team after their senior year in high school. In fact, many junior colleges are feeder programs for D1 college softball teams. Here are some of the main reasons to consider playing at a junior college:
- Enhance academics. For many athletes, junior college gives them an opportunity to improve their GPA and knock out some general education requirements. If you’re not sure what you’d like to major in or you don’t have the grades in high school, this is a great way to keep playing competitive softball while moving your academics forward.
- Athletic skill development. Make no mistake, junior college softball teams compete at an extremely high level! Competing at a junior college gives athletes an opportunity to get two more years of experience playing against college-level athletes, which can help them prepare for the rigors of collegiate softball.
- Get an athletic scholarship. Many athletes mistakenly believe that there aren’t any athletic scholarships. However, there are thousands of dollars of athletic scholarships available for junior college softball players. You still need to go through the recruiting process, but you don’t necessarily need to start the process as early as you would to get recruited by D1 or D2 softball colleges.
By playing on a junior college softball team, you show coaches at other division levels that you’re dedicated to playing your sport and you’re able to maintain the tough schedule of a college athlete.
College softball rankings. What are the best softball colleges?
There are more than 1,100 NCAA and NAIA institutions that offer women’s college softball.
Using data on college desirability among current student-athletes, academics and affordability, NCSA has ranked the top 50 schools for women’s softball across all NCAA divisions and the NAIA. Below are the top 10 colleges for softball.
- University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
- University of California – Los Angeles (UCLA)
- Harvard University
- Stanford University
- University of Florida
- University of Michigan
- University of California
- University of Washington
- University of California – San Diego
- Duke University
View the full list of top college softball programs on our Power Rankings page.
View the full list of softball colleges by state, conference, and division level below.