There are more than 400,000 women’s high school basketball players—and only 1.2% of them will go on to compete at the NCAA Division 1 level. Even though the competition is tough, landing a scholarship isn’t impossible. While Division 1 college coaches offer headcount scholarships, meaning each player gets a full ride, NCAA Division 2, NAIA and JUCO programs award equivalency scholarships. Coaches at these levels have a pool of athletic aid and they can distribute it to as many athletes as they want, so in some cases, student-athletes receive partial scholarships. Division 3 college coaches can’t offer athletic scholarships, but they still provide appealing financial packages that can cover a bulk of college costs.
|Division Level||Number of Teams||Total Athletes in Division||Average Team Size||Scholarships Limit Per Team||Scholarship Limit Type|
|Other 4 year||77||916||11||–||N/A|
|Other 2 year||141||1,633||12||–||N/A|
When it comes to basketball scholarships, it’s important to understand the difference between a headcount scholarship and an equivalency scholarship. In NCAA Division 1, student-athletes receive headcount scholarships, which are full rides. Coaches can give a maximum of 15 full-ride scholarships to 15 athletes and they can’t distribute that money any other way. Division 2, NAIA and JUCO levels, on the other hand, offer equivalency scholarships. Coaches are given a pool of scholarship funds and they can distribute it to as many athletes as they want. Therefore, depending on the program, some athletes will receive partial scholarships at these levels.
Every coach has a specific set of criteria they look for when recruiting student-athletes. Here are the most important aspects families should keep in mind throughout their recruiting journey—and how to get a Division 1 basketball scholarship:
There are 28,305 women’s basketball athletes across 1,946 programs, from NCAA Division 1 to JUCO. The odds of a high school basketball player making a Division 1 basketball roster is 83:1, and the odds of a high school basketball player making any college roster is 15:1.
Division 1 basketball is a headcount sport, so coaches have exactly 15 full-ride scholarships they can award to 15 players. Additional players are considered walk-ons and don’t qualify for athletic aid. Division 2, on the other hand, is an equivalency sport, so coaches can award full scholarships or divide their funds among several athletes by offering partial scholarships. If we break down the scholarship opportunities to these two NCAA divisions, it comes out to 10,414 athletes competing for 8,345 scholarships. From an NAIA perspective, we’re talking 3,757 athletes competing for 1,875 basketball scholarships. JUCO offers the most opportunity as these programs can award a maximum of 15 scholarships per team and the average team size is 13 players.
We won’t sugarcoat it—NCAA Division 1 scholarships are hard to come by. Only 1.2% of high school athletes will compete at this level. Each Division 1 women’s basketball program can award 15 headcount scholarships. Division 1 basketball scholarships are full rides and cover all college costs, including tuition, housing, books, etc. After the 15 scholarships have been awarded, additional athletes on the team and considered walk-ons and aren’t eligible to receive athletic aid.
NCAA Division 1 coaches recruit early and we mean early—in some cases middle school. So, if a student-athlete is looking to land a scholarship at this level, they need to be on a coach’s radar before their junior year. Keep these tips in mind:
NCAA Division 2 coaches can award a maximum of 10 women’s basketball scholarships per team. Unlike NCAA Division 1, these are equivalency scholarships. College coaches receive a pool of athletic aid and distribute scholarship money across as many athletes as they choose. Therefore, to maximize their funds, coaches may award partial scholarships instead of full rides.
NCAA Division 3 basketball scholarships don’t exist—schools can’t offer athletic scholarships. However, they do leverage other types of aid the recruit might qualify for, such as academic scholarships, merit-based aid and grants, to create a competitive scholarship package. Division 3 is mostly made up of small private schools, so they tend to have these kinds of funds readily available. In fact, 82% of all Division 3 athletes receive some form of aid. Student-athletes with high test scores and a strong GPA will benefit the most from Division 3 scholarships.
Previously, the NAIA was home to two women’s basketball divisions (Division 1 and Division 2); however, these two divisions are set to combine in the 2020–21 school year. When this happens, each team can award a maximum of eight scholarships.
Furthermore, the NAIA will continue using the equivalency model where coaches receive a pool of athletic funds and decide how to distribute scholarships among athletes. Typically, to make the most of their recruiting efforts, coaches award multiple athletes on their team with partial scholarships. That does mean, though, that some student-athletes need to supplement with other types of aid, such as academic scholarships and need-based aid.
There are three divisions within the NJCAA, and only Division 1 and 2 can offer athletic scholarships to basketball players. Furthermore, Division 1 is the only division that can offer a full ride. Division 2 can cover tuition, fees and books, but they can’t pay for housing. In addition to JUCO basketball scholarships, both divisions will pay for an athlete’s transportation costs to and from the college by direct route once per year.
All potential NCAA Division 1 and Division 2 college-athletes are required to register with the NCAA Eligibility Center and submit their transcripts and SAT or ACT test scores and answer questions pertaining to their amateur status. To officially secure a roster spot and athletic scholarship, student-athletes must meet the academic requirements and be cleared by the Eligibility Center.
The requirements differ slightly between Division 1 and Division 2, but the overall method for determining eligibility is the same: student-athletes must pass 16 core courses throughout high school, maintain a minimum GPA in these core courses and pass the NCAA Sliding Scale. Learn more about the specific Eligibility Center requirements to better understand the GPA and test scores needed to qualify.
In the search for a scholarship, recruits need to prioritize schools based on the best athletic fit. Think about it this way—coaches offer scholarships to players who can make an impact right away. If a recruit’s athletic ability doesn’t quite match up, the coach is less inclined to award them with athletic aid.
To help your family get started, we’ve compiled a list of the best colleges for basketball scholarships across all the division levels. Recruits interested in these programs should visit the team’s roster to determine if they’re an athletic fit and learn more about the coach’s recruiting method, such as what tournaments and regions they recruit in. Here’s a look into the best colleges within each level:
NCAA Division 1 college coaches offer headcount scholarships, which are full-ride scholarships. They can offer a maximum of 15 athletic scholarships per team. NCAA Division 2, NAIA and JUCO programs, on the other hand, award equivalency scholarships, meaning coaches can distribute their athletic aid across several athletes. Therefore, you’ll often find student-athletes on partial scholarships at these levels, especially Division 2 and NAIA. Even though JUCO colleges offer equivalency scholarships, they have a higher maximum of scholarships (15 per team) and more likely offer full rides.
Keep in mind, though, that not all college basketball programs are fully funded. For example, a Division 2 coach can offer a maximum of 10 scholarships per team, but their budget may only allow for seven. The best way for families to fully understand their financial aid package opportunities is to connect directly with a coach. And the same goes for Division 3—even though Division 3 coaches can’t award athletic scholarships, they can still work with the admissions department to create appealing aid packages for student-athletes.