With roughly 600 swimming universities across all levels, this section gives an overview of the student-athlete experience at each level to help recruits understand where they may find the best fit. This information can guide you in creating a target school list as the starting point to finding the best match, not only in terms of athletics but also academic, cultural and financial factors.
Between the three divisions of the NCAA, the NAIA and the NJCAA and CCCAA (Junior Colleges), there’s a total of 627 women’s swimming colleges.
Women’s Division 1 colleges look for the top talent not only in-state but also throughout the country. There are D1 schools that might have limited recruiting budgets, which forces them to recruit in a certain area, but schools with name recognition and large athletic budgets like Stanford regularly get recruits from all over the country. Top tier D1 colleges have multiple state or junior national champions in one recruiting class. There are obviously scholarships available at this level, but most athletes receive a partial scholarship as there is a limit of 14 scholarships per team. Diving is also incorporated into the scholarship number with divers counting as .5 people to the limit of athletes per school.
There is a misconception that Division 2 college swimmers cannot swim D1, but this could not be further from the truth. Often, academic goals can lead a swimmer fully capable of swimming in D1 to go the D2 or D3 route. The commitment that D2 swimming takes is still extremely high but allows for more opportunities outside of the pool than D1 swimming does. The best Division 2 swimming colleges include University of California-San Diego, as well as Rollins College.
A swimmer might see themselves fit best at a Division 3 college due to majors offered or the balance between swimming and academics; there is far more freedom than is given to an athlete at the D1 or D2 level. The recruiting process is less regulated, which allows for coaches and athletes to develop a relationship before a college commitment is made. Being able to talk to recruiting coaches as well as the team members can give insight that might elude swimmers at the D1 level. With no athletic scholarships available in this division, money is allotted for academics and need-based financial aid. Johns Hopkins University and Emory University are familiar institutions at the top of the D3 swimming rankings.
National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics or NAIA Colleges are comprised of smaller schools when compared to Division 1 colleges. These schools oftentimes offer an unmatched level of balance when it comes to athletics, social life and academics. The recruiting calendars and rules that govern other divisions are not present in NAIA. The ability to join campus groups like a sorority or take a semester in an exchange program are available at these smaller institutions. Even though the training schedule at an NAIA school will be much less rigorous than that of a top D1 program like University of Texas, it doesn’t mean that swimmers at this level won’t still improve their skills and develop as an athlete. The best NAIA colleges for swimming include The College of Idaho and Soka University Of America.
Junior colleges can be seen as a two-year school where a student-athlete can take her game to the next level in the pool and classroom. Most athletes at the JUCO level have a goal of transferring to a four-year school to finish their education. Saving money is a huge appeal of JUCO swimming, as an athlete gets to compete at a high level without a huge price tag. A swimmer who improves immensely at a JUCO can earn a scholarship at a university of their choice. Swimmers that have a high trajectory of improvement over the last few years are those who will be most coveted by coaches.
NJCAA and CCCAA schools present the opportunity for swimmers to improve in various aspects of being a student-athlete. The junior college experience also allows for an athlete to mature, which might be the key to unlocking their true athletic potential.
NCSA compiles data to create our Power Rankings and give student-athletes more clarity on schools, broken down by sport and division. Variables go far beyond performance at major championship meets, and our data is gathered outside of the athletic department. The Power Rankings also include the number of “favorites” a school has garnered on the NCSA platform. This denotes how many student-athletes are interested in attending a specific institution.
University of California – Los Angeles (UCLA)
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
University of California
University of Florida
Stanford University ranks highly for both the NCAA rankings and NCSA rankings. The NCAA rankings are based solely on performance while NCSA take other factors into account, like the student-athlete’s overall experience, costs and team graduation rates.