Competing in the NCAA



I’m wondering if anyone has any experience competing in NCAA Division 1?

  • What’s the difference between Division I, II, and III schools? In addition, is there a difference in funding?
  • What’s the competition like: How fierce is it? What’s the season structure like?
  • How should I go about obtaining a Scholarship?
  • How do I get in contact with coaches or get them to notice me?
  • What are the perks of being an athlete? Is it like the movies?
  • What sort of academics do I need?
  • When is it too late to head over, as I know there is this thing called NCAA Eligibility (but I’m not really sure how it works?)… Do I have to go straight after high school.

Disclaimer: I’ve attended school both in Australia (current) and New Zealand. Distance running is my main sport, but I also row at high level (I know, a conflicting mix!)


Hey there mate, I am currently a New Zealand freshman attending Stony Brook university on long island. I am also a distance runner and will try give you a few quick answers , but I should warn you that I am still incredibly inexperienced in comparison to a lot of others, so you shouldn’t take my word for anything please!!!

Stony Brook is Div.1, but as far as I am aware there are plenty of scholarships available at the div 2 and 3 level as well, where competition is also very fierce (not quite at the same level of course), the only other difference I can tell is really the stigma behind being anything less than div1. There are several Div two and probably div three schools who would kick most Div 1’s asses.

Being an athlete is bloody amazing. Some people may not have this experience, but i can tell you for sure if you have done your research, are at a school with a coach who cares about you, and have an amazing team around you, it’ll very quickly start looking like the best years of your life.

I used an athletic recruiting advisor, who was amazing. Hands down best decision to use one, as there was so much crap I never would have thought of myself, the paperwork required is astronomical!

NCAA Eligibility is an annoyance, I won’t lie. And as such i shouldn’t be the person to answer this section, I don’t want to tell you that you’ll have a year more than you do to get things organized. Someone like an advisor can really help there, as the NCAA has numerous, ridiculous, rules you really need to be aware of. From memory you have one full year of ‘gap year’ to mess around before it starts eating into your eligibility.

In terms of academics, if your not too thick, you should be fine. Again, the better you are athletically the less it will matter, as a school will try harder to get you in. Work hard though and study for the SAT’s. Stuff differs from school to school, but pretty much every one requires you to sit the SAT (or ACT).

You can contact coaches yourself, the school I ended up coming to was one that I had contacted first myself, as i knew someone here on the team from NZ already. However, a recruiting advisor then put my name out there to hundreds of other schools, and in the end I had a few offers to choose from.

Hopefully this helped, good luck with everything, keep working hard mate.



Hey mate, as an Australian who rowed at Yale, here is what I can add:

  1. Rowing is one of the only sports that isn’t part of the NCAA, so divisions weren’t really relevant to me. This said, the NCAA’s official message is that Division 1 has the largest budget and the most full-scholarships, whereas Division 2 facilitates “athlete-scholars” and tends to offer partial scholarships. There are no scholarships in Division 3.
  2. The competition will be largely contingent upon the division. Yale’s rowing program was effectively Division 1 and the training was quite intense. We were officially restricted to the Ivy League’s mandate on training hours, but in reality we trained more than that. On average, I’d say we spent 3 hours a day physically training, with commuting and other sundries adding another 2+ hours. Other sports seemed to have “seasons”, but we maintained our training all year.
  3. If you’re a clever, strong rower, then the Ivy League is usually your best bet. While they don’t offer scholarships, they do offer generous financial aid. Ivy coaches usually have about 8 recruiting “slots”, and these effectively waive you through the regular admissions process. Without going into the exact details, all incoming recruited teams need to meet a certain average “Academic Index” (GPA + SAT/ACT). Because it’s the team’s average SAT/GPA that matters, coaches can take stronger rowers with weaker academics and vice versa. A strong rower might have a 6:03 and an 1880 SAT, while a weaker rower might be recruited with a 6:21 and a 2210. Alternatively, you could aim for a scholarship at Stanford or Berkeley. Some parents don’t seem to think they offer scholarships, but if you’re pulling ergs around 6:10 or less then you’re scholarship material.
  4. Most rowing teams have a recruiting questionnaire on their website. If you fill it out and the coaches are impressed, then they will contact you and take it from there.
  5. If you’re a Division 1 footballer then you’re ostensibly living like a celebrity. Ivy League rowers tend to enjoy a decent amount of social cache, but it’s nothing like the former. There is also some “dumb athlete” stigma to deal with.
  6. As a bare minimum, you should probably be a 90+ATAR sort of student. Broadly speaking, I noticed three kinds of athletes: Those who were simply trying to stay afloat academically, those who wanted to take easy classes and focus on sport, and those who thoroughly enjoyed academia. In order to fit into the last category you need that minimum level of ability, but you also need a curious disposition. Fortunately, I met plenty of athletes from this category, and very few from the first.
  7. I can’t really answer this since rowing wasn’t part of the NCAA (sorry!).


Hey there!

I am currently a freshman attending California State University-Fresno playing on the Men’s Golf team. We are a division one school playing in the Mountain west conference.

  1. There is a difference between Division I, II and III. First of all, for incoming student athletes, they should be aware that Divison III does not offer an athletic scholarship, Division III are all merit scholarships based on academics so if you are keeping on top of your studies, you should receive good funding in that area! Division II are smaller schools that do not have the money to support as many athletic teams as the Division one schools hence they are DII. These schools also don’t have as much money to offer compared to Division I, but they do have athletic scholarships ready for incoming student athletes. Division 1 is the most competitive division with more scholarships and also a stronger field base of athletes and bigger institutions.

  2. The competition is very different. At D3 schools, all you have to know is how to play the sport, so it is a competitive environment for those that are not quite up there with the skill level of D2 and D1 players. It is more of a friendly competitive environment. D2 is competitive and is for student athletes looking to reach the next level, and some students become good enough after competing on D2 to move onto D1 schools. These players are mostly regional players from countries that are not quite at the top competitive stage yet. D1 players are usually more serious in terms that they do aim to excel highly and hopefully reach the professional fields of their sports one day. They train like professionals too and is very strict. Division one is very intense, and the coaches do not go easy on you. It is a fierce place to compete, but the pressure will push you forward. Teammates are all very competitive, and you will hit low and high points during your college career. For different sports the season is different. Some only start at the end of Fall through to Spring and some start in Spring and last only for that semester with an intense schedule of competition. For Golf, it is a year round sport, so we start in Fall and end in Spring. We go for a full academic calender year with tournaments every two weeks and often lasting 3-4 days per tournament.

  3. Obtaining a scholarship is part of the recruiting process. Make sure you have all the documents you need to get approved by the NCAA as they are the governing body of all sports in the collegiate system. Have video footage of your sport ready and choose one that you excel at and passionate about. Seek help if you are not sure as the process is daunting and can trip up many student athletes which cause missed opportunities. Contact coaches early, top collegiate sports teams recruit very early and is becoming earlier and earlier. Prepare to contact coaches two years in advance at least! Talk to coaches, and hopefully, they can offer you a visit to the school and decide carefully which one is suited for you in sports, academics and financially.

  4. Getting in contact with coaches require help. You could email them, but this could result in poor feedback as they receive hundreds of emails per week from prospective student-athletes looking to join their program. If you can have someone help you gain exposure amongst hundreds of coaches across the US, than this can benefit you a lot and in multiple divisions.

  5. The perks of a student-athlete are definitely like the movies if not better! The facilities I have is insane. We have an independent area just off campus called the student-athlete village, and it is all fenced off. It requires a special id card to swipe in, and there are the best facilities you could imagine. Doctors and medic team their everyday for anything you need. Different stations for recovery and rehabilitation. The gym is very good and always updated with top equipment and large spaces to work out. There is study hall with tutors you can appoint any time any day for free. Everyone there is for your help, and you can find anything you need from clothing to equipment and food. The athlete community is great, and you will become an apart of a big family.

  6. Depending on what school you go to and how good you are at your sport, it will vary. Obviously, if you aim for Ivy League schools, your academics need to be up there for sure as they do not offer sports scholarships and is purely based of financial aid which depends on your academics. I always like to view as a balance so if you lack a bit in your sport and your academics are good then you will be found to go in and like wise for the other way around. I always encourage you to give it as much time as you can for academics as that will help you a lot so you can gain sport and academic scholarships at the institution you choose to attend.

  7. You don’t have to go right after High School. However, there is a grace period for sports. This grace period allows you to compete after high school for a certain amount of time. Once this time is over you are not allowed to be in competition, but you are allowed to practice. So double check with your sport and its grace period. You could always attend university in New Zealand or Australia and compete which will not harm your status then apply as a transfer, but that is difficult as universities tend to not take transfers from international schools as often as incoming freshman. Plan ahead!

Good luck!



Im coming up to 4 years since graduating this year so maybe I can add to some of the points Cam has already made.

I attended Villanova University for 5 years on Athletics Scholarship for both XC and track. I was a 1500m runner heading over and was solid in XC. Nova is based just outside Philadelphia and boasts awesome academic standing (top 10 ranked business, nursing and engineering schools) and athletic history. I ran well while I was there and made friends that I will have for the rest of my life. It was definitely the best years of my life and I would recommend it to anyone who is weighing it up.

Having chatted with a few people in the oast about my experiemces I always start by recommending that you start your search by writing out the key things you want in a school. For me it was:

  • Academic standing - I wanted to do business and exercise science (random combo). Nova ticked the box on a business front and I had to decide if I truly wanted to do the ex sci side if things, which I decided against.

  • Athletic history and the quality of the current team

  • Location to a major city (Im a music fan so this one was a biggie for me) and NYC was also 2 hours train ride from Philly.

  • Does the team travel? I wanted to see the country and what better way than by racing around it.

  • I needed to go over on a full ride/ full scholarship (class fees, books, room and board)

  • Size of the class rooms - having been in a University setting in NZ I wanted smaller class rooms so I could get to know my professors and other students, which is alot harder in a 300 person lecture theater.

  • Approach of the coach - did it align with my current philosophies and training?

  • Did I feel comfortable that I could trust the coach - key for buying into their way of doing things. Does the school place focus on the conference meet? And will that mean they will have you race 5 times in a weekend? I wasnt that interested in that idea as I was always looking to be ready for the championship end of the season and not burn out a month before that.

  • What are the weather conditions like - I wasnt an early riser so wasnt keen on the thought of 6am training sessions like alot of the southern schools had to do during the fall and spring. Vice versa I didnt want to have to battle -20 degree weather in the winter… Do you want altitude or are you cool to be at sea level?

With all this, I’ll dive into your questions:

What’s the difference between Division I, II, and III schools? In addition, is there a difference in funding?

Im not 100% sure of the exact reason for the classification between D1, 2 and 3. I think it has to do with size of the school and the course offerings potentially. In terms of competition, as Cam has mentioned D1 is generally considered top level. Also this does not mean that the other two divisions are alot weaker than D1 - with D2 schools like Adams State and Western State putting D1 schools to shame on a regular basis. Both these schools have had great success with foriegn athletes (especially Kiwis and Australians) so are worth checking out.

Otherwise alot of times the D3 schools tend to be more academically focused with alot of them being liberal arts schools. These D3 schools also dont offer athletic scholarships from what I understand. We had a classic example of an awesome running school from D3 just 5km down the road - Haverford College. This was one of the top liberal arts schools in the country and they were national champs in XC for D3. No athletic scholarships though.

What I would do is look at the performance lists that can be found online. Look at your events for all three divisions and look for patterns in the schools that are popping up a lot or look at the times they are running (will give you a good idea of the level of competition).

I think re: competition think about where you fit best at your current level and where you feasibly think youll get to. Might be cool if you are aiming for a national D2 championship by your 4/5th year verus needing to run 13.40s in the 5km to even make the D1 national meet.

This also applies for the team that you are going into. If you are going to be the number 1 guy will you have people to push you? Will that mean there will be a lot of added pressure? Will you make the top 6 or will you be fighting to get on the racing squad? All these questions you need to ask yourself. Find the school that fits you best. Id also say to look at the conference results for the schools you are interested in and assess whether youll be able to get top 8. Schools will tend to give money to the guys and girls who can help them score at conference so do a little research around that to see if you will be valuable to the team.

What’s the competition like: How fierce is it? What’s the season structure like?

Kind of dived into this a bit above. However the key thing about this question is that the competition can be as fierce as you want it. When I was at Villanova we had 2 guys who woukd end up as Olympians and at least 4 additional sub 4minute milers - and that was on one team. I regularly raced across the country and against top ranked teams most weekends. That definitely had its ups but also downs. A school like Norther Arizona University (current national team champions in XC and have 2 kiwis on the team) on the other have a smaller conference and so they can have less intense competition at these meets. This means they often train through or have a mental break during these meets, allowing them to focus on the big meets at the start (i.e. Stanford) or end of the year.

How should I go about obtaining a Scholarship?

From my own experience I figured out, according to my list of must haves, what schools fit my criteria then I reached out to the coaches via email. I attached my resume with times and performances, my academics and other interests. There was also a few youtube clips floating around of my races from high school which I included in my email. Wanted to give the coaches the best picture of me.

How do I get in contact with coaches or get them to notice me?

As I mentioned above I took the first step and got infront of the schools I wanted. A lot of coaches are reaching out over facebook these days. If you have a coach touch base with you over FB make sure you research them just to make sure they are being up front about where they are from.

What are the perks of being an athlete? Is it like the movies?

Being a student athlete is an awesome experience and it can be like the movies if you want. The student life is alot of fun. But you also have to weight that up with your goals on the track as there are a lot of distractions in and around campus that arent condusive to running well. Outside of the party life, you have everything you need to run well, and for many it will be the closest thing most people will get to being a pro. You have all the food you need a card swipe away, the athletics department will do your laundry for you, all your mates and training partners live in one place, and you dont have to worry about kit with a few new pairs of shoes every season. Its a great life but you can be sucked in to the drinking and partying very easily you just have to know what your goals and know as an athlete there is a time and place for that stuff, mainly at the end of the season. Uni is a place where youre challenged and need to find your own way. Go out and meet as many people as you can, have fun, but know what you want to get out of the experience, especially on the track.

What sort of academics do I need?

Youll definitely need to do your SAT exam (which you can have a few cracks at) and graduate High School here in NZ with recognised courses. A mate of mine had issues becasue he did a couple subjects in NZ (i.e. photography, art and PE) that arent academically recognized subjects in US high schools. According to the NCAA that meant he didnt graduate high school. He was all good in the end as he just needed to pass a certain score in the SAT to get that waived.

The level of academics youll need really depends on the school. Nova is a very academic school so had a minimum SAT score to be accepted. However this was much lower for athletes who had been recruited than those who are applying on their academic merits. To find out what you need in the SAT just chat to the coach, they will know. It may also depend on whether they are tying in some academic scholarship money into you over all scholarship, which will probably bump up the SAT score you require.

In terms of academics in Uni there are minimum standards you need to achieve to be eligible to compete. So make sure you keep your head above water with that. However you are probably going to want to get a little more out of your academics than the minimum standards. To help with this the student athlete academic support team are a great resourse and if you are struggling, need help finding a tutor or are having trouble in a class they can help. Every school has easy classes floating around that are GPA boosters but also do reading on the school and where they stand academically. This will help determine what standards are like in the class room. Getting an A at Harvard will obvious be a bit tougher than getting an A at another school. So factor that in.

When is it too late to head over, as I know there is this thing called NCAA Eligibility (but I’m not really sure how it works?)… Do I have to go straight after high school.

I went over when I was 19 and had all 5 years at my disposal. However I hear eligibility rules have changed since I was there. I went over after a year and a half at Auckland Uni where I did a part time course load so that didnt start my 5 year eligibility clock. I am not sure if that still stands but I have heard that some rules have changed.

One thing I recommend everyone looking to head over is to push to start in August. I know this can be an issue for some given we finish our high school year in December but also because the coach may not have scholarship money free up till mid year. However I always push for an August start because thats when everyone is new and looking to mix and mingle. What I found was that when I got there in August the school had orientation activities and plenty of opportunities to meet other freshman. After the first month when everyone was well into their routines at school and the XC guys and girls are pumping out miles it was a lot harder to meet people in general. So when the odd person started second semester in January they also struggled. So go in August enjoy the orientation and meet as many people as possible.

Hope that helps.