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What does D1, D2, and D3 mean in College Sports?

D1, D2, and D3 refer to the three main divisions within college sports, primarily governed by the NCAA. These divisions distinguish the level of competition, athletic scholarships available, and the balance between academics and athletics. Read on to learn more about the different divisions.

Written by

Lars Blenckers

What Do They Mean By Divisions In College Sports?

I already gave you the short answer to the main question of this article: What does D1, D2, and D3 mean in College Sports? 

But when I started my own recruiting process in 2014 (Yes, I’m old now), I had no idea there were different divisions in college sports. 

I found out later that they define the level of resources universities must allocate to their athletic programs, from scholarships to facilities and coaching staff. 

The division status often impacts the school’s reputation and can serve as a point of pride, attracting athletes and non-athletes to the campus.

In the NCAA, we have 3 different divisions: Division 1, 2, and 3.

See the table below for an easy comparison between the three.

NCAA D1 vs D2 vs D3
Comparison between D1, D2, and D3

NCAA Division 1

When it comes to D1 schools, think of them as the powerhouses of college athletics. Some D1 schools have budgets of up to 250 million per year for their athletics department.

Level Of Competition

The level of competition is typically the highest among all divisions, featuring many athletes who aspire to go professional. The competition to get a scholarship in D1 is fierce, as it attracts the best talents in the USA and worldwide.

Amount Of Scholarships Available

Depending on the type of sport, scholarships are widely available. Often, the scholarship limits per team are high in D1 compared to D2.

Academic Requirements

The NCAA D1 has the highest academic requirements out of all 3 divisions. You must have a 2.3 GPA (and maintain it) and complete the 16 core course requirements in high school.

NCAA D1 stadium at Ohio State University

The NCAA Division 2

Division 2 schools offer a more balanced blend of athletics, academics, and extracurricular activities. These schools are typically smaller compared to D1 schools in terms of size and enrollment.

Level Of Competition

The level at NCAA D2 is still competitive, as it attracts many top athletes from all parts of the world. You still see some D2 players go pro after their college career.

Amount Of Scholarships Available

In D2, there are still many scholarships available, depending on each sport. Many international players earn a significant scholarship at the NCAA D2 level. However, full scholarships are rare.

Academic Requirements

The academic requirements for D2 are more relaxed, but you must still have a 2.2 GPA and finish all the required high school core courses to be eligible. 

NCAA D2 Soccer at Lynn University
NCAA D2 Soccer at Lynn University

The NCAA Division 3

Division 3, or D3, schools prioritize a well-rounded college experience, emphasizing academics more than athletics. I wouldn’t say it’s just recreational level, as the competition is still there, and many athletes move onto higher levels during their careers.

Level Of Competition

The level of competition is less intense than in D1 and D2, but you will still see talented athletes in D3. This is because some top athletes pick a top education over athletics but still want to compete. Some top D3 programs will beat D2 or D1 teams.

Amount Of Scholarships Available

Unlike D1 and D2 schools, D3 institutions do not offer athletic scholarships, although other forms of financial aid may be available. Most athletes get offered an academic scholarship to help pay for their education instead.

Academic Requirements

The NCAA doesn’t have set academic standards for D3. However, the universities will set standards for athletes to compete and get accepted into the school.

NCAA D3 Field Hockey Champions Middlebury

Choosing The Right Division

Knowing which division is right for you can take time and effort. As I said, I didn’t know anything about the different divisions in my recruitment process either.

Most of the athletes we help at Plus31 Sports make their decisions based on the level of interest from coaches across the divisions, scholarship offers, and what they want to achieve.

At first, many players will say: I want to go D1.

But what if you don’t get any offers from D1? Or what if your GPA isn’t good enough for D1? Or what if the best financial offers come from D2? As said, it’s not an easy process.

The easiest way to get an idea of what is best for you is to get in touch with us for a free evaluation.

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