Are you a college-bound student-athlete? If so, there are many factors that you’ll need to consider when thinking about which school to attend. One of the most important things that you must understand are initial-eligibility requirements, which are the academic prerequisites that must be met prior to being eligible to participate in intercollegiate athletics.
There are three major intercollegiate sports organizations in the United States that have initial-eligibility requirements: the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA), and the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA). Each of these has its own requirements that must be followed by its member institutions. It is imperative for you to understand what these rules are and what is expected of you prior to becoming an eligible student-athlete at the collegiate level.
Listed below are a few important factors to keep in mind when familiarizing yourself with initial-eligibility requirements:
Guidance Counselors and Coaches
As soon as you enter ninth grade, you will be considered a prospective student-athlete by the intercollegiate sport organizations. It’s important for you to notify your guidance counselor and coaches that you are interested in playing a sport in college so that they can guide you through the initial-eligibility processes of the NCAA, NAIA and/or NJCAA.
If you are interested in becoming a student-athlete at an NCAA Division I or II institution or at an NAIA school, you must first be registered with the eligibility center associated with the organization. You must also meet certain academic requirements. These guidelines are monitored by each organization’s eligibility centers to make sure that a prospective student-athlete has met the requirements and is certified as eligible before she is allowed to participate in intercollegiate athletics. If a student hasn’t met the requirements, she won’t be permitted to play.
Be aware that meeting the NCAA and/or NAIA eligibility requirements does not mean that a student is guaranteed admisssion to college. It is still up to each institution’s admissions department to make that determination, not the eligibility centers.
Standardized Test Scores (SAT and/or ACT)
One of the initial-eligibility requirements of the eligibility centers is your SAT or ACT scores. When you register to take these standardized tests, be sure to include the NCAA Eligibility Center and/or the NAIA Eligibility Center (if applicable) as one of your test score recipients. These centers will only accept your scores if they are sent directly from the testing companies.
Overview: Initial-Eligibility Requirements of the NCAA, NAIA and NJCAA
National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA)
The NCAA is the largest intercollegiate sport organization and is made up of four-year colleges and universities representing Divisions I, II, and III. Initial-eligibility requirements include:
- Registering with the NCAA Eligibility Center
- Graduating from high school
- Completing a certain number of core courses (which are specific to each individual high school)
- Earning a minimum GPA in the core courses
- Earning a combined SAT or ACT score that matches your core course GPA
- Being certified as an amateur student-athlete
There will be new Division I eligibility requirements for student-athletes enrolling on or after August 1, 2016, and new Division II eligibility requirements for student-athletes enrolling on or after August 1, 2018. Check the NCAA’s website to learn details of these changes.
National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA)
The NAIA is made up of four-year colleges and universities whose initial-eligibility requirements include:
- Registering with the NAIA Eligibility Center
- Being an amateur student-athlete
- Graduating high school and meeting two of the following requirements:
- Test score requirements — achieve a minimum of 18 on ACT or 860 on SAT
- High school GPA requirement — (Minimum 2.0 on a 4.0 scale), or
- Class rank requirement — graduate in the top half of your high school class
National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA)
The NJCAA is made up of two-year colleges and is the second-largest intercollegiate sports organization behind the NCAA. The NJCAA does not have an eligibility center. The only initial-eligibility requirement is that incoming student-athletes must be graduates of a high school that awards an academic diploma or have earned a GED.
Make sure you know what the initial-eligibility requirements are for the colleges and universities you are interested in attending. Regardless of what these turn out to be, remember you are a student first. Not only do coaches need eligible players on their team who can maintain their grades, but colleges and universities want student-athletes who will be able to graduate from their institutions as well.
Follow this link to ask questions and find further reading about being a student-athlete in college.
Dixon, Chelsea L. (2015). Bridging the Gap: A Simple Guide to College. Yardley, PA: Open Door.