NCAA Divisions I and III - An Explanation from varsity to club teams

Happy Holidays to all readers !


We congratulate all of our senior Tennis: Europe players and readers who have recently been accepted early decision to the college of their choices.  This is the best possible holiday gift of course since your admission process for college has been completed and now you can enjoy the balance of your senior year in high school.


    For those of you who are sophs or juniors, just getting started in gaining expertise in the college admission process, perhaps the most frequently asked question is how the various NCAA Divisions differ from one another and which one might best meet your needs for your own future education and tennis.  Here is a guide for the uninitiated:


 Difference # 1:  Size.  Generally speaking, Division I are your large universities with some private schools but mainly state schools like a Michigan or Texas or North Carolina.  While there can be exceptions, as for example, a D1 school which has only a few thousand, generally we are looking at 5,000 up to 50,000 studentson campus and often schools with multiple locations.  For example U. of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Asheville, Greensboro, Charlotte and elsewhere, each branch having its own tennis team and operating separately.  Division 3 schools generally range from as few as 800 students to about 3,000 students with prototypes like Kenyon, Claremont Mudd Scripps and Amherst.


Difference # 2:  Tennis Teams and Tennis Scholarships:  Division I schools offer tennis scholarships based on demonstrated USTA results (rankings) and number of stars on     Within Division I however, there are major differences. For a top 50 or so D1 tennis teams, you usually will need a top 75 to 100 USTA ranking nationally (top 10 USTA section ranking) or at least a 3 star rating, although 4, 5 and blue chip are more desirable to assure yourself of a Di scholarship offer.  D1 colleges offer up to 4 1/2 tennis scholarships for men and 8 for women.  The number of tennis scholarships available varies with how many college seniors graduate, leaving how many tennis awards are available.  Division 3 colleges are not allowed to offer tennis scholarships.  They can offer a different incentive though: admissions' assistance from the coach who really desires to have you on his/her tennis team.  So if you are on the "borderline" or close to but not quite at being admitted to a selective D3 college, tennis and a coach's support can make the difference.  What about financial aid?   D3 schools do offer financial aid based on demonstrated need, after you file a financial aid and U.S. government forms.  Even a family income of $ 100,000 or $ 150,000 a year will not disqualify you from need based aid, but you need to contact the coach and the financial aid office.  Most recently, top academic schools like Williams, Amherst and others have offered to fully fund need based financial aid if a student can qualify for admission and if the financial profile of a family shows need.  In fact, usually need based financial aid in D3 is worth more money than a tennis scholarship in Division I (the average tennis scholarship for men in D1 is about $ 11,000. to $ 12,000.per year ---with 6 starters and 4 1/2 tennis scholarships, chances are your scholarship will be partial, a third or a half).  Since women have 8 scholarships for only 6 starting players, there are women sitting on the bench of some D1 teams who are on full tennis scholarships.


Difference # 3 :  Then things start to get more confusing when you look at weaker Division 1 tennis programs and stronger Division 3 tennis teams.  Take a look at the Patriot League, Division I programs like Bucknell, Lehigh, Lafayette, Colgate and others.   These are legitimate D1 teams in all sports, but they do NOT offer tennis scholarships (although they do offer basketball and football scholarships).  As non-scholarship tennis teams, they still give you an outstanding education, but often top USTA ranked players will not consider them because they have no tennis scholarships.  The result?  Their teams are sometimes weaker than the better Division 3 teams--when they play in a non-league match, the D3 team might well win, not only win but dominate.  


Then there are also the Ivy League teams.  The Ivies offer NO athletic scholarships and their standards for tennis teams can often place into the top 50 nationally in Division I. Teams like Harvard and Columbia men have even been in the top 20 nationally in D1 and they recruit top 75 nationally ranked players. Ivies do offer need and academic based financial aid though.  Top students are attracted to the Ivy schools because if an Ivy coach wants you, he can use influence to get you into a school which has a 10-20% acceptance rate of admission.  Your dedication to tennis will pay off in help at Admissions, even if no tennis scholarship at an Ivy.


Whether Divisions I or III, a tennis coach will always encourage you to apply early decision, application due early November 2015 with an admissions' decision given mid-December 2015.  If you are accepted, you are then committed to attending.  Reason for applying early decision ? A tennis coach knows he has more clout at admissions if you demonstrate you are fully committed to attending without applying at regular decision to 10-15 other colleges.


Difference # 4:  Can I play college tennis if I am NOT ranked or do not play USTA tournaments and only play high school tennis?


      The good news is that, yes, you have a chance mainly in Division 3 teams which are below about # 25 or 30 in D3 nationally.  Check with the tennis coach to make sure you can walk on in open tryouts and then just show up on tryout day or first day of the fall season.  If you are headed for a larger Division I school, then there is also still hope...look up the CLUB team at your school.  The USTA is providing strong financial support of CLUb teams which have matches against otrher schools and even a national club team championship through regional qualifiers. Club teams are managed by fellow students. You practice when you have time and the beauty of these teams is that you can continue in tennis without the time commitment of the varsity level.


Difference # 5 : Recruiting.  Go to and click on recruiting. The NCAA recruiting regulations are carefully detailed and you should become familiar with them.  Did you know that in D1 and D3 you cannot "try out" on campus in front of a college tennis coach or even players on his/her team?  A college coach can see you play in your high school match or in a USTA tournament but away from campus or can see you play at a college showcase run by a USTA section or by a private organization like Donovan's Strategies.  


Talking with recruits: A college coach cannot initiate contact with you before the final day of your junior year.  You as a recruit can contact him by phone or e-mail but he cannot contact you unless you initiate the first contact.  See the NCAA recruiting rules for more specifics.


Signing Days: There are fall and a spring signing periods of several days (In November and April) for Division I student-athletes, including tennis players.  The web site:   has a more complete description of these signing days.


Finally, a word about Division II : There is a category between D1 and D3 which has its own set of NCAA guidelines.  Division II tends to have more of the schools on the West Coast and fewer in the East, but East Coast colleges like Concordia of New York, Rollins in Florida and Valdosta State in Ga. are in D2.  In Division II, unlike the others, you CAN try out in front of the coach on campus. You can actually play to prove your ability.  Division II also have the same number of college tennis scholarships as Division 1.  They have their own Nationals, individual and team.  Division II tend to attract more international players from abroad...Division 3 has the fewest internationals and D1 is like DII.  Some colleges "specialize" in recruiting foreign players and other colleges and their coaches will recruit only American players.


    We hope this improves your understanding of the college process. If you have any questions, just e-mail to us at:    or ask us on our Tennis; Europe Facebook page. I am a certified college counselor, specializing in tennis players-athletes.  One of the major advantages of traveling with Tennis: Europe in the summer is that you can then present a significant credential for college admission.  We have a wide network of past Tennis: Europe players and coaches who know the national reputation of Tennis: Europe.  This extra credential besides a ranking or stars can make a difference.  How many junior players can say they have represented their country overseas in major international competition ?  This does give you a substantial extra "edge" in your applications.


Good Luck with your colleges, Dr. Martin Vinokur