USA TODAY High School Sports has a weekly column on the college recruiting process. Here, you’ll find practical tips and real-world advice on becoming a better recruit to maximize your opportunities to play at the college level. Joe is a former college-athlete and coach at the NAIA level, where he earned an NAIA National Championship. Joe is just one of many former college and professional players, college coaches, and parents who are part of the Next College Student Athlete team. Their knowledge, experience, and dedication along with NCSA’s history of digital innovation, and long-standing relationship with the college coaching community have made NCSA the largest and most successful athletic recruiting network in the country.
There are nearly 250 NAIA schools across the US, awarding more than $600 million in scholarships and offering the opportunity to participate in 25 national championships. In other words, if you’re a student-athlete, NAIA schools have a lot to offer! If you’re interested in competing for an NAIA school—or you’re already getting recruited by an NAIA institution—you need to ensure that you are academically eligible.
NAIA academic eligibility requirements
You need to fulfill four main criteria to be academically eligible to compete at an NAIA institution. First, you need to be a graduate of an accredited high school. You also need to be accepted as a regular student by the NAIA schools you’re interested in attending. Finally, you must meet two of the following criteria:
- Minimum test score of 18 ACT or 860 SAT (Critical Reading and Math sections only)
- For ACT tests taken from March 2016 through the 2018-2019 school year, a 16 ACT score will satisfy the requirement; however, after this time period, athletes must receive an 18 ACT score or higher.
- Minimum high school GPA of 2.0 on a 4.0 scale
- Graduate in the top 50% of your class
The NAIA Eligibility Center is tasked with making sure all student-athletes meet the eligibility requirements and checking all the necessary documents. Below, I’ve outlined the main steps needed to gain your NAIA eligibility status if you are a current high school athlete.
Step 1: Create an Eligibility Center Account
The NAIA Eligibility Center is responsible for determining athletes’ academic eligibility status. To get started, you need to create an account with the NAIA Eligibility Center. This is where you will house all your eligibility documentation. The following types of athletes need to create an account:
- High school seniors
- Home schooled and GED students
- Current NAIA students who are going to play a sport for the first time
- Transfer students from two- and four-year colleges
Athletes typically create an account during their senior year of high school and receive their eligibility status after they’ve completed all their courses and turned in all necessary paperwork.
Insider tip: High school students who meet certain criteria may qualify for an “early decision.” Student-athletes must have completed their junior year with an overall GPA of 3.0 or higher on a 4.0 scale and meet the NAIA’s minimum ACT or SAT test score requirements. Additionally, athletes who are halfway through their senior year with a 2.5 GPA on a 4.0 scale and meet the minimum test score requirements can also qualify.
To create your account, you will need to pay a fee. For current US and Canadian high school students, the fee is $80. College transfer students from the US and Canada are required to pay $125, while international students pay $135 dollars for their account. Fee waivers are available for athletes who are current US high school students, and they are awarded based on financial need. See if you qualify by checking out the NAIA website.
Step 2: Have your counselor send your official transcript and/or class rank letter to the NAIA
The key word here is “official.” This means that your transcript has to be sent directly by the school, and it must include all of your completed coursework. The best—and fastest—way for your counselor to send your transcript is through the NAIA High School Portal. Your counselor can also send your class rank letters and even your fee waiver approval through this electronic portal. All they need to do is create a high school profile to use the portal.
If your counselor would prefer to send a hard copy version of your transcript or class rank letter, it must be sent in a school envelope, sealed by a school official and stamped by a school official.
Use the address below when sending a hard copy version:
NAIA Eligibility Center – Transcripts
P.O. Box 15340
Kansas City, MO 64106
When sending hard copy records using FedEx, DHL, UPS or other overnight shipping methods use this street address:
NAIA Eligibility Center – Transcripts
1200 Grand Blvd., Suite 100
Kansas City, MO 64106
Step 3: Send your ACT/SAT test scores to the NAIA
For the NAIA to accept your ACT or SAT test scores, the testing center must send them over directly. Unfortunately, test scores on high school transcripts don’t count. You can request that the testing center send the NAIA your scores by using the code 9876. Bear in mind, you only need to send either an ACT or an SAT test score that meets the NAIA criteria—no need to send both!
Step 4: Log in regularly to check your to do list for updates
Within your portal, you can check to see if the NAIA has posted your eligibility status or if you’re missing any crucial documents. The NAIA explains that athletes’ final status is typically posted in their profile within 3-5 business days after they’ve received all required documents
Insider tip: If you’re actively getting recruited by NAIA coaches, you can get on the “short list.” Being on this list tells the NAIA Eligibility Center to prioritize your account in their decision-making process. This option is available for both current high school students and transfer students. To get on the short list, staff members at the schools you’re interested in can add you via PlayNAIA Manager. Simply ask the coach you’re communicating with if they will put you on the short list to expedite your eligibility decision.