NCSA 2019 power rankings: Best colleges for student-athletes

Choosing the right college is a big decision for any student-athlete. Where do you want to spend the next four years of your life? What do you want to study? Should you play NCAA D1 or D2? The rankings below are designed to get you started on the college search by learning about schools that you may not have thought to consider.

NCSA Power Rankings are based on proprietary analysis of NCSA Favorites data obtained from the college search activity of the over 2 million student-athletes on the NCSA recruiting network, U.S. News & World Report Best Colleges, IPEDS graduation rates and IPEDS average cost after aid.

The goal of this ranking is to help families find the right college fit athletically, academically, socially and financially.

Best Colleges for Student-Athletes

There are over 1,000 4-year colleges that offer opportunities for college athletics. The 2019 overall rankings are dominated by “big name” schools at the top, but there 13 NCAA D3 colleges and 2 NCAA D2 colleges.

  1. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  2. Stanford University
  3. University of California Los Angeles
  4. Harvard University
  5. Princeton University

See the top 100 colleges for student-athletes

Best NCAA Division 1 Colleges

There are over 300 NCAA D1 colleges, large and small, in all corners of the US. While many families know of the Power 5 schools they see on TV, D1 colleges come in all shapes and sizes – from the 2,800 student Furman University (#81) to 41,000 student Penn State (#40).

  1. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  2. Stanford University
  3. University of California Los Angeles
  4. Harvard University
  5. Princeton University

Top 100 NCAA D1 Colleges

Best NCAA Division 2 Colleges

The NCAA D2 level has 200+ colleges and while most student-athletes think of D1 schools when considering college, they are surprised to find that athletes at the D2 level often have the talent to be D1 but chose D2 for a better fit.

  1. University of California San Diego
  2. Bentley University
  3. Truman State University
  4. Grand Valley State University
  5. Colorado School of Mines

Top 100 NCAA D2 Colleges

Best NCAA Division 3 Colleges

There are over 400 colleges competing at the NCAA D3 level. While you may know NCAA D3 schools don’t offer athletic scholarships, most families don’t realize D3 athletes can get several other forms of financial aid (academic scholarships, grants and aid) that make these schools competitive with any other division level scholarship offer.

  1. Amherst College
  2. Johns Hopkins University
  3. Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  4. Tufts University
  5. Williams College

Top 100 NCAA D3 Colleges

Best NAIA Colleges

With over 140 colleges that can offer athletic scholarships across 25 sports, it is no surprise there are over 65,000 student-athletes at the NAIA level. While an NAIA college might not have been the school you grew up dreaming about, with a little research, you might find it is just what you are looking for.

  1. Soka University of America
  2. Robert Morris University – Illinois
  3. Taylor University
  4. Indiana Wesleyan University
  5. Northwester College – Iowa

Top 100 NAIA Colleges

What to look for in a college as a student-athlete

Student-athletes have even more to consider about a college than their non-athlete peers. Recent research published in an NCSA report shows that nearly 45 percent of college athletes aren’t listed on their teams roster the next year. In more basic terms, too many student-athletes are choosing colleges that aren’t the right fit and end up leaving the team. The below criteria can help families quickly decide if a school is worth considering.

  • Athletic Fit – This is less about knowing how good you need to be to play at a certain level and more about knowing what level is right for you. Would you rather be a starter and get significant playing time or compete at the highest level you can, even if you don’t see much game time?
  • Academic Fit – Having good grades ensures you will have more opportunities at the next level. But you also want to make sure you pick a school that has the major you might want and a manageable academic workload. It is OK if you don’t know these answers initially, like everything in the college search process, they can change.
  • Social Fit – Even before you get the opportunity to meet a coach or the team, you should think about things like location, school size, weather, distance from home and other important factors. Once you get the opportunity to meet the coach and team, ask questions about coaching style, practice philosophies and how playing time is determined.
  • Financial Fit – Getting a full-ride athletic scholarship is far from the norm in college sports. Families should expect to cover some, if not all of the cost of college for some of the years in school. Rather than focus on just the sticker price of colleges, learn to evaluate schools on your expected contribution. You should know what you are prepared to pay. Realize that it takes time to understand what your final costs might actually be once you talk to a coach.

College List Template: How do I make my college list?

Knowing how to evaluate potential schools is only one part of the game. With so many unknowns in the recruiting process – will the coach stay, what if I get hurt, what if I get a lot better next year – you want to have a range of schools on your list. Below we breakdown how to build a college list that will set you up for success.

  1. Reach School (5-10 schools) – Everyone has a dream school. They might be a dream because you aren’t good enough athletically yet, your grades are borderline or maybe it is looks too expensive. You should always have these types of schools on your list because you never know what opportunities might open up, but don’t only have dream schools on your list or you risk never finding an opportunity. These are schools where you have a less than five percent chance of making on the team.
  2. Target School (10-20 schools) – These are schools you know you qualify for now or with a conservative estimate on how much better you will get in the near future. Keep in mind, even if a school is a good fit athletically or academically, you are competing against other recruits and there are no guarantees. These are schools where you stand a greater than 25 percent chance of making the team and getting into the school.
  3. Safety School (3-5 schools) – Imagine everything goes wrong, the coach quits last minute, you get a career ending injury or just have a big change of heart and decide to go another direction for college. You need safety schools on your list to ensure that, even in the worst-case scenario, you can still make progress towards your degree. These are schools where you have a greater than 90 percent chance of getting in and making the team.
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