Sports can be a huge part of many students' college experiences. Whether it’s playing under the lights or cheering on the home team, almost every student will interact with sports and athletics at some point in their college career. How do you know how much of a role sports should play in your college experience and in your college search? Let’s explore the different levels of athletics you can participate in to help you make a decision.
Varsity sports are the highest level of athletics a college can offer. There are five different divisions of varsity sports:
- NCAA Division I
- NCAA Division II
- NCAA Division III
- Junior College
NCAA Division I is considered the most competitive and includes big state schools like the University of Southern California and Pennsylvania State University. Many varsity athletes get recruited to these schools, meaning they’ve spoken with a coach and have a confirmed spot on a team. They may have a scholarship, or they could also be a walk on. Recruiting can happen at any point during high school and after graduation. In some extreme cases, recruiting may start in middle school. The recruiting process, as many athletes who went through it would confirm, is a challenging one. There are hours of putting together highlight reels, sending emails, meeting with coaches, attending showcases, and more.
The biggest commitment
Varsity sports are a full-time commitment before you even step foot on campus. But once you get there, the real work starts. College athletes must not only act as normal students by completing homework, taking tests, and going to office hours but also participate in lifts, workouts, and practices. They usually have little-to-no free time, especially at Division I and II. Varsity athletes in all divisions have to sacrifice part of the “normal” college experience to excel on and off the field by keeping their grades up, per eligibility rules. Varsity sports often give you an advantage at getting accepted into the school you were recruited for. If you feel you have the drive and commitment to play a varsity sport, there are opportunities out there; you just have to work hard to seek them out.
You’ve likely heard of college clubs and organizations, like Key Club or Eco Club—but many colleges also offer club sports. These opportunities are for students who love their sport but want to play less seriously than varsity level. Club sports are the level between intramural sports and varsity sports. The clubs are entirely student run, meaning students find the venues, officials, gear, etc., but still get the competitive benefit of playing against club sports teams from different colleges and universities that are in the area.
Of the three levels of athletics, intramural sports are the most low-key. Students use intramural sports for leisure, a chance to hang out with friends, or just a great way to get exercise without going to the gym. Intramural sports are most often sponsored by the college or university, meaning the school covers a lot of the expenses. Intramural sports teams play against other teams from within the school. Big schools often offer many different skill levels of a single intramural sport, so everyone from beginner to advanced students can play. That way everyone can enjoy themselves!
There are distinct differences between the three levels of athletics students can choose to pursue in college. Varsity sports require the most commitment, even before you set foot on campus. If you love sports, there are always opportunities for you to play, even if it isn’t at the varsity level. Everyone has a unique sports experience, and you must ask yourself how much of the traditional college experience you’re willing to sacrifice for the sport you love.
Learn more about what it’s like to play sports in college in our College Athletics section.