The Student-Athlete's College Search: Reasons to Consider NAIA Schools

Navigating the college search process can be especially challenging for student-athletes. Learn why an NAIA school might be the best fit for you.

Navigating the college search process can be overwhelming for anyone, but it can be especially challenging for student-athletes. In addition to academics and program offerings, student-athletes have to consider factors that will affect their  athletic careers.

Selecting the right school comes down to priorities. For someone aspiring to play sports professionally, an NCAA Division I school may be the logical choice. However, the remaining 98% of student-athletes may choose to prioritize the opportunity to play, program size, scholarships, and connection to the coach. For those student-athletes, choosing a National Association for Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) school is a great option for a fulfilling collegiate athletics experience.

About the NAIA

The NAIA, headquartered in Kansas City, Missouri, is a governing body of small athletics programs dedicated to character-driven intercollegiate athletics. Since 1937, the NAIA has administered programs dedicated to championships in balance with the overall college educational experience. Each year more than 65,000 NAIA student-athletes have the opportunity to play college sports, earn over $600 million in scholarships, and compete for a chance to participate in 26 national championships.

Related: What Is the NAIA?

Why choose the NAIA?

The NAIA is focused on the overall student-athlete experience, which includes academics and character building in addition to athletics. The NAIA offers its schools the flexibility to tailor their programs, providing the best possible student-athlete experience. Other factors to consider include:


The flexibility of the NAIA recruitment process encourages coach-student mentoring. The association also hosts NAIA Showcase events to help coaches and prospective student-athletes find the best mutual fit. To determine your eligibility, visit

Related: The College Recruitment Game


The NAIA provides a high-caliber experience with 26 national championships, including the only competitive cheer and competitive dance championships hosted by a collegiate athletics association. In 2018, the NAIA became the first association to recognize women’s wrestling as an invitational sport.

With 17% of student-athletes competing, a higher percentage of NAIA student-athletes participate in post-season play compared to 14% in NCAA D-II and 10% in NCAA D-III.  

Champions of Character®

In addition to quality athletics, the NAIA emphasizes character development for coaches, staff, and student-athletes. The Champions of Character® program focuses on teaching integrity, respect, responsibility, sportsmanship, and servant leadership, all of which help prepare student-athletes for lifelong success. The program also reaches high school and youth sports through outreach activities at every NAIA championship event through their Teaming Up for Character program.

Related: 4 College Search Tips for Student-Athletes

At the end of the day, a student-athlete has to choose the school that best meets his or her personal needs. Considering NAIA schools significantly expands a student-athlete’s options and increases the likelihood of finding a college that fits. And that’s the goal of any college search—to find the best possible place and experience.

For more information on the NAIA, visit

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