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By Libby O’Hare

Imagine you, or an athlete in your family has been working tirelessly since age ten to be a recruited college swimmer. Finally, the 5 a.m. practices, extra conditioning workouts, and travel championships pay off; it’s time to make, what feels like, the biggest decision of your life. But how can you determine which division is best for you? Is there a significant difference between Division 1 and Division 3? Is D1 really worth it?

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Many adolescent athletes struggle when deciding on the level of sport they want to play in college. The underlying point is that playing a sport in college is demanding, regardless of the level of competition, and in whatever division you choose, being a collegiate student-athlete is an impressive feat.

Going Division 1 can be seen as both advantageous and arduous. The decision about whether or not to go division 1 is ultimately based on your personal values. Compared to D2 and D3, playing a Division 1 sport is certainly the most considerable obligation. D1 sports are like full-time jobs; the time commitment is more significant than the other divisions. Although the NCAA regulates weekly practice hours, the 20-hour limit fails to count other responsibilities. In-season athletes are obligated to meet with athletic trainers before and after practice, supplement their training with physical therapy sessions, study film, and conference with coaches, all of which extend beyond the 20-hour cap.

This full-time commitment requires rigorous practice schedules, additional team meetings, and extensive off-season training. Due to these commitments, athletes sometimes find it more challenging to balance being both a student and an athlete. The increase in athletic commitments results in less time dedicated to academics, therefore causing some athletes to struggle with academic responsibilities. Also, since each sport is so demanding, D1 athletes are less likely to play multiple varsity sports, and instead, have to specialize in just one. Specialization is sometimes a difficult transition for three-sport high school athletes.

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While D1 programs are geared toward a single sport commitment, D2 and D3 programs are more flexible. On average, just 4% of the total student body population participates in sports at a D1 school, while that number jumps to 26% for Division 3. Because more students are involved in athletics at a D3 school, and since the sports seasons are shorter, athletes can play more than one sport.

That being said, there are meaningful benefits to being a Division 1 athlete. It is no secret that D1 schools have more financial backing, generally resulting in better facilities, higher-paid coaches, more scholarship money, and more considerable resources. D1 schools commonly have state-of-the-art athletic facilities, including well-kept fields, high-tech equipment, and the most advanced sports medicine tools. These facilities also include on-staff medical specialists like nutritionists, physical therapists, doctors, surgeons, etc. Additionally, D1 coaches typically have more enticing salaries, which suggests that D1 coaches can be of a higher caliber than say D2 or D3 coaches. It is not uncommon for D3 coaches to hold other jobs on campus, although this is not always the case, and also depends upon the sport and school.

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 In terms of scholarship opportunities, most D2 schools only offer partial scholarships, and D3 schools do not offer athletic scholarships. Unlike these others, D1 schools can offer full or partial scholarships. Division 1 scholarships are determined by sport and allocated by the coaching staff, yet they must abide by Title IX regulations that aim to prevent discrimination on the basis of sex. Title IX therefore requires that female and male student-athletes receive proportional athletic scholarships based on their participation. As previously mentioned, playing a Division 1 sport is time-consuming and takes significant dedication; however, D1 programs are stacked with extensive resources. From the recruiting standpoint, coaches at Division 1 schools have more pull in the admissions process. Therefore, the admissions requirements for a typical student are more flexible for prospective D1 athletes. Once admitted, Division 1 athletes are provided with free tutoring sessions, which aims to decrease the academic stress that comes with being a student-athlete. Finally, the resources offered by Division 1 colleges don’t stop with academics; there are other enticing perks as well. For example, D1 programs have an abundance of team apparel. Whether it’s sneakers, t-shirts, sweatpants, or jackets, being able to flaunt your team apparel around campus is an added benefit that shouldn’t be overlooked.

Ultimately, whether you play a Division 1, 2, or 3 sport, you are nevertheless a college athlete, an impressive accomplishment in and of itself.

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