DIII schools provide an environment where student athletes compete at a high level in the sport (or sports) they love while maintaining a well-rounded academic and social life on campus. Celebrating its 50th year in 2023, DIII is the NCAA’s largest division with 433 active schools. In addition to developing critical skills such as teamwork, goal setting and communication, NCAA student athletes graduate at a five percent higher rate than their non-athlete classmates.
If your goal is to compete as an NCAA student athlete, here are some points to consider from James Grandey, a DIII coach at Bluffton University (and former DIII student athlete) with more than 20 years of experience.
If possible, start planning for your college athletic career during your junior year of high school or even sooner. This way college coaches will have plenty of time to see you play and/or invite you on campus for prospect camps and visits.
How do you stand out? Determine which schools you are interested in and fill out a recruit questionnaire. These questionnaires vary from sport to sport and coach to coach but typically ask for information such as ways to contact you and positions played.
“You can also send an email directly to a coach. Make sure to include your contact information and statistics,” said Grandey.
If you have a highlight reel, send it. These videos should be short (not a whole game) and should focus on your skills. Feel free to use a phone. The picture just needs to be clear.
Ask your high school or club coach to reach out on your behalf. High school coaches often send names and information to college coaches. Since they know you and your style of play, they may be able to provide suggestions regarding programs where you may excel. Don’t forget to watch for information on prospect camps and attend events for the teams you want to learn more about.
Find the right fit
To truly determine the best program and college for you, you need to be comfortable in your choice of team, major and university. Becoming a successful student athlete is about more than getting to play. What happens if you get or hurt or something else prevents you from playing? Grandey suggests trying to find the perfect triangle of support with academics, athletics and social environment (or being comfortable on campus) each serving as equal parts of the equation.
“If one is out of balance, your whole experience will be out of balance, and it will affect you negatively,” said Grandey.
And because many college students switch majors, look for colleges that offer your top major and two to three others you may be interested in pursuing.
Prepare to be challenged
DIII players and teams will be better than the ones you competed against in high school.
“Even if you went to a large high school or if you earned all-conference, all-district, or all-state titles, you’ll have to increase your abilities to compete and be successful at this level,” said Grandey.
Bear in mind, there will likely be multiple people who play your position—sometimes in each academic year. Who fills that spot on the lineup will be whoever earns it. DIII teams need players who are willing and able to adapt and be versatile for the betterment of the team.
A few additional thoughts on becoming an NCAA student athlete
Know your data and measurables and be able to show coaches what you bring to the table.
Remain cautious about recruiting services. Be wary of the costs. You can do much of the legwork yourself.
DIII schools do not offer athletic scholarships but remember to compare costs. You may be able to find a better financial deal at a DIII through academic scholarships and financial aid.
Advice from current students!
“I got noticed because of my grades, how hard I work on the field and for being a leader on my team in high school. When visiting, you should ask questions about classes, how professors are, what is the atmosphere on game day, how the community interacts with the players, what it’s like living on campus.” – Dont’e K.
“During a visit you should be asking all kinds of questions. There are no bad or dumb questions. Make sure you ask a lot of academic questions because coaches like seeing that you care about school not just the sport. Make sure you also ask questions to get to know the coach better.” – Sean B.
“I think it is important to feel as though you are part of a team that supports you not only as a teammate but as a peer. When I was still considering colleges, I wanted to make sure my education was the number one priority.” – Shelby S.
“My advice for future student athletes is to never be afraid to contact coaches and go on visits. I had offers from DII and NAIA teams, but I chose DIII. I was looking at schools for academics because academics are more important than the athletics to me.” – Hunter J.
At Bluffton University…
We’re DIII, compete in the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference and have an uncommon mascot! Why are we the Beavers?
In the 1920s, longtime coach A.C. Burcky suggested the Beaver because Bluffton student-athletes are resourceful, don’t tire easily and work to leave the world a better place!
Through our Virtue-Driven Athletics program, you’ll take the lessons learned on the field and transform them into habits of excellence off the field.
At Bluffton, we may offer 19 sports (18 NCAA DIII teams and esports), but we are all part of one team. Go Beavers!
Written by Tricia Bell, content manager, with input from James Grandey, Bluffton University athletic director and head baseball coach