To participate in Division I athletics or receive an athletics scholarship during the first year of college, a student-athlete must:
- Complete the 16 core-course requirement in eight semesters:
- 4 years of English
- 3 years of math (Algebra 1 or higher)
- 2 years of natural or physical science (including one year of lab science if offered by the high school)
- 1 extra year of English, math or natural or physical science
- 2 years of social science
- 4 years of extra core courses (from any category above, or foreign language, nondoctrinal religion or philosophy)
- Earn a minimum required grade-point average in core courses
- Earn a combined SAT or ACT sum score that matches the core course grade-point average and test-score sliding scale. (For example, a 3.000 core-course grade-point average needs at least a 620 SAT).
Student-athletes enrolling in college in August 2016 and later must meet all of the above requirements to receive aid in the first year and practice in the first term. In order to compete in the first year, prospects must meet all of the above and:
- Earn at least a 2.3 GPA in core courses
- Meet an increased sliding-scale standard
- Complete 10 core-courses prior to the start of the seventh semester, at least seven in English, math and science.
If a student-athlete earns nine credits in the first term, he or she can continue to practice the remainder of the year. If not, he or she can remain on aid but can’t practice.
All incoming student-athletes must be certified as an amateur student-athlete. With global recruiting becoming more common, determining the amateur status of college-bound student-athletes can be challenging. All college-bound student-athletes, including international students, need to adhere to NCAA amateurism requirements in order to preserve their eligibility for NCAA intercollegiate athletics.
All college-bound student-athletes must have an academic and amateurism certification from the NCAA Eligibility Center.
The online registration process that must be completed by all future Division I and II college-bound student-athletes includes a questionnaire relating to the individual’s amateur status.
For the staff at the NCAA Eligibility Center to certify amateur status, college-bound student-athletes must answer a questionnaire during registration.
The questionnaire covers the following precollegiate enrollment activities:
- Contracts with professional teams
- Salary for participating in athletics
- Prize money
- Play with professionals
- Tryouts, practice or competition with a professional team
- Benefits from an agent or prospective agent
- Agreement to be represented by an agent
- Delayed initial full-time collegiate enrollment to participate in organized sports competition
The Guide for the College-Bound Student-Athlete contains more detailed information about initial academic and amateurism eligibility.
NCAA policies govern how coaches can recruit college-bound student-athletes. The rules specify when and how coaches can contact prospects, what materials can be sent and when student-athletes can visit campus. The rules differ from sport to sport.
The NCAA Eligibility Center administers the National Letter of Intent program. The National Letter of Intent is a contract between a college or university and a prospect that requires the college-bound student-athlete to attend the college or university for one academic year and the college or university to provide athletics financial aid for one academic year. The National Letter of Intent is a legal document and should be read carefully before being signed.
Individual colleges or universities award athletics grants-in-aid (often described as scholarships) on a one-year, renewable basis. They may be renewed for a maximum of five years within a six-year period of continuous college attendance. Aid can be renewed, canceled or reduced at the end of each year for many reasons. If a student-athlete’s aid will be reduced or canceled, the college or university must provide the student-athlete with an opportunity to appeal.
Financial aid is awarded in various amounts, ranging from full scholarships (including tuition, fees, room, board and books) to small awards that might provide only course-required books. Such partial awards are known as “equivalencies.” Some Division I sports (including Football Bowl Subdivision football and basketball) do not permit equivalencies.
All scholarships from any source in any amount must be reported to the college financial aid office. The total amount of financial aid a student-athlete can receive and the total amount of athletics aid a team can award may be limited. These limits can affect whether a student-athlete can accept aid from other sources.
Athletics financial aid can be a tremendous benefit to most families, but some costs are not covered (for example, travel between home and school). Also, although the benefits of athletically related financial aid are substantial, the likelihood of participating is relatively small. Any young person contemplating college attendance should use high school for legitimate academic preparation.
Division I student-athletes interested in transferring to another four-year college or university and student-athletes at two-year colleges interested in attending a four-year school should be aware of the rules that govern the transfer process.
- Eligibility: Transfers from two-year colleges must have their academic and amateur status certified, just as incoming freshmen do.
- Permission to contact: Most transfers from four-year college or university to four-year college or university require a “permission-to-contact” letter from the current school’s athletics director to the new school’s coach or administrator. The new school cannot contact the student-athlete until the current school agrees to the contact. If the current school does not agree, the student-athlete can appeal.
- Five-year clock: Division I student-athletes have five calendar years from the first enrollment at a two- or four-year school to compete four seasons of competition.
- Academic year in residence: Research shows that student-athletes who remain at one college or university throughout their academic careers graduate at higher rates than those who transfer. To encourage an academic focus, the NCAA requires Division I student-athletes who transfer from a two-year school and do not meet transfer requirements or transfer from one four-year school to another four-year school to spend one academic year in residence before being eligible to play There are exceptions to the rule:
- If the student-athlete has never transferred before from a four-year school and meets academic requirements, that student-athlete might be able to use the one-time transfer exception (except in baseball, basketball, men’s ice hockey or football).
- If the first school dropped the sport of the affected student-athlete
- If the student-athlete never has been recruited, received an athletics scholarship or practiced beyond a 14-consecutive day period at any school or participated in competition before transferring
- If the student-athlete returns to the first school without participating at the second school
- If the student-athlete did not practice or play in his or her sport for two years
Individual colleges or universities and conferences also often have their own rules governing transfers