How to Get Recruited


Explore the differences between NCAA and NAIA to determine which is the right fit for you.

While the NCAA is the most well-known collegiate athletic governing body, student-athletes aspiring to play at the college level shouldn't overlook the NAIA. With over 250 member schools and the ability to offer athletic scholarships, NAIA programs could be an excellent option, particularly for those interested in smaller schools. This article covers the key differences between the NCAA and NAIA and why the NAIA may be a perfect fit for you.


What is the NAIA?

The NAIA is short for the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics. There are over 240 member schools across the United States and also in Canada. Most NAIA programs are a part of smaller colleges and universities. NAIA sponsors 16 college sports, including:

  • Basketball 
  • Football
  • Softball
  • Lacrosse
  • Baseball
  • Soccer
  • Volleyball
  • Cross Country
  • Golf
  • Tennis
  • Competitive Cheerleading
  • Competitive Dance 
  • Indoor Track and Field
  • Outdoor Track and Field 
  • Wrestling 
  • Bowling

Quick Facts About the NAIA

  • More than 83,000 student-athletes play in NAIA programs.
  • NAIA offers equivalency scholarships, meaning most (if not all) athletic-based aid is partial. Athletic scholarships can be combined with other forms of aid. 
  • There are 28 National Championships.
  • The NAIA was the first collegiate athletic association to add Women’s Wrestling as a championship sport. 


What is the NCAA?

The NCAA is short for the National Collegiate Athletic Association. The NCAA is broken down into three divisions the NCAA DI, NCAA DII, and NCAA DIII. There are over 350 schools that participate in the NCAA across the United States. NCAA programs are associated with various colleges or universities varying in size, location, and academic selectivity.

The NCAA conducts 90 national championships in 24 sports:

  • Basketball (Men's and Women's)
  • Baseball (Men's)
  • Beach Volleyball (Women's)
  • Bowling (Women's)
  • Cross Country (Men's and Women's)
  • Fencing (Men's and Women's)
  • Football (Men's)
  • Field Hockey (Women's)
  • Golf (Men's and Women's)
  • Gymnastics (Men's and Women's)
  • Ice Hockey (Men's and Women's)
  • Lacrosse (Men's and Women's)
  • Rifle (Men's and Women's)
  • Skiing (Men's and Women's)
  • Rowing (Women's)
  • Soccer (Men's and Women's)
  • Swimming and Diving (Men's and Women's)
  • Tennis (Men's and Women's)
  • Softball (Women's)
  • Indoor Track and Field (Men's and Women's)
  • Outdoor Track and Field (Men's and Women's)
  • Volleyball (Men's and Women's)
  • Water Polo (Men's and Women's)
  • Wrestling (Men's)

Quick Facts about the NCAA 

  • Over 520,000 student-athletes are participating in NCAA programs.
  • The NCAA offers full-ride scholarships and equivalency scholarships
  • The NCAA is divided into three divisions: NCAA Division I, NCAA Division II, and NCAA Division III. Each division has its own rules and regulations. 
  • The NCAA sponsors 24 sports throughout the 3 divisions. 


Is the NAIA as Competitive as the NCAA? 

Depending on the NAIA program, it may be just as competitive as an NCAA program. It really depends on the ranking of the NAIA program. The top 25 NAIA programs are comparable in competition level to NCAA DII and NCAA DIII programs.

What Makes an NAIA Program Appealing to Student-Athletes?

Every student-athlete has different goals for playing at the next level. While one school may be appealing to one athlete, it may not be appealing to another. NAIA programs offer a well-balanced lifestyle of being a student and an athlete. 

  1. Smaller Class Sizes: Most NAIA colleges or universities have smaller campuses. This means smaller classes. With smaller classes, you will be able to receive more personalized attention from professors, as well as develop more personal relationships. 
  2. Athletic Scholarship Opportunities: The NAIA has 1.3 billion in athletic scholarships. NAIA programs offer equivalency scholarships. An equivalency scholarship covers a portion of your tuition. This portion is decided by that program and the school's budget. With your athletic aid, you can also have other forms of financial aid to help pay for your college tuition. To learn more about how financial aid works, check out our article here.
  3. Better Balance of Academics and Athletics: NAIA programs emphasize a healthy balance of academic and athletic responsibilities. With this culture, student-athletes can dedicate more time to their academics. 
  4. No Recruiting Restrictions: Similar to NCAA Division III, there are few to no recruiting restrictions regarding college coaches communicating with student-athletes. You can have direct recruiting-like conversations with college coaches at any time in your recruiting process.

What Athletic Scholarships Does NAIA Offer? 

The NAIA offers equivalency scholarships. An equivalency scholarship is a form of athletic scholarship where a student-athlete will receive partial scholarships. However, with a partial athletic scholarship, you can combine other forms of financial aid to pay for your college tuition.

Each NAIA sport has a specific amount of equivalency scholarships per team. Remember that if you receive an athletic scholarship your Freshman Year, it is not guaranteed that you will receive it the following three years. The coaching staff decides which student-athletes will be awarded athletic aid each year.

NAIA Sport # Scholarships
Baseball 12
Basketball 8
Bowling 5
Competitive Cheer 12
Competitive Dance 10
Cross Country 5
Football 24
Golf 5
Lacrosse 12
Soccer 12
Softball 10
Swimming and Diving 8
Tennis 5
Track and Field
(Indoor and Outdoor)
Volleyball 8
Wrestling 8

Unlike the NCAA, not all NAIA programs are funded. Therefore, there may be some limitations on the number of athletic scholarships a program offers.

Does NAIA Have a National Signing Day?

There is not a National Signing Day for NAIA prospective student-athletes. No binding agreement exists when you commit to an NAIA program. While some programs may have student-athletes sign a National Letter of Intent, this is also not a binding agreement. 

Does NAIA Require an Eligibility Number? 

Every student-athlete must be academically eligible to participate in NAIA programs. You receive your NAIA Eligibility Number by registering through their website https://play.mynaia.org/. You can receive this number anytime after your Junior Year of high school. 

You must have the following to get your NAIA Eligibility Number: 

  • Basic personal information
  • Must have graduated from high school
  • Must graduate with a 2.3 GPA OR meet the following two out of three academic standings: (A) Receive a minimum of 18 on ACT or 970 on SAT (B) Receive a 2.0 GPA out of a 4.0 scale, or (C) Graduate in the top half rank of the graduating class
  • To register for your number, the cost is $100 for US/Canadian students. Note: If you are an international student, it costs $160

NAIA Recruiting Rules and Regulations 

No recruiting restrictions exist between student-athletes and college coaches associated with NAIA programs. Student-athletes can have recruiting-like conversations and go on school visits anytime during their recruiting process.

There is also no limit on the number of visits to you can take to an NAIA campus. You can have as many visits as you would like. With fewer recruiting regulations, student-athletes can have personal contact with college coaches much earlier in their recruiting process.


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