NCAA Eligibility Rules Guide & FAQ
The National College Athletic Association (NCAA) exists to focus on the well-being of collegiate athletes. It’s a member-led group that counts 1,098 colleges as members, along with over 100 athletic conferences. The NCAA supports almost 20,000 teams, meaning its programs are used by nearly 500,000 student-athletes.
You could be one of those athletes.
If you wish to receive financial aid from the NCAA, there are several requirements you must meet. Failure to meet these requirements could lead to the rejection of your application. Furthermore, there are ongoing NCAA eligibility rules for you to meet once you’ve received your financial aid.
This article examines the general NCAA eligibility rules you must follow. It also answers some of the most frequently asked questions about applying for NCAA scholarships or financial aid.
Sports Regulated by the NCAA
Before diving into the NCAA eligibility rules, it’s essential to discuss the sports that the organization regulates.
- Cross Country
- Both Indoor and Outdoor Track and Field
- Ice Hockey
- Water Polo
For women student-athletes, the majority of these sports are the same. However, there are some additions and subtractions. For example, the NCAA does not regulate women’s baseball, football, and wrestling.
Happily, the NCAA provides regulation for several women’s sports for student-athletes that are not provided for in the men’s versions. These sports include bowling, field hockey, rowing, sand volleyball, and softball.
Assuming you participate in an NCAA-regulated sport, you must also consider the concept of divisions. The NCAA divides its participating members and student-athletes receiving financial aid into Division I, Division II, and Division III categories. A school’s division is based on several factors, including the level of competition in the sport and your college’s size.
These divisions are important because they often determine how much financial aid you can receive under NCAA eligibility rules. If you’re playing for a Division I school, you’ll likely have access to full student scholarships. Those playing for Division II schools tend to receive partial scholarships. Unfortunately, those attending Division III schools are not eligible for an NCAA athletic scholarship.
It’s also important to note that not all sports have multiple divisions. There are also differences in program popularity. For example, there are more Division I men’s basketball teams than Division I ice hockey teams. As such, your chosen sport may affect your ability to attend a Division I school.
Focusing specifically on football, there are a few more issues to consider. Men’s Division I football has three subdivisions:
- Teams that play in championships
- Teams that play in bowls matches
- Schools that do not play in either championships or bowls
Your choice of school may affect which subdivision you play in. This, in turn, could also affect the amount of financial aid you receive.
Division II and Division III have similar variances in terms of sports popularity. So again, you may find it more challenging to get into a Division II school for a less popular sport than you would for one of the sports that has a lot of teams and participating colleges.
NCAA Eligibility Rules – Standard Academic Requirements
Now that you understand the various sports that fall under the NCAA’s remit and division concept let’s focus on the NCAA eligibility rules.
To be eligible for financial aid from the NCAA during your first year of study at Division I or Division II school, you must meet the following requirements for academic eligibility:
- You’ve graduated from high school.
- You have completed at least 16 core courses.
- You achieved a qualifying score on either the ACT or SAT.
- Your core courses’ grade point average (GPA) meets your school’s minimum requirements.
- In addition, you have requested final amateurism certification from the NCAA.
The NCAA eligibility rules get tighter if you wish to compete at a Division I school. Building on the above, you must also achieve the following:
- Complete 10 of your 16 core courses before reaching your seventh high school semester. Of these 10 courses, seven must relate to math, science, or English.
- Have a minimum GPA of 2.3 for all of your core courses.
- Meet the NCAA’s current sliding scale standard.
Assuming you meet all of the above requirements, you should be able to apply for a full or partial scholarship. But, again, the exact amount depends on your chosen school and division.
Also keep in mind that if you fail to get a credit for whatever reason, there are some credit recovery programs that you can take part in.
Additional NCAA Eligibility Rules
If you do not meet the standard NCAA eligibility rules, there is still a chance that you can receive financial aid to play NCAA sports. A student who earns a 2.0 GPA or higher while meeting the NCAA’s current sliding scale standard can still apply for financial aid for the entire year. However, this aid comes with caveats. The student will be able to practice with their chosen team for at least the first term of their college education.
Unfortunately, they will not be able to take part in competitions. A college freshman who achieves academic success during their first term will be allowed to continue practicing with their team for the entire year.
There are no NCAA eligibility rules for Division III colleges. Instead, these institutions set their own admission criteria for initial entry into the college.
Ongoing Student-Athlete Aid – NCAA Eligibility Rules for College
Meeting the eligibility requirements before you begin the registration process for your first year of college does not guarantee continued financial support for your entire educational program. The NCAA eligibility rules extend to your college studies, meaning you must meet various criteria to keep your scholarship.
These rules can vary depending on your college. But generally, they include the following:
- You must graduate high school
You are enrolled and attend college as a full-time student for every semester of your course. This amounts to receiving at least 12 credits if you’re an undergraduate and at least 9 for graduate studies.
- Earn a minimum of 18 hours per academic year in your chosen major. This is one of the most important NCAA academic requirements.
- Complete at least 24 hours of coursework during your first year.
- You earn six or more credits in coursework related to graduation in your chosen academic program.
- Declare your major before your third year of college.
Furthermore, you’ll likely be expected to maintain a specific core course GPA throughout your course. The specifics may vary depending on the college. Keep in mind that a school’s GPA standards will vary from one school to the next. However, the following is an example from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV):
- Year Two GPA – 1.8
- Year Three GPA – 1.9
- Year Four GPA – 2.0
- Year Five GPA – 2.0
(Of course, if you have a higher core-course GPA, that’s fine too).
In UNLV’s case, they will work with a student to create a corrective action plan if the student’s GPA drops below 2.0 at any point. Unfortunately, not all colleges will provide such plans. If you have a low core-course GPA, you may be in trouble.
Finally, most colleges have NCAA eligibility rules relating to your academic integrity. Again, the specifics may vary depending on your college. But typically, these criteria call on you to represent yourself, your team, and the college in specific ways. You’ll also be expected to conduct yourself accordingly when it comes to your studies. In other words, academic offenses, such as cheating and plagiarism, could lead to you being placed under investigation by the NCAA. If you’re found guilty, the NCAA or your college may choose to revoke your financial aid and even expel you from the college.
Frequently Asked Questions About NCAA Eligibility Rules
What Is a Core Course?
Most high schools have a list of NCAA-approved core courses that you must complete to be eligible for financial aid. Thankfully, these lists make it easy to ensure you’re taking enough core courses. Most core courses relate to key academic subjects, such as algebra and English. However, the NCAA may approve more varied core courses, depending on your school.
It’s up to you to ensure you’re taking the required number of core courses to ensure eligibility for NCAA funding. The NCAA uses your completed courses to conduct quick checks on you when you apply. If you have not completed enough core courses, your application will likely be refused. Yes, you do also need to be in good academic standing with all of your core courses.
What Is the NCAA Sliding Scale?
The NCAA uses a combination of your GPA and your ACT or SAT scores to determine eligibility. However, the NCAA provides some leeway regarding how these scores are weighted. For example, if you have a high GPA, you may still be eligible for financial aid even if your ACT or SAT score is lower than the set requirement. Similarly, a higher ACT or SAT score can make up for a lower GPA.
This sliding scale changes each year. As such, you should check the scale regularly to determine your eligibility. Also, it’s possible that relying on the sliding scale could limit the amount of aid you receive and even bar you from competitive play. Therefore, it’s best to aim above the minimum NCAA eligibility rules to ensure you don’t have to rely on the sliding scale.
Does the NCAA Look at My Whole GPA?
The NCAA only examines your GPA in your core courses. These provide you with some flexibility in your non-core courses, allowing you to fail or achieve a lower GPA without affecting your NCAA application. However, dipping below the required GPA on your core courses could make you ineligible for financial aid.
What Is NCAA Amateurism?
A fundamental NCAA rule is that all student-athletes must be amateurs. Therefore, you must receive no prize money for playing your sport to meet this requirement. However, you can still receive reimbursement related to your participation.
You also can’t sign up with an agent or receive any of the benefits you might receive from working with an agent. In addition, you can’t use your skills or any fame gained from being a student-athlete to make money. What’s more, you cannot receive money in exchange for endorsing a product or service. Finally, amateurs can’t delay the start of their college enrollment to take part in an organized, professional sport.
How Does the NCAA Set Its Eligibility Rules?
The NCAA is a member-led organization with a governance system to determine the rules it enforces. This system includes several committees, typically led by college presidents, athletes, and athletics directors, who set these initial eligibility standards.
If an NCAA member proposes a new rule or a rule change, this group of committees votes on the proposal. If the proposal passes, it becomes part of the NCAA eligibility rules.
Ensure Your Eligibility
With all of the stress associated with your high school studies, it’s often easy to overlook the various requirements for NCAA eligibility. The information in this article can serve as a checklist, allowing you to confirm that you’re studying the appropriate number of core courses and that you’re achieving the required grades.
Remember that NCAA financial aid packages are not guaranteed for your entire college education. In addition, you must meet several ongoing requirements both to continue receiving aid and to ensure nothing gets in the way of your amateur playing career. If you need further information about NCAA eligibility, you should discuss your situation with a professional at your high school or college.