College soccer is one of the highest levels of soccer in the country. Divisions 1, 2, and 3 require commitment in and out of season, and each differs in the level of competition and skill. Just how hard is college soccer, and how challenging is it to make a team or secure a scholarship?
College soccer is most difficult at Division 1. As a general rule, Divisions 2 and 3 are less difficult but maintain high skill and competition. It is harder to get recruited for a Division 1 or 2 team than it is for a Division 3 team. There are over 800 men’s college soccer teams and over 1,000 women’s teams across the three Divisions.
Throughout this article, I’ll elaborate more on the difficulty of each division and finish with my tips for choosing which one you should play in.
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How hard is college soccer in each division?
College soccer is challenging and demanding, no matter how you view it. It’s also highly competitive; some college players have played soccer since they learned to walk! Each NCAA college soccer division is different, but at the end of the day, all three are almost equally difficult.
As a general rule, Division 1 is the most challenging in college soccer, and Division 3 is the least difficult, with Division 2 falling somewhere in the middle of the two. However, successful Division 2 and Division 3 programs can compete with Division 1 programs in terms of quality and talent.
There are more Division 3 schools than Division 1 or 2, which means you have a higher chance of playing for a D3 school out of sheer availability.
For example, there are 415 Division 3 men’s soccer teams compared to the 205 Division 1 and 214 Division 2 teams.
If you’re interested in playing for a Division 1 or 2 school, it will be more difficult to get yourself a roster spot.
Your skill level and academics are the most significant contributing factors to whether or not a college men’s or women’s soccer coach will bring you onto a team in any division.
A common misconception is that Division 1 requires the most dedication.
While Division 1 is home to a majority of the best college soccer teams, each division requires an equal amount of time, effort, and overall dedication from its student-athletes across every sport, not just soccer.
Let’s take a look at what makes a division difficult.
Disclaimer: Difficulty is relative. What some might consider to be difficult could be simpler for another individual. There are several factors that prospective student-athletes consider when choosing a college, and the level of difficulty or competitiveness of one school’s soccer team versus another could be one.
Furthermore, just because a team is categorized as a Division 1 team does not mean it is of higher quality, skill, or competitiveness than all Division 2 and 3 teams.
How hard is Division 1 soccer?
Division 1 soccer is the most competitive level of college soccer. Its teams compete at the highest NCAA level, and only a tiny percentage of high school soccer players go on to play in Division 1.
Division 1 soccer is the most difficult division to play in because of the high skill ceiling, level of competition, and limited roster space. On average, only 1.1% of the 450,000 high school soccer players play in Division 1 after graduation. That means only about 5,000 high school players move on to Division 1 programs.
To make things more competitive, Division 1 men’s soccer teams are allotted 9.9 scholarship spots. Coaches can use as much or as little of the total scholarship money across ten players.
Only nine of those ten players can receive full scholarships, hence the 9.9 decimal.
On the other hand, Division 1 women’s soccer teams are allowed to offer 14 scholarships to their players, with a majority given to American student-athletes.
Many Division 1 men’s soccer players are international athletes, meaning a limited number of Division 1 roster spots go toward American high school graduates or college transfers.
This makes getting yourself into a Division 1 roster even more challenging. However, just because a school is Division 1 doesn’t mean it’s better than other lower-level NCAA schools.
Some Division 1 schools have much more successful programs than others. There are Division 2 and 3 schools that are known for having higher quality men’s and women’s soccer teams than some Division 1 teams.
How hard is Division 2 soccer?
Division 2 soccer is considered to middle-ground for competitiveness and talent in college soccer.
Division 2 soccer is not as hard as Division 1 but is generally more difficult than Division 3. There are 7,500 Division 2 men’s soccer players on average annually. Division 2 colleges are allowed to offer nine scholarship spots, most of which are commonly reserved for international student-athletes.
The general rule is that, as you get into the lower Divisions, the quality of play drops. However, this can be misleading as many teams in Divisions 2 and 3 can outperform Division 1 teams.
In terms of competing for a roster spot, it might be a tiny bit easier in Division 2.
The average roster size of a Division 2 men’s soccer team in 2017 was 31, two more than Division 1’s 29 roster spots.
Division 2 men’s and women’s soccer teams are allowed to give nine and 9.9 scholarships, respectively.
Division 2 is more competitive in this way because there are fewer scholarships to be awarded than in Division 1.
How hard is Division 3 soccer?
Division 3 soccer is tricky to pin down regarding difficulty and competition. Plenty of D3 soccer teams could beat D1 teams and vice versa.
Division 3 soccer is generally considered the least difficult of the three Divisions. The competitiveness is high, but overall skill is comparatively lower. With about 400 Division 3 men’s soccer teams and almost 450 women’s teams, more roster openings exist for prospective Division 3 players than in other Divisions.
There’s also no roster cap for Division 3 schools. They can bring in as many players as they want, although not all will play on the first team.
Division 3 schools can’t offer athletic scholarships like Division 1 and 2 teams. However, Division 3 teams can provide academic scholarships for student-athletes.
If an incoming student-athlete has qualifying grades and test scores, they might be eligible to receive financial aid through an academic scholarship. Such scholarships often act as athletic scholarships.
The benefit of academic scholarships compared to athletic ones is that there’s no limit to how many can be on a team. Many privately funded Division 3 schools have a large pool of academic scholarship money that goes toward their student-athletes.
What college soccer division should you play in?
Ultimately, the division in which you play is up to you. I recommend considering the core differences between the three divisions before choosing which to pursue: skill level, difficulty, competition, and scholarship opportunities.
Play in Division 1 for the highest level of skill and difficulty. Competition levels vary from each division but depend mainly on the conference. For instance, some Division 3 conferences are more competitive than some in Division 1. Divisions 1 and 2 offer limited athletic scholarships, whereas Division 3 offers none.
Division 3 schools can only offer academic scholarships, which can be distributed to their student-athletes with good grades and test scores.
Related: How Long is a College Soccer Game?
Focus on these differences when considering which division is best for you.
Although it’s tempting to pick a college solely based on its soccer program, you should also consider whether the institution offers everything you need academically.
How hard is it to play Division 1 soccer?
Playing Division 1 soccer is difficult but not impossible. It requires significant dedication to the sport and countless hours of training to reach the level of talent required for the top NCAA division.
It is difficult to play Division 1 soccer because D1 teams are considered the best of the best. Therefore, players interested in playing NCAA Division 1 college soccer should train several times a week individually and with a team. Players can also benefit from college showcase tournaments, ID camps, and reaching out to coaches directly.
One of the most significant and overlooked factors of going D1 in soccer–or any division, for that matter–is reaching out to coaches directly. The impact of emailing a coach on your own says a lot about your professionalism, dedication, and intent to play at one of the highest levels.
Because Division 1 soccer requires commitment off the field, coaches like to see you’re willing to go the extra mile. Sending an email directly to them is one way to show you mean business.
College soccer also requires dedication to academics. If your grades are lacking at any point, you could suffer from academic suspension and miss games. Coaches potentially see this as a liability that they can’t be bothered to deal with, and it could cost you your starting spot or, worse, your roster spot.
How do you get recruited for college soccer?
You can get recruited for college soccer by asking college coaches to come to your games or by attending college showcase tournaments, camps, or clinics.
When does college soccer season start?
College soccer season starts with preseason in mid to late August and ends with the NCAA national tournament in early December.