When volleyball athletes and families start the college recruiting process, oftentimes they get tunnel vision about playing for a D1 college. But is D1 really the best division out there for you? It all depends on your definition of “best.” Yes, D1 colleges typically feature elite athletes, state-of-the-art facilities and passionate supporters, but there are areas where D2, D3 and NAIA colleges may shine brighter. Check out these three reasons why you should consider volleyball programs outside of the D1 level.

1.  D1 is not always the best for scholarships

For women, D1 volleyball is a headcount sport that only offers full-ride athletic scholarships. However, the average team size is 16 and fully funded programs have a limit of 12 scholarships, meaning that several players will be walk-ons and will not receive any athletic scholarship money since partial scholarships cannot be granted. At the other divisions, women’s volleyball is an equivalency sport, meaning that the coach has a scholarship limit per team and can break up these scholarships among athletes, resulting in most scholarship athletes only earning a partial scholarship. This also applies to all men’s teams—even D1 men’s volleyball is an equivalency sport.

Even if you do earn an athletic scholarship for volleyball, you’ll have to also consider the price of tuition and the costs of other college expenses. If you don’t receive a full-ride scholarship from a D1 women’s team, attending a high-academic D3 school that helps you secure academic scholarships and need-based aid may end up being the better decision for you and your family.

It’s important to consider the different types of financial aid. In many cases, coaches can offer financial packages that include several scholarships and grants depending on your GPA and ACT/SAT scores. Always remember that a scholarship’s value is relative to the cost of tuition. A $10,000 scholarship offer might seem generous until you find out the school costs $50,000 per year.

2.  D1 is not always the best for playing time

Would you rather ride the bench for your dream D1 team or play right away at a lower level? Yes, being patient at the D1 level could pay off and lead to playing time during your junior or senior year. However, when it comes to athletic development, there’s just no substitute for regular playing time. Plus, what happens if you get injured? Would you still be happy with the academics and social life at your D1 school? Or did you make the decision to attend that school only based on athletics? Consider every factor that matters to you because NCSA’s 2019 State of Recruiting Reports shows that nearly half of college athletes leave their team roster.

3.  D1 is not the best for downtime

Playing volleyball at the Division 1 level is like juggling two full-time jobs. During the season, D1 athletes often spend as many as 80 hours a week between athletics and academics. And even in the offseason, D1 athletes balance gym sessions and practices with classes and study halls. If you’re determined to play D1, you can expect a jam-packed schedule for all four years of college.

The time commitment at the D2, D3 and NAIA levels is still considerable, but athletes can expect 5–10 fewer hours devoted to their sport per week. Keep in mind that many D3 colleges—the University of Chicago, Emory, New York University and others—are known for their high standard of academics and require additional academic hours.

Playing volleyball at the college level is a tremendous opportunity, but athletes and families should consider all division levels to determine the best option for them.

For related reading on the volleyball recruiting process Click HERE.

About the Author

Matt Sonnichsen is the former Director of Volleyball and National Speaker for Next College Student Athlete (NCSA). Matt has over 20 years of experience coaching volleyball at the collegiate level.