There are roughly 1,700 baseball colleges across five different division levels: NCAA Division 1, Division 2 and Division 3, as well as NAIA and junior college. Each division offers its own unique experience and culture and varying degrees of competitiveness. This section breaks down what it is like to be a student-athlete at each division level to help recruits make the most informed decision about which division offers the best fit for them. Recruits should use this information to create their target school list, and we recommend they include a mix of schools. The more options recruits start with, the more chances they’ll have to find a school that is the right match for them athletically, academically and socially.
Division 1 baseball teams: The highest level
“D1 or bust” Is often the attitude of many aspiring college baseball players. When it comes to NCAA baseball, Division 1 colleges are generally considered to be the elite programs known for their competitiveness and media exposure. Consider these factors to help determine whether a Division 1 baseball college is right for you:
- Athletes will compete against some of the best college-level baseball players in the country. This means high visibility for the school, the team and for the athlete. Division 1 baseball teams are most likely to catch the attention of professional scouts. Athletes must ask themselves if they can handle that type of pressure.
- Thanks in part to generous donors and alums devoted to maintaining their schools’ reputation, these schools tend to lavish the most money on their sports teams. This pays off in some of the best training facilities and stadiums. Athletes will be spending a lot of time in those facilities and in those stadiums. Some estimates put the commitment at 40 hours a week; just like a nine-to-five job. And that doesn’t include academic commitments!
- Division 1 baseball colleges tend to have large campuses and class sizes. This is also an important consideration for student-athletes who feel they may be more comfortable in a smaller campus setting.
Division 2 baseball teams: Finding a balance
What do MLB players J.D. Martinez, Yan Gomes, Stephen Vogt and Kevin Pillar have in common? They all played at Division 2 schools. So, yes, advancement to the majors does happen from this level. Consider these factors to help determine whether a Division 2 baseball college is right for you:
- As with their Division 1 college baseball counterparts, Division 2 baseball players have also demonstrated proficiency on the field, but the competition at Division 2 college baseball programs is generally not as high as it is at Division 1 schools. Some regions are more stocked with talent than others. Climate is a factor; better baseball programs tend to be located in the west coast and the south where weather is warm year-round.
- Division 2 schools tend to be smaller than Division 1 institutions. According to the NCAA, about 36 percent of Division 2 universities have 2,500–7,499 students, while just over half have fewer than 2,500. Some campuses have up to 15,000 students. There is a stronger focus on academics at Division 2 schools, and with a somewhat less demanding baseball schedule, there is an opportunity for a better sports-academics balance.
- Another possible advantage to playing at a Division 2 school is the opportunity for more playing time. An athlete who can embrace a “big fish in a smaller pond” mindset should consider a Division 2 school.
Division 3 baseball teams: It’s academic
Division 3 is the NCAA’s largest division, but its baseball programs do not usually come with the bells, whistles and sizzle of Division 2 and, especially, Division 1 schools. Several factors distinguish Division 3 schools:
- The majority of Division 3 schools are smaller, private liberal arts colleges and are located mostly in the Northwest and the Midwest. Probably Division 3’s biggest distinction is that its baseball colleges do not offer athletic scholarships. However, academic and merit-based or need-based assistance is available. The NCAA reports that 80 percent of D3 athletes receive some type of non-athletic aid.
- There is an emphasis on academics. Almost 90 percent of all Division 3 athletes reportedly graduate from college.
- The quality of Division 3 baseball varies more widely than at Division 1 and Division 2 schools. The 40-game season tends to start earlier than the other NCAA divisions. Division 3 coaches have comparatively smaller recruiting budgets and will not be major presences at showcases and other recruiting platforms. Recruiting tends to begin later—typically during an athlete’s junior year.
NAIA baseball: Smaller campuses, big opportunities
National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) schools are generally not as large or as well-known as schools in the NCAA, but they have much to offer in terms of competition and school-sports balance. Consider these factors to help determine whether a NAIA baseball college is right for you:
- In terms of competition, higher-level NAIA colleges are comparable to mid/high-level NCAA Division 2 schools. An NAIA school could offer more opportunities for consistent playing time.
- The NAIA recruiting process is less regulated than in NCAA baseball. There are no restrictions on when student-athletes can begin communicating with a coach and tryouts are allowed while they are in high school. Unlike NCAA Division 3 schools, the NAIA does offer athletic scholarships.
- Smaller class sizes and a more laid-back social atmosphere are more conducive to balancing academics and athletics and making the most of the college experience.
Junior college baseball teams: See what develops
One of the main draws of playing junior college baseball is opportunity. Incoming freshmen tend to have an opportunity for consistent playing time on a roster consisting of only freshmen and sophomores. Most junior colleges have ties to area high schools and travel baseball programs and recruit locally. They offer opportunities for athletes to improve their grades and their athletic skills in preparation for transferring to a four-year college. Consider these factors to help determine whether a junior college is right for you:
- Junior college baseball provides two more chances to be selected in the Major League Baseball Amateur Draft, as players can be drafted after their first and second years. Student-athletes at a four-year college must wait until after their junior year (or until they turn 21) before being considered eligible.
- On the academic side, students whose high school grades were lacking have a second chance to take their studies seriously and improve their GPA to meet NCAA eligibility requirements. Upon graduation, student-athletes may transfer these credits to a four-year institution.
- As with the NCAA, junior college schools are divided into three divisions. Division 1 can offer full athletic scholarships and Division 2 financial aid toward tuition, fees and books. Division 3 schools do not offer athletic scholarships.
- Do not discount the money saved by attending junior college. Not only does it cost less to attend a junior college, but because most junior colleges do not offer on-campus housing, student-athletes can save an appreciable amount by living at home. That money will come in handy for the final two years at a four-year institution.