When should I consider playing for a college that isn’t Division I?

The Short Answer

It should never just be Division I schools.

The Actual Answer

While it’s never too late, playing Division I collegiate athletics is hard. Student-athletes need to be realistic about their recruitment. In fact, setting realistic goals is a crucial component to success.

On a numbers basis alone, playing Division I is very, very difficult. Realistically speaking, if DI coaches are not actively recruiting your junior year, it may mean the time is right to really broaden your target list of schools.

This does not mean you are not capable of playing Division I, nor does it mean the dream is done – there is always room for a late bloomer. There are PG years and other avenues. A coach may see your tape late in the game, and many coaches do save a spot for such occasions.

The greater point, though, is this: There are so many outstanding options at the next level. Don’t get tunnel vision thinking Division I is the only choice. If your junior year has come and you aren’t hearing a ton from coaches, be realistic, and open your options to include a mix of DI and DIII schools (really, that should be true regardless).

It will serve you in the long run, and will not close any doors, but simply open new ones.

The Movie Quote that Explains Our Current Understanding

“In this life, you don’t gotta prove nothin’ to nobody, except yourself.”
-Fortune, from 1993s Rudy


What the Quote Says in Our Context

Rudy is the best movie ever created*.

In this, the best scene in the film, a sage custodial-worker-turned-mentor named Fortune gives Rudy an impassioned speech. About to quit for not making the final game’s dress list, Fortune let’s Rudy know that walking out, quitting, would be a far worse fate. It would be letting the situation dictate his life. That, of course, is a one-way ticket to regret station.

This is a helpful quote in our context. Many times as a high school student-athlete, it may feel like the only options at the next level are at the Division I level. The pressure may be there to keep up with friends who may be heading that way; to be able to say you too are playing at that level, to keep up in some invisible competition over who is better.

Do. Not. Get. Caught. Up. In. This.

Much like Rudy, you need to only prove to yourself that you are good enough. You owe it to yourself and your future to explore the options across all divisions. There is great sport being played everywhere, at great schools. Don’t close your mind to these amazing possibilities.

*This is a fact. Do not question me on this.

Our Advice

Playing Division I is very difficult. So, too, will your college search be should you limit your parameters to the Division I schools, only.

College is a four-year decision that will have a forty-year impact. The “I need to go DI or else” thought process misses this point. Where you go to school, conversely, is one that will stay with you for the rest of your life.

Exploring all of your options should really be a no-brainer, but let’s put it selfishly should that assist the thinking. Look around. Get a feel for other schools. You’re not closing yourself off to the Division I dream. Rather, you are ensuring that wherever the chips fall, you will be in a position to have a home at the next level.

Said another way: Playing the sport you love and getting a great education are not mutually exclusive, and is possible outside of the DI level. You need to find the right school for you academically, socially and athletically. Don’t be distracted or thrown off course by any other logic. You’ll thank yourself later in life.

Personal Note

Personal Note: I played DIII lacrosse at Wesleyan University, which competes in the NESCAC, one of the best conferences at that level. I entered school in 2005, long before the days of club teams and showcase events every weekend, but came from a very good high school program on Long Island, so the “DI or bust” mentality was certainly present. During the process, some bigger DI programs recruited me, and I have no doubt I could have stepped in and competed right away at those schools. For a variety of reasons, however, I chose the DIII experience.

My decision had nothing to do with the thought if I was “good enough” to play at the highest level, but came down to a more personal choice based on many factors. It was the right choice and fit for my own situation. I had an unbelievable experience, and am very happy I made the choice I did. The point is not to only look DIII, or DI; it’s to find the right fit for you – whatever the Division.


This article is a special edition of our weekly column, “Too Embarrassed to Ask,” where we’ll examine a hot topic from the world of recruiting that parents and student-athletes may want to know more about, but may shy away from asking because it is considered assumed knowledge. Think of this column like a cheat sheet for those instances it is no longer acceptable to ask a question, say, having met someone three times but still not knowing their name.

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