Smaller colleges could mean big opportunities.

While most softball players dream of earning a full-ride athletic scholarship to one of the big Division I programs, the fact of the matter is only about 1.7% of high school players will compete in DI. With 299 Division I teams, your odds of making a Division I roster are about 61 to 1. In betting parlance, that’s a long shot.

It’s also important to note that 1.7% is the percentage who compete at the Division I level, not earn a full scholarship. As softball at the DI and DII levels is an equivalency sport, each team has fewer scholarships than players (12 scholarships per team in DI and 7.2 per team in DII). In most cases, coaches try to award partial scholarships to more players instead of full-rides to a smaller number of players.

While all of the above may be discouraging, it shouldn’t dim your hopes for a college softball scholarship. As you begin your softball recruiting process, honestly assess your skills and experience and try to determine where you might fit best. And, if it turns out your best fit isn’t in DI or DII, you can still look to an NAIA school for an athletic scholarship, and a whole lot more.

What’s The NAIA Difference?

While it has fewer schools sponsoring softball programs than either Division I or Division II, National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics-affiliated schools do offer larger average softball rosters than either DI or DII. And, fully funded NAIA programs have the equivalent of 10 scholarships to award players. And, when you add in that NAIA schools can be smaller institutions with lower tuition costs, a partial softball scholarship at an NAIA school can ultimately be a better value than a comparable offer at a DI or DII program. In addition, the generally smaller size of an NAIA school could mean there are more opportunities to earn academic scholarships or other financial aid packages.

The NAIA Difference Versus Division III

If you assessed your college softball potential based on the link above, you may have noted that, if you’re an NAIA caliber player, you’ll also likely be pursued by some NCAA Division III schools. While the softball skill level may be comparable between the two, the advantage goes to the NAIA, which offers athletic scholarships while DIII schools don’t.

Aside from that, there are plenty of similarities between NAIA schools and DIII institutions. In general, both divisions are comprised of smaller schools, with smaller campuses and lower enrollment numbers. Further, both offer student-athletes the opportunity to compete at the college level, but with less pressure and more time to study, pursue social activities on and off-campus, and the chance to simply enjoy the lifestyle of a normal college student.

How The NAIA Ranks Competitively

While many believe the softball competition level outside of Division I is significantly lower, remember that only 8.5% of high school softball players ultimately compete at any college level. And that means you’ll still be competing against the top 10% of the nation’s softball players in the NAIA. And while it’s easy to look at the Division I Women’s College World Series and dream of being part of a softball dynasty, the NAIA has its own Softball World Series and some powerful, dominant programs too.

On top of that, the more relaxed attitude about athletics at the NAIA level could also translate into more opportunities to play, sooner. In spite of the advantages it offers, many NAIA softball coaches are always looking for players. And that could mean more opportunities to play right out of high school instead of riding the bench while more experienced players take the field.

As a softball player, it’s only natural to dream of earning a scholarship at a top Division I program. However, for more than 98% of high school softball players, that dream likely won’t come true. But don’t get discouraged, because, with softball scholarships available and the opportunity to balance being an athlete, a student, and enjoy the college experience, the NAIA could be your softball field of dreams.

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