The opportunity for a full-ride scholarship is just the beginning
For many high school athletes, attending a junior college is considered the choice of last resort. The reasons for that could be they don’t qualify academically, don’t earn any interest from coaches at larger schools, they need an affordable college close to home, or they’re just not sure of their next move. However, if you’re a high school baseball player who wants to compete at the collegiate level or maybe even the pros, a top-end junior college program can offer you many things NCAA programs don’t, while also offering more opportunities to compete at the highest levels.
The Biggest Advantage
As NCAA baseball is an equivalency sport, Division I teams are limited to the equivalent of 11.7 scholarships to spread around in the form of partial scholarships to an average roster of 36 players. Division II baseball rosters average 42 players but only have the equivalent of 9 scholarships to spread out. However, junior college baseball programs average 23 players per team, but with 24 full-ride athletic scholarships to be awarded.
In other words, if you want a full-ride scholarship to play college baseball, your best bet, hands down, is at a junior college. Note that not all JUCO programs are fully funded, and therefore some may not have 24 full scholarships to offer. Further, as the name junior college implies, any junior college scholarship earned would only cover your two years at that school. But that’s OK because of…
The Development Difference
As noted above, junior college baseball programs have an average roster of 23 players. However, as JUCO schools are only two-year colleges, that means you’ll likely have opportunities to play sooner. That playing time can help you continue your development as a player so you’ll have two seasons to improve. And, if you didn’t get much attention from DI or DII coaches out of high school, a couple of years playing JUCO ball can help you grow into that next level, both physically and developmentally, and serve as a stepping stone to the next level.
In addition, with two years of experience at a junior college, you can show DI and DII coaches that you’ve got what it takes to play at a higher level. And, since college baseball rosters are continually in flux due to the MLB draft, two years of JUCO baseball experience, a solid academic record, and an AA degree can make you a more attractive recruit to DI or DII coaches.
The Flexibility Factor
Given the way in which it develops players, Major League Baseball’s draft system works differently compared to football or basketball. If you’re drafted by an MLB team out of high school, your options are to sign a contract and begin your pro career (likely somewhere in the low minors) or you can choose to attend college and play baseball there. However, if you choose the four year-college route, you can’t be drafted again for two years.
However, if you opt to play baseball at a junior college, you can be drafted after your freshman year of JUCO and you can transfer to another school after one year too, While many players take the full two years at a junior college to develop on the diamond and in the classroom, you have the flexibility to move on, to the pros or to a four-year school, after your freshman year. And that can come in handy, whether you just need to prove yourself to bigger programs, improve your grades to qualify academically, you’re not sure if college is for you, or you just need an affordable college option.
The Company You Keep
Junior college and community college baseball programs have long been starting points for major league baseball players. That includes names like Albert Pujols, Jorge Posada, and Bryce Harper. In fact, in the 2021 Major League Baseball amateur draft, almost 21% of the players drafted had junior college ties. And don’t forget that many more JUCO players have parlayed their junior college experience into a scholarship at Division I or Division II baseball programs too.
Finally, just remember that not all junior college baseball programs are created equal. While there are 403 junior colleges that sponsor baseball programs, they all may not be fully funded and offer a full complement of scholarships. And not every one of those programs competes at the highest levels. Finally, while most junior colleges give you the time and the space to figure out what you want to do with your life, some may not offer the course of study you want to pursue.
So, while junior college baseball programs offer plenty of advantages for high school athletes who want to compete at the college level, you still need to do your research. If you do go the junior college route, make sure you choose the junior college that’s right for you, athletically, academically, and financially, so that you can take advantage of everything that school has to offer.
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