NCAA, NAIA, NJCAA: What's the Difference? - United Sports USA
NCAA, NAIA, NJCAA: What’s the Difference?

If you are looking to get a sports scholarship in America, you’ve got a lot of options. The main organizations which give out sports scholarships are the NCAA, NAIA, and the NJCAA.  Here we will go over the differences between these organizations, and how to know which sports scholarship to go for.


The National College Athletics Association (NCAA) is the most well-known and esteemed college sports organization in the USA.  When people think about college sports, it is usually the NCAA which comes to mind.

There are three divisions of the NCAA. Divisions 1 and 2 are the only ones which offer scholarships! Whereas the NCAA D1 and D2 schools are large public universities, the D3 is usually small private colleges.  While you won’t be able to get an athletic scholarship at the D3 level, you might be able to get an academic scholarship.

The NCAA D1 is very competitive.  Because of the stricter rules about eligibility, most foreign players play at the D2 level.  It is also possible to start out at the D2 level and (after 2 years) and then move to play at the D1 level.

  • Mostly large public universities
  • Includes 1,281 schools/institutions, conferences, and other associations
  • About 450,000 athletes in NCAA
  • Strict regulations about coach-player contacts
  • Division 1 has stricter eligibility requirements
  • Average scholarship amount for D1: about $14,000
  • Average scholarship amount for D2: about $5,000
  • Website:



The National Association of Intercollegiate Athletes is mostly comprised of smaller private universities.  The athletic and academic standards aren’t as high as with the NCAA, and there are fewer rules about foreign athletes.  This makes the NAIA a good choice for international athletes looking for scholarships.

Just because the athletic standard is lower than with the NCAA, it doesn’t mean that the NAIA isn’t competitive or is subpar.  The NAIA D1 is on par with the NCAA D2.

  • Mostly smaller private colleges
  • 255 member institutions
  • Many foreign players
  • Average D1 scholarship amount: $6,000
  • Website:



The National Junior College Athletic Association is considered the baby of sports scholarships.  It is made up of 2-year community colleges.  In the United States, community colleges are usually small, and have few (or no) academic requirements for acceptance.  Their areas of study are usually broader as well.  Because community colleges are so much cheaper than large public universities, many students in the US first attend community colleges and then transfer the course credits over to a larger university later.

The NJCAA athletic teams aren’t going to draw in big crowds like the NCAA or NAIA does, and the facilities aren’t going to be as great.  However, athletes shouldn’t dismiss NJCAA scholarships completely.  The NJCAA is a good option for students who didn’t get accepted to the NCAA or NAIA because of academics.  They can spend two years at the community college getting their grades up, and then try for a NCAA or NAIA scholarship.  The NJCAA is also a good way for foreign players to get noticed by coaches.  Coaches often prefer to take players from the NJCAA because they have proven their dedication and their ability to balance life as a student athlete.

  • 2-year community colleges
  • 525 membership schools
  • Stepping stone to the NCAA or NAIA
  • Low/no academic requirements
  • Low eligibility requirements
  • Average scholarship amount: about $2,000
  • Website: