Division 1 vs. Division 3 Tennis Article


New User
This article on the advantages of D3 over D1 was posted and will appear soon on tennisrecruiting.net. Since a lot of people come on this board asking about college prospects I thought it would be good to share...

Currently, there are so many tools and services available to help parents and players successfully navigate the recruiting process. While these are all wonderful methods for finding the right school for each player, I believe a large group of schools may sometimes be overlooked when many top juniors look at college. Those would be the 300+ programs that make up NCAA Division 3. Today, I'll discuss why Division 3 can be a great option for American juniors all the way from 1 to 5 stars, boys and girls alike.

I'm a big believer in statistics, so let me start by providing three sets of statistics that briefly highlight Division 3 tennis.

To begin, I looked at 4 and 5 star players in the classes of 2006 and 2007. Among these players, 242 went to Division 1 from high school and 30 went to Division 3. Of those 242 to D1, only 134 consistently started for their team, 86 played in the NCAA tournament and 68 have either transferred schools or quit the team. Of the 30 who went to Division 3, 27 consistently start for their team, 23 have played in the NCAA tournament and 5 transferred or quit the team.

To get a larger sample size of D3, I looked at 3, 4 and 5 stars who went D3 in the classes of 2006, 2007 and 2008. There are 133 total players in this category. Of those 133, 94 consistently start for their team, 80 have played in the NCAA tournament and only 17 have transferred schools or quit the team.

My last statistic is a demographic of D3. I looked at the top 6 singles players on each of the top 20 teams in Division 3. The breakdown is as follows.
5 stars: 2
4 stars: 39
3 stars: 40
2 stars: 19
0 or 1 star: 10
International: 10
I will also mention that there are currently 9 kids in this breakdown who transferred from Division 1.

So what does all of this mean? Typically, when a junior tennis player thinks of Division 3, they think of strong academics and not-so-strong tennis. The former is definitely true. If you look the top 75 National Universities and the top 75 Liberal Arts Colleges according US News and World Report, nearly half of them compete in NCAA Division 3 tennis. When choosing Division 3, players will definitely be able to get a great education but will also be able to play top notch tennis. A great part about D3 is the variety among programs. If a player wishes to train 3-4 hours a day, the opportunity is there to do so. If a player needs to miss practice for an academic conflict, that is also extremely acceptable. D3 typically doesn't mirror the rigid practice schedules of D1, and there is a lot more flexibility when it comes to athletics.

I spoke with Matt Solomon, a recent graduate of Whitman College, about the differences between D1 and D3. Matt played at Whitman for his first two years as well as his senior year, but transferred to Boise State for the spring of his junior year because he wanted to experience D1 competition. During this season, the Broncos defeated Alabama in NCAAs before falling to Ohio State in the Round of 16. Matt started at #3 doubles for Boise and commented on the student-athlete experience as well as the difference in level of play between the two divisions.

"In my experiences, the balance is tilted significantly towards athletics for a D1 athlete and contrarily, is tilted heavily towards academics for a D3 athlete. At Boise State, practice lasted either 2 or 3 hours depending on the day. Three times a week we would go to the gym for one hour for weights and running... At Whitman, I was provided with ample opportunity to grow as a complete person. For example, this past year I was advertising manager for our school newspaper and I was on the executive board of the Whitman investment club... I expected the #3 doubles spot at places like Pepperdine, Notre Dame, Oklahoma and Virginia to be at a considerably higher level than top doubles teams in Division III, however this was not the case. I think it’s a huge testament to Division III tennis that I was able to go from D3 to D1 and be competitive with some of the best #3 teams in the country."

I pose the following question to all junior players. Unless your goal is to become a professional player or a tennis coach, why would you choose a school that emphasizes tennis over academics? The NCAA ad campaign of "almost all of us are going pro in something other than sports" exemplifies this point quite well. D3 gives you the opportunity to concentrate on your schoolwork while still playing a high level of tennis. You will be prepared for the real world, whether it be at a larger research university or a small liberal arts college. You don't need to be academically outstanding to be accepted into a D3 school and there are often financial aid packages that can take the place of an athletic scholarship that you would receive in D1. The thing that is guaranteed is that the emphasis will be placed on student, before athlete, and you will come out of college as a more disciplined person.

I spoke with Coach Chuck Willenborg of Johns Hopkins University about the academic and athletic success of his program. Coach Willenborg just finished his 6th season at the helm of Hopkins Men's and Women's programs. He played at the University of Miami and had previously coached at his alma mater as well as Pepperdine University. The Johns Hopkins women climbed as high as #10 in the country this year their men were as high as #8.

"One thing I feel that gets overlooked when talking about Division III is the graduation rate of players leaving the program. All the rules are geared for the players to do well in school and feel that we take advantage of this. In Hopkins case, we take a lot of pride in our teams having very high GPAs while winning conference titles and competing on a national level. In my six years at Hopkins, we have placed 12 players in medical school at a 100% rate. The national average for students going to medical school is under 35%. This success is possible because of reduced amount of practice time."

On too many occasions, I believe naive junior tennis players are steered in the wrong direction and blinded by the prestige of being a Division 1 athlete. They are pressured by parents and often coaches to maximize only their tennis ability without exploring their other talents. Unless you are a highly recruited blue chip player, the chances are good that you may never win a conference title or play deep into an NCAA tournament. D3 gives you the opportunity to be competitive on the national level and really feel like you are playing for something when you step on the courts every day. With international players filling up more and more roster spots of the top D1 teams, the American juniors are being pushed to the lower ranks of D1 and often to the middle or bottom of their lineup and conference. Top D3 programs would be competitive with most of the Ivies and could compete for a title in an academically strong conference such as the Patriot League.

While D3 may not be right for everyone, it is certainly worth a look for many incoming college tennis players. The tennis continues to get stronger and we can still advertise numerous teams and players that qualify for Academic All-American status. Just take a look at the quality of players that have entered D3 over the past four years and you will realize that it is a great place for incoming college tennis players to develop, and more importantly it truly reflects the term student-athlete.


New User
I'm a big fan of D3 tennis. I watch a lot of matches at Haverford College, a second-tier team perhaps, but even so I'm struck by how darn good these guys, and the guys in their league, are. They've got all the strokes, just not the size and power you might see at DI.


CMU..great post!! Over the past few years, we have had to "defend" my son's decision to look at DIII schools, we were of the opinion that "school" not "tennis' was his main objective when he gets to college. But what you failed to mention was the necessity of "good grades" in that a lot (majority) of DIII schools have high academic requirements..sometimes higher than DI schools in general due to a lot of DIII schools being private rather than public (ie: John Hopkins & Whitman). Thus, we should all as parents and coaches let these kids know that grades are of the utmost importance, something my son did not get until too late! So while a coach from these prestigious DIII schools may show interest in a player, if they do not have the grades to get into to the school in the first place, it may be difficult to to gain admission even with a coach's assistance and compete then once they are admitted

Also, in the economic environment, unless a student attending a DIII does have good grades, a "merit" scholarship may be more difficult to come by and thus may steer a student to a DI for an athletic scholarship..the few that are available.

Moral of the story....get good grades, play a decent game of tennis and doors will open!!
I played D2, and my experience was more of a D3 than a D1 - I played a lot of players that I played junior tournaments with as well, but also had time for academics and other things.


Great post. It tracks my experience w/ D1 too.

The best part are the actual statistics for different rankings/levels of juniors and where they end-up. Also love the line about the NCAA commercial - where most student athletes go pro in something else - that I had written about previously here.

I think Jr & Senior in HS and college age kids have a hard internalizing a message like this from someone else though. I know I had a hard time with it. To this day I thank my college coach's "I'll give you a shot, draw your own conclusions" approach. Taught me some of the best lessons I learned in college.



What a great article! I played D1 for a season at Delaware and the was the assistant coach there during our conference championship season in 1997. Now, I coach at D3 Drew University in Madison, NJ where we have won 10 straight conference championships without losing a conference match.

I have come across many junior players who think about the prestige of playing D1. Their parents think of getting a financial return on their investment. Many people don't realize the level of good D1 teams and wind up going to a school where they may not get playing time.

Having been a non-starter on a top high school team, I knew I could play college tennis, but I didn't know where I fit in. I wound up at a D1 program, but I really had no idea about how the level of my tennis fit in with their team;I just knew I liked to play. Looking back, had tennis been a top priority to me, I should have sought out a D3 program where I could have started for 4 years. Luckily, I found a school that I loved anyway. Not being a starter allowed me to do the things that most D3 players get to experience (such as being involved in clubs and social organizations).

As a D3 coach and a former D1 player, I can honestly say that there is overlap between the levels of play. We have had #1 singles players transfer to D1 programs and not be able to start and another who did. We have had players transfer from D1 programs to us and some were great additions, but still did not light up D3. We have had D1 transfers barely make the starting lineup. The D1 schools usually have more depth, spend more time practicing, but also, less time for academics and a social life. The D3 schools allow for a much more balanced college life. Unless you are a blue chip player, I strongly suggest that people keep an open mind on the schools that they are looking at. Many D3 schools can offer academic packages and provide competition that rivals D1 schools and their athletic aid.