Your Options for Playing Sports in College

Find the right college for you.

group of women playing basketball

Some people imagine the roar of a crowd at a packed football stadium when they think of college sports, but that's only part of the story. College sports come in a wide variety, including bowling, golf, wrestling, tennis, swimming and even Frisbee. And colleges offer the opportunity for every student to take part in sports — not just the elite student-athletes you see on TV.

Facts About Collegiate Sports

Here are the main things you need to know about college sports:

  • Some varsity athletes are eligible for athletic scholarships through their colleges.
  • Varsity athletes must meet academic requirements to win and keep athletic scholarships.
  • All college athletes need strong time-management skills to balance classes and homework with practices and games.
  • Playing a sport in college can help you develop life skills, including communication, decision making, and teamwork.
  • Participating in varsity and/or intramural athletics can lead to enduring friendships with teammates and fellow competitors.

What Are Varsity Sports in College?

What does "varsity" mean? College varsity sports teams usually:

  • Represent their college.

  • Play against teams from other colleges.

  • Receive at least some funding from their college's athletic department.

  • Have members that must meet academic requirements to win and keep athletic scholarships.

Sports Associations

Associations that oversee college varsity-level competition for men and women include the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA), and the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA).

The NCAA is the largest and most well-known of the college sports associations. When you watch college sports on TV, you're usually watching NCAA athletes. The NCAA oversees three levels of play:

Division I is the biggest and most competitive NCAA division. Colleges that compete in Division I must offer scholarships─many of them full─to their student-athletes.

Division II athletic programs are smaller and less competitive than those in Division I. Most student-athletes don't get full-ride scholarships, but many do get some financial aid.

Division III programs are the least competitive. Division III colleges don’t offer sports-related financial aid. Still, these schools recruit athletes, and being an athlete can help you get into a college that wants you in its program.

What Are Club and Intramural Sports in College?

Students who can’t make the varsity team or who don’t want the intensity of varsity-level sports can join clubs and intramural leagues. Millions of college students take part in these teams each year as a way to compete, have fun and stay fit.

Club Sports

Club teams compete against clubs from other colleges and are run by students. Students take charge of everything from getting uniforms to making travel arrangements. Competition and time commitments can be intense for club sports in college. Teams may be involved in a regional conference and play for a national championship.

The college sets up intramural sports leagues to give all students a chance to participate in an activity. Teams from the same college play against each other.

Finding the Right College for You to Play Sports

Students may opt for traditional sports such as basketball, soccer, and softball. Others may choose to participate in nontraditional sports such as dodgeball, inner-tube water polo, or video games. Some colleges offer different levels of these types of sports. That way, students can match their skills and interest level with a more or less competitive team.

To help find the right college for you, start a College Search. Filter your search by the sport you’re interested in playing. 


What sports do most colleges offer?

The size of a university and its total student population factor into the number of sports teams offered at a given school. A typical collegiate sports list may include football, basketball, baseball, soccer, tennis, swimming, and volleyball. Past student interest in a club or an intermural sport and the resources set aside for sports also influence what a school has to offer.

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How many sports are there in college?

The NCAA oversees a total of 24 sports, many of which are also separated into men's and women's leagues. A typical college will offer 20 varsity sports. While some schools have traditional team sports like football and basketball, other schools will have a more varied list of sports, including equestrian, archery, and bowling teams. 

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Is there a sports major in college?

Yes. Students can choose from  a growing number of sports majors. Sports communication, sports marketing, sports facility management, and sports journalism are just a few examples. Students who major in sports in college may choose to work in the realm of professional or amateur athletics. There’s a surprising number of career opportunities for students majoring in sports.

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How do college sports affect education?

Participating in collegiate sports affects students in different ways. Some students are able to balance practicing, studying, and spending time with friends. In this scenario, participating in sports in college is a positive experience. Other students who join a sports team find they struggle with the demands on their time and energy. These students may need to seek help on how to balance their time more effectively or scale back on their extracurricular activities.

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How do I play sports in college?

The first thing to do is decide whether you want to participate in varsity, club, or intramural sports. Thinking about your level of interest and the time you have to dedicate to a sport can help you choose. Once you decide which sport to participate in, research its requirements, including the monetary cost, practice times, and game schedule. Find out when tryouts take place so you can prepare yourself physically and mentally for the challenge.

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