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Estimated probability of competing in college athletics

Nearly eight million students currently participate in high school athletics in the United States.  More than 480,000 compete as NCAA athletes, and just a select few within each sport move on to compete at the professional or Olympic level.

The table shows how many high school and NCAA athletes compete in each sport along with an estimate of the percentage of high school athletes going on to compete in the NCAA. 

In contrast, the likelihood of an NCAA athlete earning a college degree is significantly greater; graduation success rates are 86% in Division I, 71% in Division II and 87% in Division III.

Download the 2017 Probablility of Competing Beyond High School Figures and Methodology

Men
  High School Participants NCAA Participants Overall % HS to NCAA % HS to NCAA Division I % HS to NCAA Division II % HS to NCAA Division III
Baseball 488,815 34,554 7.1% 2.1% 2.2% 2.8%
Basketball 546,428 18,684 3.4% 1.0% 1.0% 1.4%
Cross Country 257,691 14,412 5.6% 1.9% 1.4% 2.3%
Football 1,083,308 73,660 6.8% 2.6% 1.8% 2.4%
Golf 146,677 8,676 5.9% 2.0% 1.7% 2.2%
Ice Hockey 35,155 4,102 11.7% 4.6% 0.5% 6.5%
Lacrosse 109,522 13,446 12.3% 2.9% 2.3% 7.1%
Soccer 440,322 24,803 5.6% 1.3% 1.5% 2.8%
Swimming 133,470 9,455 7.1% 2.8% 1.1% 3.2%
Tennis 157,201 8,092 5.1% 1.7% 1.1% 2.4%
Track & Field 591,133 28,334 4.8% 1.9% 1.2% 1.7%
Volleyball 55,417 1,899 3.4% 0.7% 0.8% 1.9%
Water Polo 21,857 1,014 4.6% 2.6% 0.7% 1.3%
Wrestling 250,653 7,075 2.8% 1.0% 0.8% 1.0%
Women
  High School Participants NCAA Participants Overall % HS to NCAA % HS to NCAA Division I % HS to NCAA Division II % HS to NCAA Division III
Basketball 429,380 16,593 3.9% 1.2% 1.1% 1.6%
Cross Country 222,516 15,958 7.2% 2.7% 1.8% 2.7%
Field Hockey 59,793 6,032 10.1% 3.0% 1.2% 5.8%
Golf 74,762 5,293 7.1% 2.9% 2.1% 2.1%
Ice Hockey 9,514 2,289 24.1% 9.0% 1.0% 14.0%
Lacrosse 88,050 11,375 12.9% 3.8% 2.6% 6.5%
Soccer 381,529 27,358 7.2% 2.4% 1.9% 2.9%
Softball 366,685 19,680 5.4% 1.6% 1.6% 2.1%
Swimming 166,747 12,356 7.4% 3.3% 1.1% 3.0%
Tennis 183,800 8,933 4.9% 1.6% 1.1% 2.2%
Track & Field 485,969 29,048 6.0% 2.7% 1.5% 1.8%
Volleyball 436,309 17,119 3.9% 1.2% 1.1% 1.6%
Water Polo 20,230 1,136 5.6% 3.3% 1.0% 1.3%

Sources: High school figures from the 2015-16 High School Athletics Participation Survey conducted by the National Federation of State High School Associations; data from club teams not included.  College numbers from the NCAA 2015-16 Sports Sponsorship and Participation Rates Report.

Last Updated: March 10, 2017

Methodology and notes

  • High school figures come from the 2015-16 High School Athletics Participation Survey conducted by the National Federation of State High School Associations.  College numbers are from the NCAA’s 2015-16 Sports Sponsorship and Participation Rates Report.  These college numbers account for participation in college athletics at NCAA-member schools only.    
  • High school-to-NCAA percentages were calculated by dividing the number of NCAA participants in 2015-16 by the number of HS participants in that same year.  This assumes that high school and college rosters are turning over at roughly the same rate (e.g., both HS and college participation numbers include four classes of students and both sets of teams turn over roughly one-quarter of their rosters each year).  In prior versions of this table, more complex calculations were used to estimate the number of HS departures and open college roster slots each year; however, these more involved calculations did not lead to substantially different percentages than the simple calculation used currently.  Given several potential confounds (e.g., multi-sport participation in high school, frequency of redshirt in NCAA Division I football that would lead to a 5-year rather than 4-year college track), these calculations should be considered approximations and not exact accounting. 
  • The high school-to-NCAA divisional percentages were calculated by dividing the number of 2015-16 participants within each NCAA division by the total number of HS participants. For example, we estimate that approximately 3.4% of HS boys basketball participants go on to play at an NCAA school (Divisions I, II or III), but only 1.0% of HS participants do so at the Division I level.
  • As the high school figures account only for participants on high school teams and not those competing exclusively on club teams or similar, the true pre-college to NCAA percentages could be lower in some sports (e.g., ice hockey, tennis).  Data for several sports (e.g., rowing, skiing, gymnastics) are not shown due to the low number of high school programs in those sports relative to non-scholastic pre-college participation opportunities.