You are here

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 2016 Probablility of Competeing Beyond High School Figures and Methodology

  High School Participants NCAA Participants Overall % HS to NCAA % HS to NCAA Division I % HS to NCAA Division II % HS to NCAA Division III
Men
Baseball 486,567 34,198 7.0% 2.1% 2.2% 2.7%
Basketball 541,479 18,697 3.5% 1.0% 1.0% 1.4%
Cross Country 250,981 14,330 5.7% 1.9% 1.4% 2.3%
Football  1,083,617 72,788 6.7% 2.6% 1.8% 2.4%
Golf 148,823 8,654 5.8% 2.0% 1.7% 2.1%
Ice Hockey 35,875 4,071 11.3% 4.6% 0.5% 6.3%
Lacrosse 108,450 13,165 12.1% 2.9% 2.2% 7.1%
Soccer 432,569 24,477 5.7% 1.3% 1.5% 2.8%
Swimming 137,087 9,715 7.1% 2.8% 1.1% 3.2%
Tennis 157,240 8,211 5.2% 1.7% 1.1% 2.4%
Track & Field 578,632 28,177 4.9% 1.9% 1.2% 1.7%
Volleyball 54,418 1,818 3.3% 0.7% 0.8% 1.8%
Water Polo 21,626 1,044 4.8% 2.6% 0.7% 1.5%
Wrestling 258,208 7,049 2.7% 1.0% 0.7% 1.0%
Women
Basketball 429,504 16,589 3.9% 1.2% 1.1% 1.6%
Cross Country 221,616 16,150 7.3% 2.7% 1.7% 2.8%
Field Hockey 60,549 5,894 9.7% 2.9% 1.2% 5.7%
Golf 72,582 5,221 7.2% 3.0% 2.1% 2.1%
Ice Hockey 9,418 2,175 23.1% 9.0% 1.1% 13.1% 
Lacrosse 84,785 10,994 13.0% 3.7% 2.5% 6.7%
Soccer 375,681 26,995 7.2% 2.4% 1.9% 2.9%
Softball 364,103 19,628 5.4% 1.7% 1.6% 2.1%
Swimming 166,838 12,428 7.4% 3.2% 1.1% 3.1%
Tennis 182,876 8,960 4.9% 1.6% 1.1% 2.2%
Track & Field 478,726 28,797 6.0% 2.7% 1.5% 1.8%
Volleyball 432,176 17,026 3.9% 1.2% 1.2% 1.6%
Water Polo 19,204 1,152 6.0% 3.5% 1.1% 1.4%

Sources: High school figures from the 2014-15 High School Athletics Participation Survey conducted by the National Federation of State High School Associations. College numbers from the NCAA NCAA Sports Sponsorship and Participation Rates Report

Methodology and notes

  • High school-to-NCAA percentages were calculated by dividing the number of NCAA participants in 2014-15 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 2014-15 participants within each NCAA division by the total number of HS participants. For example, we estimate that approximately 3.5% 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.

Last Updated: April 25, 2016