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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 2018 Probablility of Competing 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 491,790 34,980 7.1% 2.1% 2.2% 2.8%
Basketball 550,305 18,712 3.4% 1.0% 1.0% 1.4%
Cross Country 266,271 14,350 5.4% 1.8% 1.4% 2.2%
Football 1,057,382 73,063 6.9% 2.7% 1.8% 2.4%
Golf 141,466 8,527 6.0% 2.1% 1.7% 2.2%
Ice Hockey 35,210 4,199 11.9% 4.8% 0.6% 6.5%
Lacrosse 111,842 13,899 12.4% 2.9% 2.3% 7.1%
Soccer 450,234 24,986 5.5% 1.3% 1.5% 2.7%
Swimming 138,364 9,691 7.0% 2.7% 1.1% 3.1%
Tennis 158,171 7,957 5.0% 1.6% 1.1% 2.3%
Track & Field 600,136 28,595 4.8% 1.8% 1.2% 1.7%
Volleyball 57,209 2,007 3.5% 0.7% 0.7% 2.0%
Water Polo 21,286 1,013 4.8% 2.7% 0.7% 1.3%
Wrestling 244,804 7,175 2.9% 1.0% 0.8% 1.1%
WOMEN
Basketball 430,368 16,532 3.8% 1.2% 1.1% 1.5%
Cross Country 226,039 15,966 7.1% 2.6% 1.8% 2.7%
Field Hockey 60,549 6,066 10.0% 3.0% 1.3% 5.7%
Golf 75,605 5,372 7.1% 2.9% 2.1% 2.2%
Ice Hockey 9,599 2,355 24.5% 8.8% 1.2% 14.5%
Lacrosse 93,473 11,752 12.6% 3.7% 2.7% 6.2%
Soccer 388,339 27,638 7.1% 2.4% 1.9% 2.8%
Softball 367,405 19,999 5.4% 1.7% 1.6% 2.1%
Swimming 170,797 12,684 7.4% 3.3% 1.2% 2.9%
Tennis 187,519 8,736 4.7% 1.5% 1.1% 2.1%
Track & Field 494,477 29,907 6.0% 2.7% 1.5% 1.8%
Volleyball 444,779 17,387 3.9% 1.2% 1.1% 1.6%
Water Polo 20,826 1,159 5.6% 3.4% 0.9% 1.3%

Sources: High school figures from the 2016-17 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 2016-17 Sports Sponsorship and Participation Rates Report.

Last Updated: April 20, 2018

Methodology and Notes

  • High school figures come from the 2016-17 High School Athletics Participation Survey conducted by the National Federation of State High School Associations.  College numbers are from the NCAA’s 2016-17 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 2016-17 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 2016-17 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.