Many high school student-athletes aspire to continue in their sport in college. But most are not likely to qualify for athletic scholarships. According to the NCAA nearly 450 four-year colleges compete in Division III sports and they offer no athletic scholarships at all. But among the vast majority of the more than 180,000 student athletes who compete in Division III sports over 85 percent earn a college degree.
Colleges that compete in Division III sports vary from small liberal arts colleges with less than 1,000 students to universities with well past 10,000. The College of New Jersey (TCNJ) is one of the larger schools that competes at this level. It has also become the most selective public college in our state, accepting slightly less than half of the prospective freshmen who wanted to come. The vast majority of an incoming class—93 percent—comes from New Jersey.
TCNJ has over 6,800 undergraduates, more than any school in New Jersey that competes in NCAA Division I varsity scholarship sports, except for Rutgers-New Brunswick. Nearly 500 student-athletes compete in 20 varsity sports, including football. TCNJ’s most successful programs have been in Women’s Field Hockey, Women’s Lacrosse and Women’s Soccer. The college’s athletic program has captured 40 national championships and 49 individual national titles.
A Central New Jersey native, and a former varsity basketball player at Division III Brandeis University (MA), Amanda De Martino, became the Executive Director of Athletics at TCNJ in the fall of 2017. She was formerly Athletic Director at Raritan Valley Community College (NJ) and Northwood University (FL). I dropped by her office to ask about how the college recruits and supports student-athletes.
How are student-athletes recruited to TCNJ?
We have traditionally done very well recruiting in-state and are working towards expanding our out-of-state recruitment. Coaches go on the road, and our most successful programs host Prospect Days on campus. All of our head coaches are full time. Our football program has three full-time assistant coaches (six are part-time). Cross country and track share a full-time assistant; so does our field hockey and women’s lacrosse teams. We also collaborate with the admissions office when they host open houses on campus. Our Senior Associate Athletic Director is the liaison with admissions. She shares lists of recruits with their athletic ratings.
What attracts a student-athlete to come to TCNJ?
An opportunity to compete close to home is a bonus, but so is our location and facilities. We have hosted NCAA first and second-round sectionals in several sports on campus.
Note: TCNJ is also the annual host for the New Jersey Special Olympics. This event and others primarily use the football and soccer facilities
Are student-athletes given any other consideration in the admissions process?
Our student-athletes would not be here if they were not also strong students. Prospects already have a good general idea of TCNJ academically and athletically. Sometimes prospective students explore applying to different majors. They might have a better chance of being admitted to a different major than the one they were initially interested in. The ability to coordinate the academic schedule for the intended major with the sport also needs to be considered. The Nursing program presents the most challenges.
Note: When I looked at the varsity football roster, I found that 10 of the 93 players had an engineering major, which is quite difficult to balance with football at any college.
Are student-athletes more likely to drop their sport in favor of their academics if they are not playing much?
Some earn their way into more playing time, others stick with their sport because it is a passion, but a small minority do drop off.
TCNJ grants graduate as well as undergraduate degrees. Can graduate students compete in Division III sports?
Students are allowed four years of eligibility. They may participate as graduate students if they have any eligibility left.
Are athletics supported at TCNJ as they would be at a smaller Division III school?
Sports are well supported across campus, especially when the teams do well. But we also partner with student clubs and organizations on campus, engage alumni and invite local schools and organizations to our games.
TCNJ also recognizes their athletes not only for their contributions to their team and sport, but also for their academic achievements. They honor the team that had the highest GPA at an athletic event for another team on campus and also honor the male and female athletes who had the highest GPAs.
TCNJ is not only a more selective school that most that compete at this level, it is also different in that a smaller percentage (less than ten percent) of the undergraduate students are varsity athletes. At Ursinus College (PA), a much smaller (1,600 student) liberal arts college that I recently visited, over a third of the students are also varsity athletes, some in more than one sport. From talking to several Ursinus students friends cheer on friends whenever they can. TCNJ is also one of Ursinus’ regular opponents in its three most successful women’s sports, among others, where they both compete.
A smaller private college like Ursinus may need to recruit more outside of its state to fill spots on its athletic rosters. Being a public college, TCNJ offers major cost advantages in state as well as more academic programs, but the private school might opt to play more sports—Ursinus competes in 25—to attract more students that the public college cannot. Ursinus has to work hard to be price competitive through generous merit scholarships that would attract a student who mighty also be admitted to TCNJ.
Those last two paragraphs cover the nicest aspects of choosing between Division III schools. The smaller liberal arts school that competes in many sports may have more school spirit tied to sports, an athletic administration that will encourage academics, and small classes, more like high school for those who want a liberal arts major. A public school the size of TCNJ offers more academic options at less cost, but also smaller classes that you’re likely to find at the flagship state university. While the opportunity to compete is important, the academics should never take a distant second place.
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