Calling all student athletes! Are you aiming to go to college as an NCAA athlete? Two important NCAA Clearinghouse requirements have to do with your high school grade point average (GPA) and SAT scores, which are compared on a sliding scale. Let's talk about the eligibility criteria for NCAA athletics, and how you can achieve the scores you need.
First, let's review GPA requirements and how your GPA is calculated.
How Your GPA Is Calculated
Your GPA is calculated on a 4.0 scale, meaning your letter and percentage grade scores get translated to a number between 0.0 and 4.0. As you can see on the chart below, a 4.0 is an A or A+. A 3.0 is a B, and a 2.0 is a C.
|Letter Grade||Grade Point||Percentage|
NCAA only looks at your core courses to determine your GPA. Your core courses include 4 years of English, 3 years of math at Algebra I level or higher, 2 years of natural or physical science (one lab if offered at any high school attended), 1 year of additional English, math or natural/physical science, 2 years of social science, and 4 years of foreign language, philosophy or comparative religion.
You can review core course requirements here, as well as check your own high school to see which of its courses count as NCAA eligible core courses. Since NCAA is only looking at the grades in your core courses, your NCAA GPA may be different from the one provided on your transcript, which usually includes all your courses and electives.
Another important requirement for NCAA is your SAT score. Let's take a look at how the SAT is scored and why this matters for your NCAA eligibility clearinghouse.
How the SAT Is Scored
Your SAT is scored in two sections, Math and Evidence-Based Reading and Writing. NCAA doesn't look at the optional essay score, should you choose to take it, so all you have to worry about is Evidence-Based Reading and Writing and Math. These sections are scored out of 800, so you could get a maximum total of 1600 for EBRW and Math combined.
Check out our article for a review of exactly how your SAT scores are calculated. To give a quick review, your scaled score falls somewhere between 200 and 800. It is calculated from your raw score, which is just the number of questions you got right. Skipped and incorrect questions do not add or subtract anything from your score.
If you answered 20 Reading questions correctly and got one wrong, for example, then your raw score would be 20. If you did about the same on Writing, this would translate to a scaled score of about 450 in Evidence-Based Reading and Writing. You can learn more about raw and scaled SAT scores here.
If you take the SAT more than once (which is a good idea—students almost always improve the more times they take the test), then NCAA will look at your best section scores across all dates. So if your Reading and Writing score is higher on one test and your Math is higher on another, the NCAA will take these scores to determine your SAT combined score for initial eligibility.
Now that you know NCAA is looking at your core course GPA and SAT score, let's discuss how they relate to each other.
NCAA Eligibility: The Sliding Scale
To be eligible for the NCAA, you need to achieve a certain GPA and SAT score. However, what you need on your SAT varies with your GPA, and vice versa. If you have a high GPA, then the requirement for your SAT scores is lower. If your GPA is on the low side, then you need to make up for it with higher SAT scores.
For example, let's say your core course GPA is a 2.5. With this GPA, you need at least a combined SAT score of 900 for the NCAA. This could mean you get a 450 on both sections, a 600 on EBRW and 300 on Math, or really any combination that adds up to a 900. If you score an 740 on your SAT, which is a bit lower, then you would need a core course GPA of at least 2.95 to be eligible for NCAA.
This chart shows the requirements for student athletes who aim to play on Division I teams. You will need at least a 2.3 GPA to fully qualify. Students with a GPA between 2.0 and 2.3 may qualify for "Academic Redshirt"—they will get athletic aid and practice but cannot compete. Scroll down to see the sliding scale for Division II.
|Division I||Division II|
|Core Course GPA||New SAT
||Core Course GPA||New SAT
|3.550 & above||400||3.300 & above||400|
|2.45||920||2.2||920 & above|
Now that you have a sense of what scores you need, read on to find out exactly what steps you should take to hit your target scores.
How To Achieve Your Target SAT Scores
Create a Testing Strategy
As we said above, NCAA only looks at your Critical Reading and Math scores—they do not look at Writing. So right off the bat, you can focus your prep and energy on those two sections.
Find out your core course GPA so you know exactly what your target scores are. Since this is a composite target score, you can define your own goals for each section.
Where do your strengths lie? Do you like reading and analyzing texts, or are you more of a math person? Once you know your target composite score, you can play to your strengths by focusing your prep more on one section than on the other.
With your target scores figured out, you can also determine what raw score you need, or how many questions you can afford to get wrong or leave blank in each section.
For example, to get a 400 in Evidence-based Reading and Writing, you need a raw score of 16 on each, or only 32 correct answers out of 96. To get a 400 on math, you need a raw score of 16, or only 16 correct answers. This means you could even skip more than 1/3 of the questions in math and still achieve qualifying scores for NCAA, so you can leave the hardest ones completely blank. You won't waste time on questions you're unsure about.
While you also shouldn't waste too much time determining which questions are hard and which are easy, you can be strategic about how many questions you answer. So skip the ones that are totally unfamiliar and look for ones you know to build up your raw score.
Treat SAT Prep Like Your Sport
Just like with your sport, you'll improve your SAT performance through training. Doing well on the SAT is about how prepared you are. Studying will help you get comfortable with the concepts, familiar with the format of the tests, and skilled at pacing yourself under timed limits.
To keep up your training schedule, you need to access the same values of practice, dedication, discipline and internal motivation that you give to athletics. Make time to practice, drill your weaknesses, and become an SAT pro.
Understand the Test
Make sure you understand the content and format of the SAT. Check out our free E-Book and other resources to learn more about the test. By understanding the skills and subskills being tested, you can figure out what exactly you need to master.
The math section, for example, covers algebra, geometry, probability, and number operations, to name a few. Each skill can be further broken down—for example, algebra may involve solving equations, graphing functions, and other problem types.
Not only will a thorough understanding of the test help you figure out exactly what you need to study, it will also help you break up your studying into small, manageable goals that will aid you in seeing your progress over time. Remember, NCAA continues to have academic requirements once you reach college, so these principles and this approach to studying will help you succeed as a student-athlete throughout college.
Find Time in your Busy Schedule
With your busy schedule of school, homework, practices, and games, you don't have the luxury of studying here and there in your spare time. Make a schedule and set aside specific time for SAT prep. Creating and sticking to a schedule is critical in ensuring that you prepare sufficiently.
You can also add some extra practice to your busy day with SAT Questions of the Day. They are a quick and easy way to practice online or on your phone, to try a wide variety of questions, and to figure out where you need to practice more.
Take the Test More Than Once
Students almost always improve the second and third time they take the test. Since NCAA will take your highest section scores across all test dates, you can take the SAT more than once without worrying about one section score going down.
Start early to give yourself enough available test dates. If the test registration fee is financially difficult, check out our article on SAT fee waivers to see if you might be eligible to have the fee waived.
To Sum Up…
Now that you know all about how the NCAA sliding scale works, you can figure out your core course GPA and NCAA SAT requirement well ahead of time, at least in early junior year. This way you'll have enough time for test prep and to take the SAT more than once to reach your target scores.
Since you already have proven yourself to have the drive, discipline, and motivation to be an NCAA athlete, now you have to believe in your academic self and access these same qualities to achieve your target scores and continue your career as a student-athlete at the college level.
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Rebecca graduated with her Master's in Adolescent Counseling from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. She has years of teaching and college counseling experience and is passionate about helping students achieve their goals and improve their well-being. She graduated magna cum laude from Tufts University and scored in the 99th percentile on the SAT.