What Grades Do You Need For College?

The majority of students that we speak with in regards to pursuing the US college sport pathway, always focus their initial questions heavily on what sporting level they need to be in order to be eligible to play. And although this is a very good and important question, the biggest obstacle for the majority of students that we help is actually their academics.  This is because your high school academics are THE fundamental most important aspect in order for you to qualify to play college sport, but interestingly it is often researched the least by prospective students and their parents.  

To play NCAA college sport, you need to qualify academically.

For students wishing to pursue the USA college sports scholarship route, making sure your academics are done right is so important we can't emphasis it enough!  Without the necessary academic subjects and grades being completed at the right time, it's irrelevant how good you are at your sport, you won't be eligible for a sports scholarship and therefore an american college team.  And the minimum requirements and regulations set by the NCAA are getting tougher each year with this, so you need to stay on top of what you need to do.

The term 'Student-Athlete' in fact is a phrase that you will often hear when researching into the college process, because to compete in college sport, it really is 'student' first, 'athlete' second!  And by the way this is not just to get eligible to start college, once you are there in the US competing for your college, you have to maintain your GPA otherwise you lose your eligibility and therefore scholarship aid. 

What are the academic requirements?

The NCAA minimum academic requirements rules and regulations change frequently, but here we are going to focus on the recent change that comes into effect for students graduating high school in 2016. If you graduate before this the current rules are very similar, but luckily for you they are a little easier to pass (details below).

To meet the minimum requirements for NCAA Division I college sport, student-athletes enrolling in August 2016 or later must:

  • Graduate from high school
  • Complete 16 Core Courses (see below), including 10 before your seventh semester at high school (Year 12 for NZ).
  • Earn a minimum 2.300 Grade-Point Average (GPA - see below) in core courses to compete in your first year of college.
  • Earn a combined SAT or ACT score that matches your core-course GPA on a sliding scale (below). For example an 860 SAT score needs a 2.400 GPA for practice and aid and a 2.85 GPA for competition.

what school grades do i need to play div 1


A 'core course' is a term used to describe a broad educational subject/course that is fundamental to the students general learning experience.  Due to the hugely varied educational systems across the world the NCAA have written in their legislation exactly what standards must be met in order for an educational course to be sufficiently described as a 'core course'. It must receive high school graduation credit in the following:

  1. One or a combination of these areas: English, mathematics, natural/physical science; social science, foreign language, comparative religion or philosophy.
  2. Four-year college preparatory;
  3. At or above your high school’s regular academic level;
  4. Algebra I or higher in the mathematics area; and
  5. Taught by a qualified instructor.

What is NOT a Core Course

  • Courses in non-core areas or vocational courses: Driver’s Ed, Keyboarding, Art, Music, Physical Education, Welding, Dance, or Acting/Theatre
  • Courses that prepare students for the world of work or life, or for a two-year college or technical school. Examples include Personal Finance, Consumer Education, Tech Prep.
  • Courses that are taught below grade level, at a slower pace, with less rigor or depth. Examples include Basic, Essential, Fundamental or Foundations courses.
  • Courses that are not academic in nature. Examples include Film Study, Video Editing, Greenhouse Management.

We would like to give you a complete list of these core courses so you can check whether what you are taking is right, but unfortunately there are thousands of high school courses with-in the various educational systems across the world, so it's just too difficult. However if you are still not sure after reading these definitions then check out our packages page and complete one of our free profiles, detailing exactly what subjects you've taken and grades received and one of our Recruitment Coordinators can check it out for you.

What core courses do you need for a sports scholarship?

American colleges that compete with-in the NCAA require incoming student-athletes to build a foundation of high school courses that will best prepare them for the academic expectations at college.  So in order for the NCAA to ascertain this they have set the minimum requirements on a host of high school criteria, including the subjects you need to pass, when you need to have these completed by and what grades you need.  

  • To play Division I college sports, you must earn 16 core courses (16 years worth of studying).
  • Ten of them must be completed prior to the seventh semester. Those ten courses are “locked in” and can’t be retaken to improve the grade-point average.
  • Seven of those 10 must be a combination of English, math or natural or physical science that fulfills the overall distribution requirements listed below.
  • If you don’t earn 10 courses before your seventh semester, you are still eligible to practice and receive a scholarship, but you can’t compete.

NCAA Division I Core Course Requirements

  • 4 years of English.
  • 3 years of mathematics (Algebra I or higher).
  • 2 years of natural/physical science (1 year of lab if offered by high school).
  • 1 year of additional English, mathematics or natural/physical science.
  • 2 years of social science.
  • 4 years of additional courses (from any area above, foreign language or comparative religion/philosophy).


A Grade Point-Average (GPA) is an american educational grading system based on a 4.0 scale, so a typical 'A' grade would represent a 4.0, a 'B' 3.0 and so on.. Every international student-athlete must have their academic results transferred across to an american equivalent GPA so that the NCAA and US colleges can compare your academic level to US students.

Incoming student-athletes must present a GPA that predicts academic success at the collegiate level, remember 'student' comes first. So currently the minimum GPA score to be deemed eligible to practice, compete and receive sports scholarship aid is a 2.0. However from 2016 the rules are changing to:

  • Beginning August 1, 2016, you must earn at least a 2.300 GPA in NCAA core courses to be eligible to compete in your first year of college.
  • To get a scholarship and practice, you must earn at least a 2.000 GPA in NCAA core courses.
  • Only courses that appear on your high school’s list of NCAA courses will be used to calculate your GPA for NCAA eligibility purposes. For a complete list of your school’s courses, visit www.eligibilitycenter.org.
  • Once ten core courses are “locked in” prior to the start of your seventh semester, you can’t take those classes over again to improve your GPA.
  • Division I uses a sliding scale to match test scores and core GPAs (below).
Enrolling PRIOR to 2016 Enrolling Beginning August 2016
collegeboardSAT sliding scale GPA and SAT sliding scale


Data shows us that while the GPA is a better predictor of collegiate success than test scores (SAT/ACT), using the two in combination is the best method. Therefore the NCAA continues to emphasize GPA over test scores when assessing college preparedness.

Important things to note:

  • Division I uses a sliding scale to match test scores and core-course grade-point averages to determine eligibility.
  • The NCAA uses only the critical reading and math SAT scores to determine eligibility. The writing score is not used.
  • The NCAA uses only the sum of English, math, reading and science ACT scores to determine eligibility.
  • There are a host of additional academic regulations that may effect your college eligibility, with the most common being your high school graduation date. Be aware if you are doing correspondence classes/home schooled, that you must complete all of the core courses as above on time, with the rest of your original high school classmates from your first year at school (not one or two years later).


Please be aware that although this information is accurate at time of writing, NCAA rules, regulations and academic requirements are changed over time.