Swim Mom Musings: Why D3 Swimming Deserves Great Recognition

Courtesy: Donna Hale

One of the greatest moments an athlete whose been swimming for 15 years can experience is when they realize they are living the best part of their journey. Blessed that after many thousands of hours of training, injury and a decision to initially swim in D2 that was not a good fit, my daughter is there – Thanks to the special nature of D3 swimming. She was lucky to be recruited by D1, D2 D3, and NAIA colleges.  And there is no doubt that there are great opportunities in all. College swimming is incredible.

But there is something profoundly special about D3 swimming.  If you are in the recruitment process, consider what you want carefully.  The athletic scholarships are certainly nice, but with solid academics you just might find that D3 schools have great academic money and a balanced college life every athlete deserves. Here are a few of the joys and benefits of being not only a D3 swimmer but a D3 athlete.

1. D3 schools walk the talk when they say you are a student-athlete. Unless you’re a future Olympian, there is a great NCAA commercial, about how most college athletes go pro in something other than their chosen sport. Academics reign at D3.  Balance is ever present in D3 swimming.

2. D3 athletes are there because they love swimming.  There is plenty of competition and amazing coaching too.  But there is a special bond on these squads that is fun to watch and even better to experience.  Passion unleashed that comes from the heart.   Everything is better when it comes from the heart.

3. Team spirit is strong in D3 swimming. Of course it is there elsewhere as well at every level in many schools.  It has given my daughter what she always longed for: a culture that celebrates every swimmer and the comfort of knowing that you have over 30 teammates who have got your back. They greet you with big hugs, high fives, and beaming smiles.  It is simply put:  Awesome.  This culture of support is what has kept her dedicated all these years. Now she sees her friends on deck at college meets.

4. D3 Swimming is fun.  My daughter’s team attends church together, has picnics, fuels up before the big meets on campus or at local favorites. They are friends brought together by a forever love.  My daughter coined the phrase:  “Swimming is my forever love.” But there is an off season in D3. That does not mean the best athletes don’t still swim and stay in shape.

5. D3 athletes across all sports support each other. The swimmers attend basketball games, track and field, soccer games and so much more.   They cheer like crazy.  They bring posters.  And the other athletic teams fill the stands at their meets.  It is great to watch athletes support each other.

6. D3 Swimming is about embracing the journey — every single moment. Most D3 athletes know that these moments are fleeting. Most likely there will be a last meet and a last race. They live this journey so when it’s over, they can know on that last turn and final race to the wall they can smile and glance one final time at the clock. They can smile knowing that they gave their dreams everything they had.

Donna Hale is a 16 year swim mom whose daughter is a member of The Lynchburg Hornets.  She swam in PVS for the Potomac Marlins.

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Why make this about Divisions? Any D3 statement you made can apply to D1 or D2 schools. What is important is the student find the right fit for them. There are high pressure D3 programs that outperform D1 schools. Replace everything you said with college swimming and I would support your article. D1, D2 or D3 – not one division is “better” than another. Swimmers need to evaluate the program and school that is right for them, no matter what the division.


But there is a stigma attached to D3 that is not present about DI and D2 institutions. D3 is seen as “less than” in many cases because they don’t offer athletic scholarships AND don’t always have the same brand name status of the Ivies.


I think the stigma is more in the athletes and parent’s mind… No one ever looked down on someone for going to MIT, Denison, Johns Hopkins, Emory or U of C… all top D3 schools. My swimmer was offered an academic package at one of these schools and the out of pocket expense ended up being too much. She went to a D1 school as a second choice… tons of variability, but she will graduate debt free and is having a great experience. She has great teammates, coaches, and swims from the heart… and it has nothing to do with the division she swims in.

Brad Flood

Firstly, this article does not try to promote DIII as “better” than any others.

Secondly, You are absolutely incorrect in stating “Replace everything you said with college swimming…”…there are stark differences in the 3 divisions, some more subtle than others, but differences just the same. Heck, there are differences within each Division as well.

I’ve been a Head Coach at all 3 divisions and an assistant at 3 major DI programs…This article is pretty danged accurate and provides an excellent overview of the DIII philosophy. I am at the DIII level now, towards the end of my professional career, and let me tell you thisl….I LOVE the 19 weeks!!! 😀


We can agree to disagree… My swimmer is getting every experience swimming in college that this article outlined… and she’s not D3. Her program had two D3 transfers into it this year, because they felt if they were not elite in their D3 program, they were not getting attention.
Every program is different, there are great programs at every level. There is nothing magical about being at any division, they culture, the teammates and experience are what make the program. They are cut throat D3 programs just the same as D1 and D2. To pretend like that isn’t the case it not accurate.


I completely agree. I have a D1 and a D2 swimmer, plus a son in high school who wants to swim in college. Wherever he ends up will be a great fit for him, both academically and athletically, whether it’s D1, D2 or D3.


We are going through the recuiting process with our twins now (boy and girl). They are recruited by about 50 D3 colleges (boy more than girl) from top 3 to ones that will start swim program next year. Here are our experiences: 1. There are some very persistant and respectful recruiters among coaches – good recruiters. There are some lazy ones, but we never encountered ones that are rude or disrespectful. 2. Coaches can get you acepted to a top level D3 school if you are bordeline case for admissions. 3. Even if you get a good academic scholarship, you will still need to pay $35,000-$45,000 per year – for twins – that is not an option. I do not… Read more »

Brad Flood

#5 = MIT?

I know when I was a candidate for the HC job there in ’96, when they had just finished the “new” pool, I was told, in no uncertain terms, there would be NO MORNING workouts. Heck, if I remember correctly, the first classes are not scheduled until 10am…because very intelligent people “think” & perform” better later in the day and at night.


Not only does MIT Swimming have multiple mornings per week, many students (and swimmers) have either classes or research starting at 9am.


It could have changed since then, though.


I can’t believe you were even a candidate, with that attitude lol.

retired coach

I am not sure what attitude you are attributing to coach Flood? MIT was not the swimming powerhouse in 1996 that they are today, and athletic departmental restrictions on training can change over time as can academic class schedules.

Brad Flood

Yeah, I agree. With accomplishments like this to my credit at that point in my career, how would I have even been telephone interviewed: – Coached the 1992 Men’s Olympic 100 Fly Silver Medalist – R. Szukala, Poland – Coached the only DI male swimmer to win the 500 Free 4 years straight – A. Wojdat, Iowa – Coached a Men’s 9 time NCAA DI Individual Event Champion – A. Wojdat, Iowa – Coached the Men’s team at mid(small!)-major DI Central CT State U to a 33rd place & 24th place at the Men’s DI NCAA Championships in 1999 & 2000 – Coached the first CCSU woman to qualify for the DI NCAA Championships in school history – T. Repass… Read more »

Brad Flood

I will admit, I got the year wrong….it was 2002, not 1996….pardon my “Sr moment”!


Are your feelings hurt 🙁 oh no

Brad Flood

Not in the least, however, Thanks for your concern!


You can afford it Psychodad just drive Uber in you spare time.


As noted in another comment below, the top D3 schools are grants, not loans. You graduate with ZERO debt


>ou graduate with ZERO debt

No you do not, unless you family has income of less than $65,000 or so. And not every D3 will meet 100% of your financial needs.


The top DIII academic schools — examples such as Williams, Amherst, Bowdoin, Swarthmore to name just a few — are all in the top 15 nationally of all colleges and universities based on acceptance rates, average SATs, endowment per student, graduate school admissions, and similar metrics. At the same time, athletically they have developed numerous Trials qualifiers (Lindsay Payne of Williams finaled at Trials) and national level swimmers. I see so many athletes choose to swim at a DI school where they will never make the traveling team or that isn’t a great fit academically, and while I understand the lure of being a DI athlete, after coaching at both levels I found that my DIII athletes had a wider… Read more »


How much are those schools, per year?


In general “more successful” after graduating? By what metric? Generalizations are foolish.


The feds actually track outcomes 15 years down the road. Metrics include average salary, percentage with graduate degrees, bankruptcy rate, loan default rate. Certainly not dispositive – for example someone may choose a lesser paying career that they find more fulfilling – but certainly instructive.


free if your parents make less than $94,000. Grants, no loans, fully need blind in admissions

Brad Flood

Hear here!!!


Totally agree with you.
Swimmers who have the academics (pass the pre-read at top academic D3 schools such as NESCAC, MIT/Chicago/Swarthmore/Hopkins…) but choose D1/2 might also due to the admission at the D3 are not as “guaranteed” as at other schools. Now the D3’s recruiting/OV cycle is almost a year behind D1/2 schools, because of the rule change. I think the academic powerhouses of D3 schools are doing it right, student athletes should always be student first, the schools and the swimmers both need to find out whether each other is a good fit, not just swimming-wise, academic-wise, social-wise too. Making verbal commitment at the beginning of junior year is really too early.

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