You might be considering whether you should wrestle in college, but the D1 wrestling life doesn’t quite sound like what you’re looking for.
D3 wrestling programs are overshadowed by their D1 wrestling counterparts and don’t get nearly as much attention. Of course, it’s unquestionable that more world class wrestlers ultimately emerge from D1 wrestling championship programs. If multiple D1 NCAA titles and Olympic aspirations are on the table for discussion, you’re better off looking at D1.
Statistically speaking, however, many of us aren’t successful enough in high school to get recruited for D1 (myself included), even though walking onto a D1 program is certainly possible in some cases. For those of us who aren’t getting looked at by D1 programs (don’t lie to me! You know who you are), you may be wondering two things in particular:
“Am I good enough to wrestle D3?”
“What’s D3 wrestling like?”
We’ll start with whether or not you’re good enough. Then, we’ll cover what you can expect from the D3 wrestling lifestyle. Finally, we’ll give you a case study based on someone who made the most of his D3 wrestling experience while winning numerous awards along the way.
How Good Do You Have To Be To Wrestle D3?
Let’s start by tackling the athletic scholarship issue. NCAA D3 programs are not allowed to give athletic scholarships, but you can get plenty of financial aid for D3 wrestling schools through other means outside of the athletic scholarship.
You may be really conflicted at the moment. Maybe you were a good wrestler in high school. You might have passed the 100-win mark while placing at a number of tough tournaments (including the state championships), but aren’t quite feeling the D1 wrestling vibe. Maybe you haven’t even passed the 100 win mark in wrestling, but consider yourself a decently tough wrestler. You might have started wrestling as late as freshman year of high school and have fallen in love with it ever since. Is it worth giving D3 wrestling a try? Absolutely.
The skill levels potentially vary more in D3 than any other division, and it really depends on the program. The best D3 wrestlers will be able to keep up and compete with anyone in the country regardless of division, while tough and technically sound high school wrestlers will be able to beat some of the D3 competition right away. Some D3 wrestling schools struggle to fill a lineup, and you’re welcome regardless of skill level just to fill a weight class and pick up forfeits. That works too.
So, how hard is D3 wrestling? We can take my high school senior year record as an example (I started wrestling as a freshman in high school so we’ll leave my prior year records out of this). I won a small tournament and placed at a few competitive tournaments consisting mostly of New England prep schools. At 32 wins and 8 losses, I was one win away from tying the school record at the time for wins in one season, and qualified for every postseason tournament possible up to Prep Nationals. I placed 3rd at the prep school equivalent for the Connecticut state championships, 6th in New England preps, and didn’t place at Prep Nationals.
Putting that into perspective, my college freshman year wrestle off for the 141 weight class was harder than my third place match at states the previous season. However, I certainly won my fair share of matches in college that year, but I lost a lot of matches too. Matches were certainly winnable, but tough.
Long story short, you’re probably good enough to win D3 matches eventually. Of course, with a D3 program, you most likely won’t be factoring in just wrestling, which takes us to the next question.
How Hard Is D3 Wrestling? What's It Like To Wrestle D3?
In many cases, D3 wrestling is about balancing everything in a way that’s consistent to your goals. Here, we’ll cover the academic, athletic, and social side of things. Since D3 wrestling doesn’t have have the athletic scholarship, you’re there because you want to be there. It’s not about money to go to school anymore. With this flexibility, you’ll also find that many D3 wrestlers are more engaged on campus than just being on the wrestling team (but of course, this also depends on the culture of the specific program). College wrestling is still a huge time commitment wherever you go, but you ultimately learn how to make it work because you want to.
Ultimately, you’re in college for the education and degree (along with your four years of NCAA eligibility, of course). Expect strong academic programs to challenge you if you attend a school with a good reputation. Of course, this can certainly apply to other divisions as well. Pre-med programs will be difficult anywhere you go (watch out for Organic Chemistry, also known as “Orgo.” That’s supposedly the pre-med killer).
Successful D3 wrestlers keep their grades in check, especially if they’re on an academic scholarship. If you’ve earned yourself an academic scholarship, make sure you do the necessary work to maintain your grades so that you don’t lose your academic scholarship. Communicate with your coach about this if necessary. Obviously, if your grades sink and you lose your academic scholarship and can’t afford to attend the college, you won’t be wrestling for that college anyway. Coaches tend to be understanding of this, especially if you’ve shown initiative in trying to manage your time and work hard in practice.
Personally, I chose to wrestle in higher weight classes because I found that my brain got too sluggish (I also wrestled very poorly) when I cut too much weight. My grades would suffer along with my wrestling performance, so I would often wrestle at a weight class where my mind would still be functioning properly.
Along with your in-season practices starting sometime in October, be ready for preseason and off season workouts. This may include team runs or morning lifts. In season, expect morning lifts or runs along with wrestling practices in the afternoon. D3 wrestling is still wrestling, and the time commitment will still be noticeable. You most likely won’t be living the same lifestyle as a typical college student.
Ultimately, you get out what you put into wrestling. It’s not uncommon to see wrestlers at extra lifting or drilling sessions. D3 wrestlers aren’t necessarily less committed. In some cases, they’re wrestlers who just had a late start to the sport (like myself) but are still extremely passionate about it.
This certainly varies by college, but many of my teammates (and athletes from other sports) had jobs lined up for them after graduation. Some of them (myself included) had a job offer going into senior year of college, which is a great feeling. It’s the job equivalent to committing to a college or being accepted early decision for your college application.
In my particular case, former wrestlers who had graduated were more than willing to help me out by giving me academic advice or professional advice, and this went a long way. I still had to be proactive about searching for opportunities, but I certainly considered myself fortunate to have two very prestigious internships on my resume by the time I graduated college.
You can also leverage your wrestling experiences during job interviews too, and I certainly did. When possible, I actually tried to transition the conversation into how wrestling gave me plenty of opportunities to prove myself as a leader and as a professional (although I also had to be careful not to overdo it). For what it’s worth, I met more former D3 athletes at my job than any other division.
You can certainly expect to have friends outside of wrestling (including friends who don’t even do sports to begin with). You also have the opportunity to get involved on campus. For example, I was part of the Interfaith Leadership Council, gave tours, and was one of the student leaders for the International Student Orientation program which was new at the time.
Now here’s where things get controversial, but we’ll talk about them anyway. If you end up hating wrestling and feeling like you want a regular college life, you always have the option of quitting. Wrestling might have helped you get accepted into college financially, but there’s no athletic scholarship money dangling over your head. Some people quit to focus on school or tend to other personal challenges. It all depends on the specific circumstances.
Depending on your reasoning for quitting wrestling, however, you’ll need to look at a few other points. Parties will be there after you graduate and so will a very active social life if you choose. Food and relationships will also be there after you graduate, so there’s no need to feel a sense of urgency there either. Thanksgiving and Christmas meals? Don’t worry. There’s plenty of that after college, too. You only get four years to wrestle in college, so it’s worth making the most of it since you probably won’t get it back after college.
Case Study: Jake Gordon, D3 Standout and CEO of DressedGPS
Jake Gordon, a native of Los Angeles CA, ventured all the way to the Lehigh Valley in PA to wrestle D3 at Muhlenberg College while majoring in business and minoring in political science. He served as captain of the varsity wrestling team for two years and finished with the all-time record in tech falls at Muhlenberg. He also was elected the Philanthropy chair of Alpha Tau Omega.
Gordon is also the recipient of the 2018 NCAA Postgraduate Scholarship, which was given to only 26 male athletes across all divisions for excellence in athletics and academics. He has won numerous awards specific to Muhlenberg College as well. A few examples outside of the awards he won in wrestling include the 2017 Paul M. White ’27 Business Award, the 2018 Muhlenberg Goodwill Prize, and the Muhlenberg Future Alumni Leader Award awarded to one male and one female student of each graduating class.
If that wasn’t enough, Gordon is also co-founder and CEO of DressedGPS, an online platform that allows students to rent or sell outfits to other students.
Long story short, this man’s achievements are legendary and he certainly made the most of his college experience. You can listen to his incredible speech about his college experience here.
Follow Jake Gordon
What sort of college experience are you looking for? Do you want to make the most of it the same way Jake Gordon did? If so, D3 wrestling is worth considering.
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