For most student athletes, applying to schools with a strong athletic program is as important as applying to schools with a strong academic program. However, some students want a small college environment. Fortunately, there are a number of small Division 1 schools for the dedicated athlete, or just a student wondering about the smallest D1 college basketball stadium.

What Are Some Small Division 1 Schools?

As most students who play sports know, Division 1 colleges are the schools that have been designated as having the highest level of intercollegiate athletics in the nation. These designations have been made by the National College Athletic Association. The schools on the list are typically the ones with the best athletic records, the largest budgets, the best facilities and the most athletic scholarships available to students.

As of 2016, Division 1 schools numbered at 345 schools. The majority of these small D1 schools football programs are very strong, while a smaller number does not have a football program. In order to qualify as a Division 1 school, a college or university must host at least seven sports for men and seven for women. There is also the option for a school to host six sports for men and eight for women. Either way, there must be at least two team sports for each gender.

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Division 1 schools have a minimum and a maximum dollar amount concerning what must be spent on athletic scholarships each year. Division 1 schools must sponsor at least two team sports for each gender each season of the academic year. The numerous requirements brought to bear to qualify for Division 1 status also include scheduling, participant minimums and overall budget for the season.

Which States Have the Most Division 1 Colleges?

While nearly every state has at least one Division 1 school, many have more than one. The top three states with the most Division 1 schools are California, New York and Texas. This is perhaps not surprising considering the size of each state and their large state university systems.

California is home to the University of California system which includes:

  • UC Davis 
  • UC Irvine
  • UCLA
  • California Polytechnic State University
  • UC Riverside
  • UC Santa Barbara
  • Cal State Bakersfield
  • Cal State Fresno
  • Cal State Fullerton
  • Cal State Long Beach
  • Cal State Northridge
  • Cal State Sacramento. 

Additional Division 1 schools in California include:

  • Loyola Marymount University
  • University of the Pacific
  • Pepperdine University
  • Saint Mary's College of California
  • University of San Diego
  • San Diego State University
  • University of San Francisco
  • San Jose State University
  • Santa Clara University
  • University of Southern California
  • Stanford University

New York has a similarly robust state university system. The Division 1 schools in New York State are:

  • University at Albany
  • SUNY Binghamton University
  • University at Buffalo
  • Canisius College
  • Colgate University
  • Columbia University
  • Cornell University
  • Fordham University
  • Hofstra University
  • Iona College
  • Long Island University–Brooklyn
  • Manhattan College
  • Marist College
  • Niagara University
  • St. Bonaventure University
  • St. Francis College
  • St. John's University
  • Siena College
  • Stony Brook University,
  • Syracuse University
  • United States Military Academy
  • Wagner College.

Texas, which is famously the largest state in the continental U.S., is home to 21 Division 1 schools. They are:

  • Baylor University
  • University of Houston
  • Houston Baptist University
  • Lamar University
  • University of North Texas
  • Prairie View A&M University
  • Rice University
  • Sam Houston State University
  • Southern Methodist University
  • Stephen F. Austin State University
  • Texas A&M University
  • Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi
  • University of Texas at Arlington
  • University of Texas at Austin
  • Texas Christian University
  • University of Texas at El Paso
  • University of Texas Rio Grande Valley
  • University of Texas at San Antonio
  • Texas Southern University
  • Texas State University
  • Texas Tech University.

What Are the Smallest Division 1 Colleges?

Regardless of the state, they are located in, most of the colleges and universities that can boast of having Division 1 status are very large institutions. This is generally because the budget and size of an athletic program required to be a Division I schools are mostly accessible in larger institutions.

However, there are several smaller colleges that students who are interested in pursuing their education in a smaller environment might want to consider. Students who are looking for a strong academic and social experience and find that they learn better in a smaller environment would do well to consider these smaller schools when beginning to make their university selections.

Davidson College

Davidson College is located in Davidson, North Carolina. It is considered a liberal arts college and is highly competitive. It's located on a suburban campus and has a contained social life. The school is known for its strong humanities program and vibrant cultural scene. In lieu of a Greek system, the college has a number of eating clubs on campus.

The undergraduate student enrollment at Davidson is approximately 1,800 students per year. Despite this exceptionally small size, Davidson is home to 20 Division I teams that participate in the Atlantic 10 conference. The men's basketball team has competed in many NCAA tournaments. Davidson was also the first liberal arts college to swap loans for grants in their financial aid packages. This gives students the opportunity to graduate from college with no debt.

Colgate University

Colgate University in Hamilton, NY, is a liberal arts college in a small, rural town. It offers an impressive academic program, particularly in the humanities and social sciences. It is unique because of its Outdoor Education Program. Colgate's social world revolves heavily around the school's Greek system. Most students are either in a fraternity or a sorority, and this is how socializing and activities are organized.

Colgate has Division 1 teams in both men and women's basketball, field hockey, golf, rowing, soccer, volleyball, indoor and outdoor track and field, football and ice hockey. The school has an undergraduate enrollment of approximately 2,873 students.

Bucknell University

Bucknell University in Lewisburg, PA, is another Division I school known for strong academics and small size. The school is divided into three sections, the College of Arts and Sciences, the College of Engineering and the College of Management. The school is on a small campus in central Pennsylvania. A Greek system plays a major role in the social life of this college as well.

With only about 3,611 students, Bucknell is a small school in a small town. However, the university's athletic prowess is significant. Bucknell is home to more than 25 Division 1 varsity teams. Bucknell's basketball team routinely appears in the NCAA tournament, and its football team is a competitor in the Division 1 Championship Subdivision.

Rice University

Founded in 1912, Rice University in Houston, Texas, is one of the Lone Star State's most competitive academic and athletic environments. The school itself is located in Houston's Museum District. An eclectic atmosphere pervades the campus. Rather than a Greek system, all students are assigned to a residential college of which they are a member throughout their tenure at the school, whether they remain in on-campus housing or not. These residential colleges are the backbone of the school's social life.

Rice is known for its curriculum in the social sciences, natural sciences and the humanities. Rice's undergraduate student body totals just over 4,000 students. The school's graduate programs are competitive and impressive, particularly for a school that size. Despite the university's small size Rice is home to 14 Division I schools. Rice's baseball team is one of the most decorated, and students receive free tickets to all sporting events.

Wake Forest University

Located in the picturesque small town of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Wake Forest University is a beautiful liberal arts college on a sprawling campus. With an enrollment of approximately 5,102 students, the college is definitely on the smaller end of the spectrum when it comes to Division 1 schools. In addition to a strong liberal arts program, the college has highly reputable Schools of Law, Medicine and Business.

While athletics is big business at Wake Forest, so is the Greek system. More than half of the student body belongs to fraternities and sororities. The social life at Wake Forest is largely contained to the school's campus. Students are required to live on campus for six semesters of their tenure at the school.

The Demon Deacons are the name of the school's mascot, and the school's men's basketball, football and soccer teams are regularly among the best in the country. Wake Forest is known as much for its athletic program as it is for its rigorous and competitive academics.

What Division 1 Schools Have the Best Academic Programs?

While many Division 1 schools are known exclusively for their athletic prowess, a number of other schools are known for their high academic standards and highly selective admissions. Some schools that are highly-ranked academically are also division 1 schools. A good example of this is the Ivy League. Harvard, Yale, Princeton, UPenn, Brown, Cornell, Dartmouth and Columbia are the eight schools that make up the Ivy League, so named for their participation in the Ivy League Athletic Conference.

These schools are notoriously competitive and considered by many to be the best in the United States. However, many schools outside of the Ivy League are excellent academic environments. On the west coast, Stanford University, UC Berkeley and California Polytechnic State University are considered to be exceptionally good schools. In the south, schools like Wake Forest, Georgetown, Howard, Vanderbilt and Tulane are schools with strength in both academic and athletics.

For most strong student-athletes choosing a school with strong academic and strong athletic programs isn't a challenge. The decision for them will likely come down to the geographical location they are hoping to be in, and the kind of academic and social environment they thrive in.

What Division 1 Schools Have Won the Most Championships?

All Division 1 schools have demonstrated teams and coaches with formidable abilities, skills and talents in their respective sports. At some schools, certain teams typically fare better than others and certain schools win championships regularly. As of the completion of the 2018 to 2019 season, the University of Kentucky men's basketball team was ranked as no. 1 for the most wins of any Division I school. The University of Michigan's football team has the most championship wins of any team with 953 victories to date.

The most successful Division 1 athletic program overall is the University of Florida Gators. The teams have won more championships collectively than any other school in the Southeastern Conference. They also have an impressive roster of alumni who have gone on to pursue professional sports careers. David Eckstein, Emmitt Smith and Ryan Lochte are all graduates of the University.

Stanford University boasts a similar success winning the prestigious Learfield Director's Cup no less than 23 consecutive times. Women's sports, as well as men's, do well at this school, and Olympic gold medalists Katie Ledecky and Simone Manuel are among the Stanford alums who helped lead their teams to victory during their time at the school.

About the Author

Ashley Friedman is a freelance writer with experience writing about education for a variety of organizations and educational institutions as well as online media sites. She has written for Pearson Education, The University of Miami, The New York City Teaching Fellows, New Visions for Public Schools, and a number of independent secondary schools. She lives in Los Angeles.