College sports teams are evaluated every minute by brackets, sports commentator projections, magazine predictions, and rankings. For a student-athlete, it’s not just the win column that points to the best program.
Student-athletes often face recruiting from representatives around the country, often as early as their freshman year in high school. These athletes represent as diverse a population as any high school graduating class, with long-term goals that include but aren’t limited to their sports careers.
When student-athletes and their parents consider offers from recruiters or plan their strategies for seeking recruitment, they need to examine the whole college experience. How does each college program support student-athletes academically?
Many programs dedicate staff, money, time, and facilities to ensuring student-athlete success in the classroom. Student-athletes then must make sure they find a place with strong graduation rates and programs for counseling, tutoring, and time management training.
Every student-athlete has a different plan. Some might rather play in a small, historic building that sells out with enthusiastic fans. Others may envision walking onto the court for a televised game in an arena that seats thousands.
Many of the athletic programs below encourage their athletes to develop other aspects of their character beyond even sports or academics. Students can choose a program where they can make a difference in their community alongside their teammates, whether through volunteer work or through using their public platform to advocate for social change.
Here are the 10 best women’s basketball colleges as ranked by NCSA, an athletic recruiting company, at the time of this writing.
This list considers more than a team’s winning record, evaluating each player’s overall college experience. Student-athletes who know their priorities can locate their ideal program among the excellent schools listed here.
10. Georgia Tech (Atlanta, GA)
Georgia Tech houses a vigorous women’s basketball program, poised for greater success with its new coach and diverse recruiting. The school itself enjoys national prominence as an athletic department across sports, as well as international acclaim as a leader in academics and research.
A top public research university, Georgia Tech’s downtown Atlanta location provides a vibrant, metropolitan living experience for its students. Ranked in the top 50 national universities and at #58 for undergraduate teaching by U.S. News, Tech offers strong student support, with a third of its classes numbering fewer than 20 students.
Common majors at Georgia Tech center on the engineering fields: mechanical, industrial, nuclear, biomedical, computer, civil, environmental, chemical, and its celebrated aerospace program. Business and industrial design programs place highly as undergraduate paths, along with Mathematics and Physics.
Coach Nell Fortner’s dynamic career includes coaching the U.S. women’s national team to international and Olympic championships. Fortner coached in the WNBA, led Auburn to an SEC conference championship, and spent time as an ESPN commentator.
The Buzzer Beaters fan program draws audiences to the games to support the team. Finishing at number 3 among ACC teams for the 2020-21 season—the highest finish in Georgia Tech’s history— also raised the team’s profile and generated new levels of fan interest.
Georgia State guides its student-athletes with its Everyday Champions blueprint, a philosophy based on three principles: competitive spirit, academic excellence, and personal well-being. This program urges student-athletes to lead a purpose-driven life through example, connecting current students with the stories of Yellow Jacket alumni who succeed in and out of athletics.
Making it to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA tournament in 2021 set high expectations for the Yellow Jacket women, and with highly-ranked recruits incoming, they’ll be a team to watch for many years.
9. Yale University (New Haven, CT)
Athletics can be a practical way to make an Ivy League education affordable. One of the top schools in the nation, Yale University offers a strong women’s basketball program with need-based and academic scholarships.
Head Coach Allison Guth began as a recruiting coordinator and assistant coach. In her time as head coach, she has led the Yale team to its first postseason championship, the Women’s Basketball Invitational. That win marked the first postseason triumph for an Ivy League women’s team; though the Yale women haven’t played the NCAA tournament yet, history could be made under Guth’s leadership.
Players flourish academically as well; the NCAA honors the team most years with a Public Recognition Award for earning an academic progress rate in the top ten percent of the sport.
The coaching staff conducts a national basketball clinic for students interested in playing college-level basketball. Clinics like these allow high school hopefuls to make essential connections to the college coaching staff.
8. University of Michigan (Ann Arbor, MI)
The women’s basketball program at the University of Michigan keeps moving up: 2021 marked the first Sweet Sixteen tournament milestone for the Wolverines, and their #11 ranking marked their highest yet. Current coach Kim Barnes Arico holds the record for most wins of any coach in the team’s history.
The University of Michigan offers a stellar undergraduate experience, consistently ranking in the top five among public universities and big colleges.
Michigan ranks highly for student-athlete experience, supporting them through academic advising, career counseling, and mental health programs. The school offers strong programs in business, sports management, kinesiology, and other sports-related programs.
The team trains and plays in the Crisler Center, a 57,000-foot basketball arena and training facility that houses both the men’s and women’s teams. An in-house production studio broadcasts games and Michigan sports programming. Courtside, the “Maize Rage” student fans cheer the team against longtime rivals, Michigan State.
The University of Michigan’s women’s basketball program maintains as high a profile as college sports get. The fans, the publicity, and the excitement even reach professional levels. The next WNBA stars play here, including athletes like Naz Hillmon, ranked in ESPN’s top 25 players for 2021-2022
7. UC-Berkeley (Berkeley, CA)
Cal Berkeley Women’s Basketball spent the last decade impacting the PAC-10 and beyond, making multiple trips to the NCAA Tournament. The team stands out academically as well, earning the title of Highest Team GPA.
Many magazines and ranking services consider Cal Berkeley to be the top school in the country. The Cameron Institute, housed at Cal Berkeley, pioneered The California Way, a structured approach to building an athletic program through service to student-athletes and coaches.
Cal Berkeley’s services to student-athletes extend beyond excellent academic support and career counseling. Mental and physical health care resources help athletes balance the pressure of performing in high-level sports while studying in a rigorous educational program. The program focuses on topics from gender inclusion to body image and nutrition.
Former Stanford and WNBA player Charmin Smith joined the coaching staff in 2007. In 2012, Smith became an associate head coach; that season, the team made its first-ever trip to the Final Four. When her predecessor Lindsay Gottlieb became the first NCAA women’s basketball coach to be hired by an NBA team, Smith was named head coach.
In the 2020-2021 season, the young team struggled to reassemble after COVID’s impact. Embracing the time as a rebuilding period, strong recruiting, and commitment to practice have them set for a comeback.
6. UNC-Chapel Hill (Chapel Hill, NC)
The program at UNC-Chapel Hill offers an education at a top-tier public college with all the resources of a large research institution alongside the excitement of playing basketball in the dynamic ACC conference.
Recognized as one of the top schools nationally for college athletics and for student-athletes, UNC-Chapel Hill’s academic program earns praise as well. The flagship school of the UNC system, Chapel Hill is the only public university ranked in the U.S. News top ten best value schools.
UNC provides extensive academic, career, and health services for student-athletes. The school’s longitudinal study of student-athlete success demonstrates UNC’s commitment to the Tar Heels’ success in athletic competition, in the classroom, and in long-term quality of life.
Student-athletes at UNC can participate in the department’s many community service projects, including appearances at UNC hospitals, engaging with local elementary students, or volunteering with local organizations like the Ronald McDonald House or Habitat for Humanity.
The women’s basketball program maintains strong recruiting under coach Courtney Banghart, preparing for the 2021-2022 season with one of the top incoming classes in the country. UNC recently celebrated fifty years of commitment to women’s sports by launching a new program to provide resources and support to the school’s female student-athletes.
5. Harvard University (Cambridge, MA)
Harvard’s Crimson women’s basketball team boasts 11 Ivy League championships and six trips to the NCAA Tournament.
In 2020, Harvard welcomed the school’s first female athletic director: Erin McDermott, an experienced Ivy League administrator who once played Division I college basketball and will undoubtedly oversee the athletic program from an athlete’s perspective.
Student-athletes with robust academic records have a unique opportunity to stand out among Ivy League applications. Schools with competitive admissions like Harvard can be a longshot for even the top academic performers.
Still, students who excel in the classroom and on the court can ask to be recruited by their coaching department. The admission rate for recruited students rises to an impressive 83%.
Like most Ivy League programs, Harvard athletics focuses on making college sports an experience open to all students. The women’s basketball program remains a highlight, with veteran coach Kathy Delaney-Smith leading the team. With the most wins of any coach in men’s or women’s Ivy League history, Delany-Smith brings a mix of stamina, patience, and mental focus to her coaching.
Stellar academics, competitive Division I games, and a concern for each player’s development as an athlete and as a person make Harvard’s women’s basketball program a strong choice for a career in sports or in any field.
4. UCLA (Los Angeles, CA)
UCLA plans one of the most luxurious and comprehensive centers dedicated to student-athletes and their academic success. The school’s 90% graduation rate for student-athletes also demonstrates the program’s dedication to academics alongside athletic excellence.
The UCLA women’s basketball team demonstrates an unwavering commitment to racial and social justice through their More than a Dream program.
The motto “Uncommon women, making uncommon choices, yielding uncommon results” shows the team’s and the school’s unified vision of a world where student-athletes use their public platform to help make positive change in society.
Mentorship, training, service, and teamwork illustrate the program’s focus. The Westwood Ascent program helps Bruin athletes develop a personal brand and public voice regarding new NCAA rules. Coach Cori Close leads this high-visibility team in the competitive PAC-10 conference.
Games happen in the historic Pauley Pavilion, where John Wooden coached Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and where multiple NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournaments have been held.
The WNBA held a conference final game here. The arena also hosts non-sports events like the Jeopardy! College Championship, one of Barack Obama’s key Presidential campaign rallies, and numerous concerts and awards ceremonies.
3. Princeton University (Princeton, NJ)
Princeton Women’s Basketball Coach Carla Berube ended her first coaching season in 2019-2020 on a 22-game winning streak, with a 26-1 overall record for the year.
As a player, she played as part of the 1995 UConn undefeated, national championship team. An Ivy League team with a strong competitive record, the Princeton program offers a fully rounded experience.
For two decades, Princeton has led the Ivy League in athletic championships. Previous women’s basketball coach Courtney Banghart (now at UNC) built her career and the program in the last ten years, accumulating over 200 wins during her coaching era there.
A Princeton education offers extraordinary academic opportunities.
The university tops lists every year, including the widely-recognized U.S. News study that has named it #1 for over a decade. Retention rates come in at 94% school-wide, most classes have fewer than 20 students, and popular majors range from hard sciences and technology to languages and literature.
Princeton’s Varsity Club brings athletes together for support, recognition, service, and community. The Student Athletic Service Council provides service opportunities for Princeton athletes.
Graduates who are on a Princeton team at the time of graduation earn the coveted Princeton varsity letter sweater, presented at the club’s awards banquet prior to Commencement.
While Ivy League schools do not officially give athletic scholarships, Ivy League schools provide financial support based on other factors. Dedicated primarily to graduating students, the schools want student-athletes to finish their degrees even if they choose not to play.
2. University of Florida (Gainesville, FL)
For students interested in joining a program newly committed to positivity and success, the Gators offer that chance.
Florida’s athletic program takes pride in its top ten Academic All-American ranking, emphasizing its commitment to student-athletes and their overall experience. The Otis Hawkins Center embodies the school’s vision for student success, with study rooms and advisory offices dedicated to serving Florida’s student-athletes.
The women’s basketball team practices in the well-appointed Basketball Practice Complex. Their home arena holds the record for the largest crowd ever to watch a regular-season women’s basketball game in the state of Florida.
Playing for a key team in the dynamic SEC means widely-attended and televised games. Former associate coach Kelly Rae Finley stepped up to serve as interim head coach for the 2021-2022 season. She’ll be leading an experienced team with a renewed sense of purpose.
1. Stanford University (Stanford, CA)
Stanford University tops lists of all kinds, including the best college for student-athletes.
The academic programs offer the highest level of study. Campus life is varied and enriches students in meaningful ways. As for the women’s basketball team, a national championship in 2020-2021 shows the Stanford Cardinal will be a contender for years to come.
Head coach Tara VanDerveer, the all-time winningest coach in women’s basketball history, anchors this iconic program.
Playing for VanDerveer would be akin to playing for John Wooden or Dean Smith. Over 30 WNBA players came from VanDerveer’s program, 12 as first-round draft picks. VanDerveer coached the USA women to an Olympic gold medal in Atlanta.
Stanford University ranks among the top educational institutions in the world. The faculty includes Nobel and Pulitzer winners, and the school’s research facilities span the disciplines. Twenty libraries and 18 Institutes provide students a world of academic opportunity.
Stanford’s Athletic Academic Resource Center (AARC) ensures support and guidance for student-athletes as they navigate the rigors of a Stanford education.
First-year students can enroll in Partners for Academic Excellence, an ongoing orientation course designed to help student-athletes identify and maintain their priorities, cultivate strong organizational skills and work habits, and orient to their new surroundings.
Women’s basketball at Stanford sets a standard for a sports program of any kind. Championships, awards, records, player successes: the Cardinal have it all.
Players exhibit the versatility and critical thinking skills needed for greatness, as with current star Hayley Jones, a top-five pick to watch for the 2021-2022 season.