The Xcel Program was created as a national program in 2013; some states had a similar program known as the Prep Optional program. However, the national Xcel program has more levels and spans a much greater level of ability than most states’ Prep Optional program. You can start competing at a lower skill level in the Xcel program, than you could previously.
There are five divisions in the Xcel program: Bronze, Silver, Gold, Platinum and Diamond. All of the Xcel divisions have optional rules. You can read more about the difference between optional and compulsory here, but basically optional rules mean that there are only 4-5 routine requirements and each gymnast can have her routine choreographed for her personality and individual strengths and weaknesses. Whereas, in compulsory levels the routine is already choreographed and every gymnast must perform the routine exactly the same. Because of that the judging can be more strict and produce lower scores than what the gymnast may have in Xcel. With higher scores your gymnast may feel better and be more motivated to stick with the sport .
In the Junior Olympic program the first Optional level is level 6, which is comparable in skill level to the hardest division in the Xcel program, the Diamond division. So without the Xcel program a gymnast could be involved in the sport for years, without ever getting to compete an individual, customized routine.