Not everyone who puts their child into a junior rowing program does so with the objective of getting a rowing scholarship. Some understand that the college admissions process is getting more and more competitive, and merely see it as a way to get their children into prominent colleges and universities. Some just love the sport. But others know that the NCAA disburses over a quarter of a million dollars annually in scholarship money for rowers, and rely on that scholarship money to fund a college education. Regardless what boat you are in - here's how the rowing scholarship process works.
The Rowing Scholarship Process, Step by Step
The rowing scholarship process is a unique one, because it blends the evaluation of "hard" stats like 2K erg scores, club reputation and regatta results with intangible qualifications like leadership, teamwork and character. Then, considering the fact that many of the most popular college rowing programs are in prominent academic universities, a student's grades and test scores are undeniably critical metrics in the recruiting process. Assuming you are already connected with a good club program (see list here if not), let's look at the typical chronology for a student pursuing a rowing scholarship.
- Initial contact with coach. The recruitment process for rowing typically begins with an initial introduction/interest email sent by the coach to an athlete or from an athlete to a coach. Coaches typically send these letters to hundreds or thousands of high school rowers as a “first sweep” to assess interest among recipients and introduce their program to prospective recruits. These emails often include links to questionnaires for athletes to fill out. If it's the student who reaches out to the coach, it's important that emails are sent directly from the student and are correctly personalized for each coach/university.
- Base evaluations. If a coach continues to be interested in a high school rower after initial contact is made, he/she will follow up with additional desk research. The coach will search online for additional information about the athlete, such as his/her academic portfolio, test scores, GPA, 2K erg scores, and regatta performance records. The coach will also start reviewing a potential recruit's social media standing to begin to get a picture of character strengths and weaknesses. Therefore, it is never too early to establish an online profile and to make sure a student's social media sites like FaceBook, Instagram, etc., represent them well. At this point, the coach might begin to rank prospective athletes according to factors such as estimated ability, potential, and academic eligibility.
- Personal contact. After a coach has made initial contact through a letter or email and has assessed the athlete further through desk research, the coach will reach out to the athlete personally to learn more. This step might be as simple as a 30-minute phone call or as forward as an in-person visit to a regatta or camp. At this point, the coach begins to get a better “feel” for the athlete as a person so that he/she can assess the athlete’s character, attitude, and genuine interest in the university and program. An interested coach will probably contact an athlete's high school or club coach at this point, at well.
- Campus visit. After a series of personal interactions, the typical next step in the recruitment process is an official campus visit. At this stage in the process, the coach is looking to ensure that the athlete is comfortable with the school and the team. The coach also has a chance to interact with the athlete in a new environment and expose the athlete to college life. If the campus visit goes well, the next step in the process is usually the extension of an offer.
The Role of Rowing Summer Camps
Summer rowing camps are an essential part of a rower's recruiting process. Summer camp dates are typically posted in early February on the usrowing.org website. Students often attend multiple camps. Typically, camps serve the dual purpose of introducing the athletes to collegiate atmosphere and college-level coaching and giving the coaches the all-important experience of working with possible recruits first-hand and assessing their character, work ethic, and personality.
Unique Features of the Rowing Recruitment Process
Although women’s open rowing is considered a championship sport by the NCAA, men’s rowing and women’s lightweight rowing are not. Therefore, the timelines, regulations, and processes for men’s and women’s lightweight rowing do not technically fall under the same regulations as NCAA women’s open rowing. Instead, they are regulated by the Intercollegiate Rowing Association (competitive level, with limited scholarship opportunities) or the American Collegiate Rowing Association (club level, without scholarship opportunities).
However, note that the Intercollegiate Rowing Association typically follows NCAA women’s open rowing regulations as a best practice, as the USRowing Recruiting Guidebook explains. With this in mind, note the following key features of the rowing recruitment process:
- Initial contact: The NCAA allows limited contact between coaches and high school rowers during sophomore year. High school rowers are allowed to receive initial contact from colleges in the form of documents like brochures, camp invites, and questionnaires. Athletes are allowed to initiate calls with coaches, but coaches are not allowed to initiate calls with athletes during sophomore year. View the NCAA’s college-bound athlete guide for more information, including contact rules and timelines.
- Recruitment periods: The big push for rowing recruitment begins on September 1st of junior year, and athletes are allowed to make unlimited “unofficial” visits to colleges at any point during both their sophomore and junior years (except during specified “dead periods”). During an athlete’s senior year, recruitment intensifies. Official visits and off-campus contact are allowed. Athletes may make one official visit to up to five Division I schools and unlimited official visits to schools DII and below. View the NCAA’s college-bound athlete guide for more information.
- “Equivalency” sport status: Division I women’s open rowing is considered an “equivalency” sport by the NCAA, meaning that each university is allowed a set amount of scholarship money that may be divided among numerous rowers as full or partial scholarships. As noted previously, women’s lightweight rowing and men’s rowing are not regulated by the NCAA, so rules regarding scholarships may vary for male and lightweight female rowers.
- Academics: Because rowing is a popular sport among rigorous academic universities, rowing recruitment may focus more on academic performance than in the recruitment processes for other sports.
- Commitments: The signing period for Division I open rowers is from November to August of senior year.
The Role of Recruiting Agencies
Because rowing recruitment can be overwhelming for athletes, parents, and coaches, many athletic recruiting agencies have emerged to assist all parties involved in the recruitment process. However, the value of these agencies is highly debated and the adoption of these services by both rowers and coaches across the country is inconsistent. Although recruitment agencies can be helpful, they can also put the athlete at risk by not representing the athlete to the fullest or misunderstanding the athlete’s needs. Whereas some coaches say that they “trust [agencies’] judgements and will take a look at the athletes sent our way,” others say that they immediately delete emails from many of the larger agencies and consider them “equivalent to spam.”
The problem with using recruiting agencies is that today, they generate more email to college coaches than the college recruiting coaches - or their assistants - can get through. See our article about trends in college athletics recruiting and remember that you have to find a way to stand out. You are far better off building your own online profile and contacting coaches directly, yourself, or using a small, personalized recruiting service that encourages you to send your own emails, and that has good relationships with the type of college coaches you are targeting.Greg Pereira, Founder, Athletics Recruiting
With this in mind, it’s crucial that young crew athletes seeking to row in college do everything they can to help themselves stand out and make the recruitment process easy for college coaches. By establishing an online profile with detailed academic and athletic information, an athlete simplifies the recruitment process for a coach. A rower's online profile should include all basic athletic and academic information and records, as well as video or audio clips for coxswains. For help setting up your own online athlete profile, contact us.
Although getting recruited for rowing is competitive, it is also exciting. Your strength and teamwork skills are your most important asset, but the ability to convincingly package your rowing accomplishments together with your grades, test scores, stats, coaches’ recommendations, and video helps you make a good impression on college coaches, and makes it easy for them to choose you over others.