Thinking about Rowing In College?

This website was developed by the folks at Sparks Consulting to provide free, fact-based rowing recruiting specific information in regards to college recruiting in our sport. (don’t get us wrong – we also like the advertising value!) We understand rowing – we’re career coaches and Olympians, and we love working intimately with families from our experience behind the recruiting desk. Our client admit rate for their first choice is 94% – though we judge true success by the impact college has on clients after four years.

We live to develop the rowing community and are continuously working to help folks who love our sport.


Can I Row in College?

The answer is probably YES! Some colleges will take you as long as you’re willing to sit in a boat, while others make the recruiting process competitive – even for world champions. To this end, we’ve even created a free, sortable database of US rowing colleges with school specific information on each one.

That said, the process is murky and different at every school. It creates a fair amount of anxiety in students and parents – and given the process is unlike that of other ‘mainstream’ sports such as basketball and soccer, it can be very difficult to ascertain your position in the overall process.

A Few Quick Tips


Your erg score is your gold standard – nevermind you did it when you had a cold the day of your algebra test. It’s the only thing coaches will give absolute authority to in the recruiting process. Check out our article on college 2K recruiting scores if you'd like to get into specifics.

Regatta results and resumes only help with some coaches (see comic to the right). Parents and students come to us upset about the fact that they were taken out of a boat at a championship regatta and that it might hurt their recruiting chances. Collegiate coaches are more interested in whether a student will make their boats go fast, not their previous program’s boats. Additionally, high school coaches aren’t the best references when families get upset with their decisions.


Your high school coach’s reference matters – but how much it matters depends on the relationship between the recruiter and the coach. Recruiters generally place more weight on high school coaches after having received recruits from them or their institution that have delivered. Remember: recruiters sometimes change institutions, so even if a student from your program hasn’t gone to a particular university it doesn’t mean the recruiter isn’t familiar with your program.


Rowing camps don’t hold as much weight in the recruiting and admissions process as some families would like to believe. Just because a student attends a particular university’s rowing camp, it will not help with admissions there. Unlike other sports, most recruiters’ main focus during summer rowing camps is not on identifying talent. Rowing camps are a great way to connect with the sport and lower your erg score in the case of some three week plus competitive camps. Here's an entire article on the recruiting benefits of rowing camps. Alternatively, click the link for info on how to choose a rowing camp, or camp reviews and search.


Recruiting and scouting services are businesses that publish athletic profiles and sometimes claim to “scout” athletes to publicize them to recruiters. This may be of more use in football or other sports as college rowing is only 160 programs in total. Academic profiles and erg scores narrow choices considerably for both athletes and recruiters; typical relationships between coaches in a small community may also come into play. College rowing coaches don’t face the talent ID pressure to use these services others face in some sports given 1) the number of junior athletes available vs. the number of college programs, 2) concrete methods of ID such as erg score and 3) how late athletes can develop into good oarspeople. As a result, the number of these businesses competing to get coaches’ subscription (who may not subscribe to any) dictates very fragmented interest from the community. No third party beats a direct e-mail to a college coach and in fact serves as a demonstration of kids’ drive and maturity if they’re bold enough. Recruiting service profiles can be helpful in providing perspective though, and Luke Walton’s rowing specific site EngineRoomFitness is one example. The industry is growing rapidly, and as such we've provided an entire article on how rowing coaches use recruiting services.

Schools have standards. Even if a coach really wants a particular athlete, it doesn’t mean their admissions office will allow them to have that athlete. Every institution is different in terms of how it handles athletic admissions and how much weight it grants coaches in the admissions process. You should ask your recruiter about the process and how it works; excellent recruiters will tell you without your asking.

Rowing Scholarships and Likely Letters


Rowing scholarships are far more widely available for women than men. That said, unlike basketball and other sports scholarships are typically partial. This is advantageous for coaching staff – who are allowed 20 rowing scholarships any time on their roster, but would like to incentivize the recruiting process for more than five students a year.

Some coaches choose to incentivize their programs, fully funding those in the first boat but only offering small amounts in to incoming freshmen. Other programs provide a static scholarship over four years. Ivy League institutions may not provide athletic scholarship, but their financial aid is usually highly competitive and sometimes grant-based, meaning that need may actually dictate a financial aid based ‘scholarship.’

Likely letters are issued by Ivy League institutions and are exactly what they sound like: formal letters from the admissions office that state acceptance is likely. In order for one to be issued, a coaching staff must formally submit their support of an athlete to the admissions office and then admission will issue the letter after looking over the student’s full application.

Other schools have different but similar devices to support students if they choose to commit. Sometimes, it’s a matter of taking a recruiter’s word that admissions is likely – though likely letters and devices like them certainly make families feel safer in the admissions process.

A Word on Figuring out Which College is Right for You

At Sparks, we specialize in ‘fitting’ student athletes with institutions and coaches who will appreciate their value set and be a good match for the students’ character development over the next four years. To do this, we spend some time with families and student athletes determining their value system and in which ways they would like to develop.


A few common issues students may want to work through:

  1. What level of challenge are you looking for upon joining a rowing team? Would you prefer to just row and study or look for more holistic options?
  2. How concrete or abstract are you? What level of connectedness are you looking for from your coach, your team, and your fellow students?
  3. Even if you have the grades and erg to row at a top-tier school, would you take to the challenge of joining a very large pond of big fish – or are you going to fair better in your own pond?

A Word on the NCAA and Rowing

The NCAA currently only regulates and has a championship for women’s rowing. Men’s rowing is governed by conference rules, which are very similar but have a few nuances compared to NCAA rules. Women should register for the NCAA clearinghouse. Some men’s teams will also require a clearinghouse number. For maximum effect – this should be done by July 1 before one’s Senior year, which is when the NCAA begins to consider student-athletes as seniors.

Finally, there are many differences in contact rules depending on whether a student is a junior or senior. It’s best to establish contact via email with coaching staff first, and then let them guide you through their program-specific protocols.