Working With Us

The Sparks Consulting staff have taken part in the recruiting process at every level – as collegiate recruiters at top-tier institutions, athletes, and as Olympians hoping to see the sport we love grow. We’ve worked on an intimate basis – our associates normally work with 10 clients or less – with hundreds of families looking for the best collegiate rowing programs and universities for their rowers’ or coxswains’ success given our intimate, life-long relationship with the rowing community. Our client admit rate for their first choice is over 90% – though we judge true success by the impact college has on clients after four years.

Our college counseling practice runs specialized programs for coxswains, gap year students, and international athletes. We have a very specific philosophy in terms of our approach, and the testimonials to stand by it.

We know, love, and challenge our clients.

College Counseling

What is the college rowing experience (actually) about?

Everyone sees the intense coverage of Division I rowing programs throughout the year in various rowing media outlets. That said, some Division II and III programs take their rowing just as seriously and have benefits Division I schools do not offer for different athletes. Club teams also offer a student-run experience. Each of these divisions has a general culture and a specific programmatic culture that is usually a large and meaningful part of years 18–22 for students. The college rowing or coxing experience is actually about how these various divisions, leagues, and programs impact and relate with you – the student-athlete.

What is truly the "best" experience?

Rowers in boat cheering

The “best” experience is the place where the most positive impact can occur for both the athlete and the school. We’re of the opinion that the best undergraduate experience depends wholly on the qualities of the student-athlete and school (including the rowing program) and their chemistry together. The essential relationship between student and school is one that affects both at a deep level. Any other pairing makes for an expensive, lukewarm experience – which is unfortunate at the price tag most of these educations carry.

How We Work

Rowing Medal

We love and know our community on a personal and professional basis.

We’re interested in developing it and believe for students to be ultimately successful they must be a fit personally, academically, and athletically for their school sets. We do not consider acceptance at “brand” schools a mark of success unless students’ values are actually in line with the school and program. We determine this by working with student-athletes to establish their values then helping them assert the qualities most important to their schools who will be receptive to those in the admission and recruiting processes.

We’re looking to develop college rowing through educating our clients on themselves, the recruiting process, and working to connect the rowing community in everything we do.

Coaching in Our Natural Element


We’re ultimately coaches at heart. We seek to understand the potential and value of each rower or coxswain we work with and express them at their fullest. Our associates are given very small client loads so as to develop intimate relationships with our clients and their families.

We’re also intimately familiar with the rowing or coxing student-athlete’s admission process given our own experience with the rowing recruiting process. This is a distinct advantage over many private firms, or even some counselors employed by schools.

We specialize in helping student athletes present the specific attributes of themselves that make them a good fit at specific universities and rowing programs through the college admissions process – applications, essays, phone calls, emails from coaches and official visits are our natural element and we advise clients on thousands every year. We understand the process personally and professionally.

Integrity and Passion

Rowing in open water

We limit our clientele and try to avoid a “mercenary” mindset. We do this to provide better service to our clients and ultimately the college community. We believe this is a good way to establish trust, which we think is the critical bond in any good coaching (or business) relationship. We think the best experience is a simple, straightforward one.

Thus, we seek out athletes with the passion to continue their rowing on the next level and then examine each case individually to help align the athlete with the best opportunity to enjoy their college experience.

When and How to Begin

College rowing competition

We’re free for freshmen and bill hourly for sophomores, juniors, and seniors after an interview.

Though the most intense work generally occurs with juniors and seniors during their fall semester, work can begin earlier. Ideally, many clients work with us over the course of their junior year such that they can save energy and expense on the process in their senior year. We like to build a relationship with our clients. It’s important to know them if we’re to help them as college and recruiting guidance counselors.

We seek to provide a coaching experience as we would have our clients’ college experience be – character driven, enjoyable, efficient, and effective.

Coxswain Program

Coxswain Coaching and College Counseling

Coxswain camp

A good coxswain can make the difference between winning and losing in their own unique way. However, with a lack of objective standards the recruiting process for coxswains is different and requires higher and earlier levels of skill and tenacity than the rowing athlete’s in the college selection process.

We see coxing as an integral discipline in our sport. Beyond our rowing camps and coxswains only camp, we’ve uniquely designed a program for coxswains that integrates coxswain coaching and college counseling in a one on one format to help them better address the college recruiting process but also, hopefully, their enjoyment of the ninth seat.

The Process of Coxswain Coaching

Work is conducted on an individual basis via video conference during the rowing season. We originally developed a sixty four point evaluation system broken into an eight point score card. From there, we broke things into four key areas: awareness, steering, organization, and direction.

We mentor clients via a process of identifying goals in these areas, allowing them to go to practice or competition and execute, then meeting again to analyze and continue. We also use these opportunities to introduce specific situational ideas, enabling them to utilize particular technical situations to their advantage, and increasing their peripheral understanding of the sport. We’d invite you to check out our coxswain specific references.

Coxswain Mentoring by Top Coxswains

coxswain mentoring

Olympic bronze medalist Marcus McElhenney and National Team coxswain Steven Young designed our coxswain program with a single goal: to give coxswains the tools to pursue the discipline they love effectively – and thus improve on their own. Meanwhile, we also blend our highly successful approach to college counseling into the program uniquely for each student based on their year, place in the sport, character, and goal set.

As should be obvious by now, this means a lot more than tape review! We want coxswains to be able to pursue the sport such that their tapes will take care of themselves long after we’re gone and they’re competing for collegiate first varsity 8+s and beyond.

Getting Started

Coxing in college

We love working with folks who are passionate about the sport, and we recognize that no two people connect with rowing in the same way. We interview folks before they become clients – as our coxswain program integrates with our college counseling program, we plan a timeline as to how to structure coxswain coaching, goal sets, and the recruiting process. We generally like to start with sophomores or juniors, though we have provided coxswain coaching only to seniors.

Teaching coxswains to teach themselves ultimately betters their program – and we’re proud to be able to give back to the rowing community in this way.

International Applicants

For some overseas students, rowing at university in the USA offers financial incentive and education at a more selective academic institution than available at home. Below, we’ve put together a list of frequently asked questions from international students we’ve seen as a firm in regards to university rowing and recruiting in the United States.

Can I row at university in the States?

Rowing in America

The answer has much to do with your goals. There’s a place for everyone to row in a funded university program in the US, but many from overseas are interested in the financial benefit compared to their home countries. When athletic scholarships are available, you may find yourself vying for spots with athletes who’ve competed at an international level. However, international experience is not a prerequisite for scholarships or admission to US universities and finding the right fit can play a very large role.

Foreign applicants must seek to distinguish differences in American universities and acknowledge those differences lest they are perceived to be mercenary. Hard numbers like erg scores may open doors, but the final stages of the process are built off trust.

Can I get an “Ivy League rowing scholarship?”

Ivy League Athletic

The Ivy League conference doesn’t issue athletic scholarships. So the short answer is no, but there’s still good news. Many Ivy League universities are well-endowed, and grant funded financial aid is issued on a need-basis. Thus, while like a scholarship in that it does not require repayment, tuition funded by Ivy League universities is based on students’ families’ perceived need. To see if you qualify for that type of aid, you can use the “financial aid calculators” available on American university websites.

So, can I get a rowing scholarship?

Rowing Scholarship

Potentially. More athletic scholarships are available on the women’s side, but the men’s side also has a fair amount of slots available for the right applicant. If you’ve represented for your country at any age or level, chances are you can obtain a scholarship. Even those who have not ‘repped’ but have reasonable 2Ks and backgrounds may find their university fees in the US are less than those in their home country if they’re willing to have an open mind about school choices and focus on finding a place that is a good match for both them and the rowing program in terms of culture, academics, coaching, and team goals.

We would urge you to start thinking about important factors and looking at specific universities using our rowing database.

What do I need for the process?

Rowing in the USA

You need a 2K score, transcript (a record of grades from age 14 to present), and SAT or ACT results. UK applicants will require GCSE scores, which may be used in place of a transcript. Non-native English speakers will require TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) scores. Some institutions will also require SAT II subject tests to finalize the process.

The SAT and ACT are standardized university entrance examinations and do not require previous specific coursework. They are like the erg in that they are a measure of how good you are at them and not necessarily anything else. Most American students will prepare via tutoring on how to take the exams – courses are offered online.

What’s an ideal timeline?

Ideally, students will begin the university search and SAT or ACT prep process in the first half of their penultimate year of secondary school. In the second half of that year, they will then take the SAT or ACT for the first time (the exam may be retaken) and begin communication with university coaches. The most intensive time for rowing recruiting in the US is July through December. Many coaches prefer processing and finalizing commitments with recruits in those months during students’ last year of secondary school.

Many international students start the process later and don’t have SAT or ACT results; this is OK. To begin the process and speak to coaches via filling out the info forms available on most teams’ websites, a student only needs to be in their penultimate or last year of secondary school and have a 2K and transcript. SAT or ACT results are required later for students to be brought on an “official visit” (paid by the university) and for the commitment process following those visit(s).

What do you do?

College rowing competition

The concept of independent college consultancies is an American phenomenon given the selectivity and diversity of our universities – and in this case, their rowing programs. Our job comes down to providing insight on the process specific to programs, managing expectations, and helping families negotiate the process efficiently. We’re also serious about helping kids find the right fit and limit our clientele accordingly.

To work with us, parents generally submit an initial inquiry, which, after a conversation, is followed up by an interview between their student and one of our associates. This is free of charge, and we always seek to provide feedback to families after this process. If we believe the recruit’s goals to be reasonable and that we can help, we then send a proposal based on the number of hours we feel it will take to help the family through the process.

If you’d like to read more about American collegiate rowing recruiting, you could see, see our college rowing database (free), or read some of our Reports from the Front.

Is a Gap Year Advisable?

The Independent Thinker's Option

Considering Rowing Gap Year

Gap years have become more popular recently, although they have always been useful during that time between high school rowing and collegiate rowing for some people. A well designed gap year may provide training experiences that are otherwise unavailable to some students – and they may provide personal experiences that are also unavailable for some students. When designed well, a gap year allows students to become more competitive in the recruiting process, to spend more time in an advanced academic environment, and potentially spend more time in the real world…all before college begins.

Gap Year for Rowers

Gap Year Water

With our work in college counseling we see students who consider taking a gap year for various reasons. Sometimes better grades are needed, or the student simply wants the advantage and perspective of a year outside the academic system. In many cases our clients couple these goals with a need to achieve athletic growth, whether they come from post graduate programs at prep schools from across the globe, or they are simply a first-time citizen of the real world. Indeed, some students will use a gap year specifically to become a more competitive athlete. Which can then create a need to renegotiate college selection and recruiting from a potentially very different and much more advantageous place than a year before. In our experience, admissions officers and collegiate coaches are very open to students who have taken a gap year, as long as that year can be shown to have been productive.

Creating Productive Gap Years

Gap Year Rowing Adventure

Ideally, creating a gap year will be a collaboration between a qualified rowing and academic counselor, the student rower, and the student’s family. While there are tried and true options (particularly for certain specific goal sets) there is no format for a gap year that has proven more effective in the admissions or recruiting processes than the collaborative one, nor will there ever be. Even in the relatively simple act of choosing a prep school for a post-graduate year, the student chooses to be in the minority of incoming college students — and this independence lends itself to the potential for creating a relatively rare and far more advanced personal experience. If the student chooses to pursue activities in the real world only, and not academically, this is even more the case. Ultimately, we work with families to identify and evaluate options from our point of view as collegiate admissions and rowing professionals. But that is something we can do effectively only after we come to know each student well enough to consider the full range of potential experiences available to meet their goals, and their family’s goals.

Connecting to the Rowing World

Our rowing and academic counseling acumen is based on our counselor’s careers in the very small community of rowing — both in North America and internationally. Our mission is to better develop the individual rower and the rowing community as a whole — and as such our ability to connect those within the rowing community gives us indelible satisfaction. We have decades of experience in connecting gap-year students with rowing opportunities in their regional schools in North America, and we have provided opportunities for those who want them in South America, Europe, Asia, and Oceania. The specific needs of an individual student’s training may indicate one location over another, but ultimately the experience of leaving one’s very successful home-school rowing program for the programs that are available out in the big, wide world provides a point of familiarity in unfamiliar environs.

Reports From the Front

At Sparks, our mission is to develop the rowing world. Every few weeks, we run a segment we call Reports from the Front – articles about specific collegiate teams’ goals and coaches’ comments regarding their programs.

Beyond our flagship mission of collegiate guidance counseling, we’re working to make other contributions to the community. We’ve developed the only free, sortable, online college rowing database. Our rowing camps are meant for athletes looking to connect and grow in the sport. We also invite you to check out our coxswain development options, built with the enthusiasm of our staff of coaches and Olympians.

All Posts:

Our Approach

Our goal is to use athletic development and/or the recruiting process as a catalyst to build personal awareness in the rowers and coxswains we work with – thereby building them and the rowing community simultaneously.

The American rowing community is fragmented in terms of knowledge and resources, and we work to develop it. We invest in our students – from lives dedicated to the sport – to create success for them, the rowing community, and ourselves.

Given our investment, we see students as people with absolutely tremendous potential and treat them as such. We follow the folks who work with our firm through their rowing careers long after they’ve finished with us. Our work during the school year is focused on collegiate recruiting counseling, though our rowing camps and coxswain program have also seen their share of success.

Our collegiate guidance, rowing camps, and recruiting counseling is meant to help student-athletes connect with schools and coaches who will appreciate and develop students’ individual value sets. We feel character development should be the cornerstone of undergraduate education, and rowing can help facilitate that for those who are lucky enough to be wired for it.

We work in the background: from life-long career experience as well as with a number of proprietary knowledge bases and mechanisms to help families manage their expectations and connect with universities and rowing programs that will truly appreciate them, whatever their talent level. Our objective is to match families’ value sets with colleges and rowing teams in a way that will actually create sparks for both parties. We don’t call college recruiters specifically on behalf of clients, nor do we seek to compete with high school college counseling offices – though we have worked with them and high school coaches in the past for clients and overall program development.

We do our utmost to give families the information they need to make the right decision regarding the recruiting process while respecting every school’s right to recruit our clients. Our entire counseling staff has sat the NCAA Division I recruiting examination. We take NCAA compliance very seriously with respect to our clients and the enormous amount of recruiting correspondence we see from collegiate coaches. Whereas recruiting and scouting services provide information on athletes to colleges to facilitate program success, we provide the reverse as a counseling firm: information on colleges and teams to our clients for the same success.

We still like to think of ourselves as rowing coaches – ones that just spend a fair amount of time guiding folks to find their momentum off the water while still connecting our team: our community.

Counseling Testimonials

"Sparks Consulting helped me navigate the minefield that is the college admissions process. Their experience as recruiters quickly became invaluable, as they talked me through every step of the process, from essays to official visits. With my counselor's help, I quickly learnt how to present myself in the best possible light to the coaches and admission boards, and avoid making the mistakes which could have cost me my seat. As admission rates for top colleges quickly drop below 10%, I would recommend Sparks Consulting to anyone looking to dramatically increase their chances of admission to the college of their choice."

— Athlete recruited at Princeton and Yale

"When I realized I might be able to row in college, I had no idea where to start. The idea of narrowing a list of 15 colleges to 5 visitable schools was a daunting one, and definitely a lot more research than I had time for. With Sparks Consulting, all I had to do was ask a question and I got an answer. When making the decision for where I'd be living the next four years, I wanted to know absolutely everything about the school, and sometimes I didn't have enough time to visit. They had every detail of every school to memory, and gave me a picture of what a typical week would look like at each school. With a heavy workload as a senior this semester, I didn't have time to take five officials, so they helped me narrow it down to the best fits, and told me what kind of questions I might be asked. My counselor helped me estimate what kind of erg scores, grades, and SATs all of my schools would need, and therefore helped me eliminate a couple of unrealistic choices. All of this valuable information saved me time, money and made the recruiting process an enjoyable experience. Without Sparks Consulting's help, I would've had no one to talk to about my worries with collegiate rowing, and having a voice of reason help me throughout the process was the most reassuring thing I could ask for."

— Athlete recruited at Georgetown, Oregon State, and UCSD

"As an international applicant, Sparks Consulting advised me on the university admissions process in the United States as well as which schools were the best fit to receive an application for my needs. Moreover, my counselor helped me understand how to communicate with coaches and what was important in the admissions process for my particular choices. Their international knowledge and their understanding of each American university and program really made things clear – all in all, a trusted advisor."

— Athlete recruited at UC-Berkeley and Cornell

Camp Testimonials

"Our daughter [a coxswain] attended Sparks Rowing Camp. What a wonderful experience. She was able to work with some of the top college rowing coaches in the country and had a great deal of one on one instruction. The camp provided excellent training both on and off the water due to the excellent athlete to coach ratio, this enabled the coaches to provide personalized instruction for each athlete. The coaches also ran several information sessions to educate athletes on what to expect when rowing in college, how the college recruiting process works and what college coaches are looking for in their recruits. Coxing is an area of training that is often overlooked in large rowing programs. The coxing education that she received at Sparks camp was outstanding, again due to the excellent coach/athlete ratio, the coaches were able to work extensively with each of the coxswains, showing how small adjustments in style and steering can make a significant difference in boat speed. On a social level, this was also a great experience because she was able to meet athletes from several different programs, and interact with different styles. We would highly recommend the Sparks rowing camp."

— Parents of rowing camp athlete from Massachusetts

"Every summer we've sent our son to rowing camps, but we can't compare any of them to the Sparks camp… he came back more excited about rowing than we've ever seen him. The individual coaching helped him improve in a few critical areas… the staff were awesome and numerous, and it felt like they'd been at camp longer than the actual time at the end… he came back and made it into the varsity for the first time, and we believe part of that is due to Sparks camp… he'll also be rowing in college next year, and our family has been thankful again for the advice he received from the coaches."

— Parents of rowing camp athlete from New Jersey

"Camp gave me a better idea of my potential as an athlete. The staff was awesome, and I learned a lot about my erg from them, but they really seemed to want to help in any little way they could. I found out more about my stroke and whether I have a chance at rowing in college. Camp was a few days, but it felt longer given the amount of information passed around in that time. I appreciated the spirit of it because the staff worked so hard to make it good for us… I found direction in the sport to grow personally and for college."

— Rowing camp athlete from Pennsylvania

"Awesome coaches. Great coxswain counseling and feedback. Super staff. Committed rowers. Perfect water in scenic San Diego Bay. For what more could you ask?"

— Rowing camp athlete from Texas

Coxswain Testimonials

"Both of our children – a boy and a girl - are coxswains enjoying their first year as varsity. They are part of a fabulous competitive club. However, after completing their novice year we realized that much of the program at their club focuses on the rowers. As much as they love their coaches, the coxswain specific coaching was just not there. They attend a couple half-day coxswain clinics but found they lacked stimulation and involved listening to tapes and watching videos. Then we found Sparks Consulting!
The coxswain coaching program has been invaluable. The time they spend with Sparks has helped them gain just the competitive edge that they needed... Given his own experience, their counselor is able to anticipate and help them prepare for challenges they haven’t faced or even thought about. They keep a journal of their coxswain coaching sessions and jot down thoughts and questions in between sessions. This journal has been a great reference source for them throughout the season. So much of being a coxswain is about self confidence and handling the unexpected, the resources of Sparks Consulting have helped our children develop those skills which in turn allow them to excel at their sport."

— Parents of Coxswains from Northern California

"Our son is a junior year coxswain. When we first heard of Sparks, we were a little caught off guard by the idea that coxswain coaching could happen off the water. Thing is, our son is so involved in the execution of his role when he's on the water we decided this could help - it has exceeded our best expectations. Coxing is an art to be learned, and then much like art it's to be executed by the artist. As we began to buy in to this philosophy, our son experienced tremendous progress instead of just saying 'what he should say' on his tapes. He actively learns the sport his time with his counselor and then executes his way - much to enjoyment of his crew and his coach. We're very happy to have found Sparks."

— Parent of Coxswain from Connecticut

Thanks for sharing!