College Rowing and Coxing Scholarships

By Sparks Editorial Staff | April 5, 2014

The collegiate athletic scholarship has long been a mark of pride for those that receive it and their families – especially in an esteemed sport like rowing. However, there are a number of assumptions about coxing & rowing scholarships that cloud junior athletes’ understanding of them and families’ ability to evaluate their meaning in the recruiting process.

Scholarships are some rowing coaches’ least favorite subject. Unlike other sports, not everyone on the team can have one – and scholarships in rowing (unlike basketball or some other sports) can be divided into “partial” amounts from just books to half to full. Additionally, these amounts can be adjusted once the student arrives at the school, and as a result the pressure to award a family in financial need (but with only some athletic merit) some help can be constant.

It’s also important to note that there is no such thing as “Ivy League rowing scholarships.” The Ivy League, an incredibly popular conference in the world of rowing, does not issue any athletic scholarships – and despite the rumors, there are no “back door” scholarships either. They do issue need based financial aid – and this is grant based at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton – meaning you don’t have to pay it back. This belief is particularly common amongst international applicants, which is why we address the point again here.

We work with hundreds of coxswains a year through our camps and counseling. Though they are rare, there is such a thing as a college coxing scholarship, and we have seen them awarded – but a full ride for coxswains is an truly incredible rarity and if you’re a coxswain regardless of how good you are (and yes, even you junior national team folks) you should recognize that receiving any scholarship offer places you in the top 2% of coxswains. Additionally and unfortunately, coxing scholarships for men are far more rare than those for women given men are not allowed to cox women’s boats and are thus limited to the men’s side – and some women do compete and see scholarships on the men’s side over male coxswains.

There are any number of firms that focus on taking junior athletes and finding coxswain & rowing scholarships. We would argue this approach may be valid in cases where families are in deep financial need and their rowers are highly talented – however, the financial vs. potential benefit is flawed insofar as believing that publicity will lead to greater scholarship chances. Contrary to popular belief, being "seen" has nothing to do with being recruited. The vast majority of coxswains recruited at the most selective (read Ivy) schools are there given their racing experience. 

Addtionally, simply marketing on the basis of getting a rower or coxswain ID’ed and/or finding them a scholarship diminishes much in terms of finding the right college academically, personally, or even athletically. Moreover and perhaps more important for the mercenary, coaches hate it. One thing we continually stress about the “rowing recruiting economy” is that unlike other sports, there are far fewer collegiate rowing programs than junior programs, especially when you consider that college rowing programs with scholarships are recruiting across the entire world – not just in the US. As such, coaches are particular about academics, erg scores, and water experience to an extent but then take pride in making their final selections based on character. When a rower or coxswain hires a third party to represent them in this relationship, it does not represent their character as competitively as possible to a coach.

It is true there are far more women’s rowing scholarships available. It is important to keep in mind though that the competition for these is generally international. Additionally, if you’re a male and not rowing on the international level, your scholarship chances are very small. Women’s teams are capped by the NCAA at 20 scholarships per team; men’s teams don’t have to adhere to this rule, however we can count on one hand those that have more than 20 scholarships. As we’ve stressed, these scholarships do not need to be given to 20 people but may be spread about 40 or 50 people depending on how the coach decide to allot the funding. Different coaches have different strategies – from incentivizing the top boats to incentivizing rebuilding programs by allocating more resources to the underclassmen. It’s really a question for specific rowing coaches once you’re in the recruiting process.

Asking college coaches about scholarship possibilities is tricky but not impossible. First, recruits should establish that a program is sincerely interested in them. Second, they should let it be known that they will need help to attend the institution and then go through the recruiting process. Rowers and coxswains who are fortunate enough to come on an official visit may then discuss specifics with college coaches in the fall of their senior year. It’s important to note: do not try to engage coaches in competing over scholarship allocations. This amounts to haggling and is a huge turn-off in terms of how the coach feels the parent views him or her – not as an educator or mentor so much as a used car salesman. There is a way to politely indicate that one school has offered more than another, and we trust you realize the difference. Finally, we recommend planning to commit early as there is generally more athletic aid available in the early round. We realize this goes against the trend of families with high need waiting to receive and compare offers in the regular round, however the economy is on the college coaches’ side and this is the way the process shakes out most of the time.