Defining Admissions Support for Rowing Recruits

By Sparks Editorial Staff | July 1, 2014

A large part of the presentations we sometimes give to teams deals with the various mechanisms utilized to support athletes in the admissions process. We deal with this everyday in our counseling practice – however, with the mission of serving both the college rowing community and our clients. As such, it is our mission to help kids find the best match for themselves and the college program – and thus not to utilize our understanding of athletic support mechanisms to just achieve a cheap “admit.”

There are no “standard” athletic support mechanisms. Even while schools in the same division and conference may do some things similarly, they do not do things uniformly. Given this, we will cover some of the simple, basic infrastructure of support without moving into the specifics of 150+ college admissions offices and rowing programs.

Contrary to belief, Division III schools do recruit and possess a measure of power with admissions. However, as a general rule coaches are not allowed to indicate students’ likelihood of admission (unlike the Division I process below) as this would run contrary to many of these colleges’ holistic philosophy on student-athletes (notice they take putting the student first in that semi-portmanteau). They do not generally receive a full 8+ of slots and usually prefer multi-sport athletes as there is (again, generally) some athletic department wide support that is less “expensive” than utilizing their program specific “tips,” which are then placed on a student’s application to move it a certain amount higher in the admissions department’s gradation of application. Programmatic specific tips as a gigantic generalization run about 2-4 per team. The most coaches can do (and will do) is indicate their intention to support the application and give vague assurances like, “in my experience from past years, things look good.” However make no mistake: these coaches and programs are as serious about recruiting as Division I programs and their typical athletic standard for the recruiting process is moving higher.

Division II and I schools possess another wide range of admissions mechanisms. Though this is not an article on scholarships, sometimes some sort of “grant in aid” (merit based scholarship) must play into the process for their larger and generally more bureaucratic admissions offices to issue admissions help to recruits. However, we will go no further than speaking about the process for these schools in very broad strokes as the specific mechanisms (even inside conferences) run the gambit from a lack of any support to a policy of “whoever and however many we want.”

Division II and I coaches are allowed to indicate to athletes their potential for admission, and this is an important tool in the recruiting process. The initial stage of recruiting at most schools involves obtaining the athletes’ transcript and SAT/ACT scores – not only given the NCAA requirement – but also given some coaches’ ability to send those documents to admissions and get a “pre-read” on any recruits for whom they have serious interest (read: potentially meets athletic recruiting standards). The result of the pre-read dictates whether and how recruiting will proceed, and will be indicated to recruits. Not all coaches have this ability; it’s important to understand the connection between the admissions and athletics departments at any given university range from “close” to “distant” to “less than friendly” based in part on the school’s philosophy on athletics.

As we’ve said above, the specific methodology for coaches once students are deemed academically admissible vary greatly. Some schools are able to merely specify students as a rowing recruit and admit them as such, whereas in conferences like the Ivy League, academics continue to play a part in the recruiting process through acceptance via the use of a system known as the Academic Index. These schools as another gigantic generalization usually get eight or more “slots” to a program/team, but this is not a hard rule and absolutely varies year by year.

It is important to note that the Ivy League formalizes its indication of admissibility via something known as a “Likely Letter.” Likely letters are a final mechanism of the support process in the Ivy League whereby the student submits their application to admissions, the rowing program submits its letter of support designating the student for a slot, and in cases where the student is in high demand (read: multiple programs are interested in them and they need to be sure of their admissibility to their top choice to cease the recruiting process with other schools), admissions may issue a Likely letter. This letter can be issued at any time during the year and basically says the student is likely to be admitted as long as things continue to stay positive. This is significant in that it comes directly from the university’s admissions office and is given after the rowing program formally uses one of their “slots” on the applicant.

As a final note on the above, it’s important to understand that coaches recruit obtain whoever they want. Admission has final say in any candidate at every institution. Some recruits have felt betrayed by coaches who promised support only to find the support was not enough – this is generally a case of miscommunication between the coach and the admissions office rather than one of a devious college recruiter. It is important that recruits understand their specific school choices’ admission support mechanisms where available and in the case of those who have gone on an official visit, begin to confirm with coaches that things with admissions look positive if they want to be assured of success in the admissions process.