The Ivy Rowing Recruiting Question

By Sparks Editorial Staff | February 1, 2015

As a college counseling firm, we do an awful lot of speaking with parents and junior rowers. When one peruses the online forums at places like college confidential we see one similar thread in the questions we often encounter. Namely: “how do I leverage my rowing to gain admission to an Ivy League University?”

There are number of issues with this question – or rather the inferences that are usually behind it.

The first inference is that admission to an Ivy League university is an endpoint rather than byproduct of a successful junior rowing career. The problem with this thought process is that collegiate recruiters are seeking to find athletes who have top performances in high school and will continue to carry on in a far more intensively competitive environment in college. As such, achieving the rowing standards for recruiting should be considered more of a starting point for a much more demanding journey than an end point to a lesser one.

The second inference is that EARC/Sprints/Ivy rowing is somehow the gold standard for collegiate recruiting. It isn’t – especially as a conference – and generally the recruiting standard changes as often as the national championship occurs. Nor is it the universal best experience for everyone that US News and World Reports would like to simplify those four years into for the purposes of ranking them, as most of us already know. And though some families may believe recruiters will be flattered by the inference that their school or conference represents all that’s best and brightest, coaches (many of whom did not come from the school or conference) may perceive this as an indication of naivety or worse, flattery intended to manipulate them.

One of the main requirements of any coach is to find kids who will be deeply committed to the sport at their university. A key shift occurs when many kids enter college: it may be the first time students are 100% responsible for engaging themselves rather than the school or rowing team’s taking responsibility for engaging them. Unless a student possesses the strength of character to fully commit on a level of intensity higher than they’ve engaged or been engaged upon in the past it can be difficult for them to handle the commitment they made during the recruiting process. Naturally, a blind adherence to brands or rankings is not indicative of depth of character.

A large piece of most recruiters’ job after identifying and separating those with qualifying numbers is identifying and separating those who would go through with a four year commitment if accepted.

Thus – the answer to the question (regardless of school) beyond putting together the baseline numbers is one of whether the student can truly demonstrate a depth of character. They need to understand why they’re interested in a recruiter’s university – and be able to go beyond the basic fluff. They need to ask questions about the rowing team they care about as opposed to those that could be found via a Google search. And to do these things genuinely, they need to have the maturity to go beyond many of their peers and know exactly who they are.

Rowing can provide the trials and tribulations that create character. Regattas and 2K test pieces are helpful insofar as their ability to be catalysts rather than mere endpoints. Ultimately this approach allows the sport to extend beyond going down a river backwards – but only if you’re willing to keep going as hard as possible regardless of the open water behind or in front of you to the next boat.

We hope to unabashedly push this agenda by encouraging awareness in the junior rowing population and believe that attending larger regattas like the crew classic with 25-40 entries on the collegiate side plus junior entries from across the country can only help increase perspective, which in turn can only help rowers better understand their identity in the sport.