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How to Get Recruited for Women’s College Rowing

Women’s college rowing coaches don’t just recruit athletes based on a single factor—they want well-rounded individuals. Read on to find out how you’ll need to prepare in order to get recruited.

2k erg times are the top thing that college coaches look at, especially for those rowing in college with no experience. Seen as a dependable gauge of athletic ability and upside, 2k erg times can be easily compared to other recruits and current athletes on the roster. Erg times may not always perfectly transfer to boat speed on the water, especially when a rower’s technique isn’t polished—but technique can be improved with repetition. To look at it another way: the top athlete at the NFL combine is not guaranteed to be the best NFL player. However, coaches feel comfortable drafting the best combine performer because there is a very good chance that they will develop into a capable football player. Similarly, rowing 2k times are the top thing that college coaches look at because they think it is the most accurate predictor of a recruit’s rowing performance.

Academics are very important when college coaches consider recruits. A high number of varsity college rowing teams are found at schools that pride themselves on their high academic standards. College coaches want to find the best athletes they can, but the truth is that they only have limited influence on the admissions office. If a recruit is far off the grade and test score standards of a college, chances are that they will either not get admitted or the coach can find someone who does meet those standards.

Physical attributes are also important. Height allows rowers to have a longer, more efficient stroke and the top rowers on each team are usually some of the tallest ones. That’s why coaches look for strong athletes who are tall, as this generally shows potential—especially for walk-on athletes who lack on-the-water experience.

Club or high school team experience can be important for recruits that rowed for an established team. College coaches pay attention to rowing experience and coach recommendations when they’re from known clubs like the Marin Rowing Association or Oakland Strokes. Strong race results at prestigious regattas are something that college coaches can trust. This also applies to international recruits rowing for prominent teams abroad. However, if a college coach is not familiar with your rowing club, high school team or level of competition in the region, this experience becomes less important in their evaluation.

Additionally, a large portion of athletes are introduced to rowing as walk-ons and many coaches don’t have qualms about offering roster spots to novices who show raw athletic ability. Novice athletes without prior experience are often seen as a blank slate and many coaches think they are in a good position to learn their team’s rowing style and fit in well with their team culture.

Regarding using video for rowing recruiting, sports like softball and volleyball make recruiting videos a much bigger part of the recruiting process. Coaches do want to see recruits with good technique, but It’s difficult for college coaches to accurately assess technique without seeing rowers in person and on the water. This is especially true for video showing larger boats, like eights. However, many recruits will go the extra mile to stand out and video can help do that.

Read on to learn more about how to get recruited for women’s college rowing.

What do college coaches look for in women’s rowing recruits?

When it comes to rowing recruits, most coaches look at the following in order of importance (give or take a slot):

  • 2k erg times
  • Academics
  • Technique
  • Physical attributes
  • High school or club experience 

2k erg times are a good gauge of athletic potential and speed on the water, which is why they’re the top thing that college coaches look at. 

Strong grades and test scores are very important for college coaches. A large portion of women’s rowing teams are found at colleges that have strict admission standards, with many of these being prominent colleges near the East Coast. Even though college coaches can have some influence on the admission department, at many schools a coach can’t do anything for a recruit if they don’t meet the college’s academic standards.

In regard to physical attributes, college coaches are always on the lookout for tall recruits. Height allows rowers to have more length and leverage in their stroke and tall rowers are seen as having more upside. Weight is important for generating power, but rowers that are on the heavier side may slow a boat down, so it’s still important to have a good weight-to-power ratio. Rowers with good erg scores shouldn’t be too concerned about height disqualifying them.

Coaches love to see good technique, but this one is difficult to gauge from a recruiting video, especially one shot in larger boats. Coaches like to evaluate rowers up close, preferably in smaller boats like fours, pairs or singles. For recruits that attend a college rowing camp or end up racing at big regattas such as the USRowing Youth National Championships where they may get seen firsthand, this could be more of a selling point. But for the most part, recruits will depend on other categories to show their abilities. 

Athletes who rowed for an established high school or club team will likely work in conjunction with their high school or club coach to communicate a recommendation to college coaches. These athletes generally have a leg up in the rowing recruiting process, but usually only if they come from a strong program that the college coach is familiar with. College coaches can expect a certain level of skill from rowers that rowed for a strong club or high school team, but this actually does not describe the majority of incoming college rowers. Most college novice rowers will either have some experience from a lesser-known local club or have no experience and will compete for a roster spot as a walk-on.

Women's rowing recruiting 2k times

  2k Erg Time Height
Tier 1 low 7:20s and under 5'10"+
Tier 2 mid 7:20s to 7:30s 5'9"+
Tier 3 7:30s to 7:50 5'8"+
Tier 4 under 7:55 5'7"+

Here is how NCSA breaks down the above tiers:

  • Tier 1: Top Division 1 teams
  • Tier 2: Top Division 3 teams
  • Tier 3: Division 2 teams, middle Division 3 teams and lower Division 1 teams
  • Tier 4: Lower Division 3 teams and top club teams

As mentioned previously, 2k erg times are the most important for college coaches and academics are next. Coaches look for rowers who are fast on the water and will also take care of business in the classroom. They do not want to deal with headaches about athletes’ grades and eligibility. However, experience, physical attributes and character are also considered, and many college coaches consider character to be the most important quality of their recruits. For women’s college rowing recruits, finding the right college fit athletically, academically, financially and socially is the key.

As rowing continues to grow and become more competitive, 2k recruiting times have kept improving over the last decade and will continue to do so. Also, recruits should understand that 2k recruiting standards are not the standards for rowers already on a college team. Recruits that do secure a college roster spot are expected to acclimate to the college training schedule and workload, which will then produce faster times. Finally, international recruits usually need to meet higher 2k standards than domestic recruits.

Height and weight standards can vary quite a bit and more so than in men’s rowing. Height allows rowers to have more length and leverage in their stroke and tall rowers are seen as having more upside by college coaches. Weight is important for generating power, but rowers need to have a good power-to-weight ratio to maintain speed on the water. 2k erg times and height are more important than weight. While coaches may target specific height numbers for their recruits, the things they will most closely look at are rowing times and academics. Rowers should use the height targets listed in this section as ballpark numbers. 

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How tall do you have to be to get on a women’s rowing team?

College rowers are generally tall, strong, move well for their size and have impressive stamina. For elite rowing programs, open weight rowers regularly approach 6’ or taller. The average of an open weight crew can go down incrementally in height, as you go down each tier of competition.

A fast 2k erg score and great technique are more important to a college coach than a rower being 5’11” with a slow 2k erg score and subpar technique. Height signifies potential and longer limbs allow for a more effective rowing stroke, but it does not always translate into ability. Recruits that are a few inches shorter, but have ability, should get a chance to show the coach what they can do.

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Women’s lightweight rowing recruiting 2k times

  2k Erg Time Height Weight
Tier 1 under 7:35 5'7"+ under 130
Tier 2 under 7:55 5'7"+ under 130

According to cMax rankings (under Lwt tab) there were only 7 women’s lightweight teams competing during the 2019 spring racing season (Stanford, Princeton, Boston University, Wisconsin, Georgetown, Radcliffe [Harvard] and MIT). Lightweight women cannot weigh more than 130 pounds and the average weight in the entire boat cannot exceed 125 pounds. Here’s how NCSA breaks down the above tiers:

  • Tier 1: Top lightweight teams like Stanford and Princeton
  • Tier 2: Lower-tier teams like California and MIT

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Rowing scholarship erg times

There’s no concrete 2k erg time that will guarantee an athletic scholarship for women’s rowing. The bottom end for earning an athletic scholarship at the college level is likely under 8:00, but this depends on several factors. College coaches consider a recruit’s 2k erg time, academics, character and experience. Also, athletic scholarships are not available at Division 3 or Ivy league (part of Division 1) colleges. Instead, these colleges assist athletes in securing other types of aid. Even if you’re a student-athlete with a 7:15 2k erg time rowing for Princeton, you would technically receive no athletic scholarship money. Recruits should focus on starting their recruiting process early, making a target list of colleges and researching colleges to figure out which college can offer the best athletic, academic and financial fit.

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How does college rowing recruiting work?

College women’s rowing is an NCAA sport and teams follow the NCAA recruiting guidelines. However, lightweight programs row in the Intercollegiate Rowing Association (IRA) and club programs row in the American Collegiate Rowing Association (ACRA), neither of which are regulated by the NCAA—though IRA teams follow most NCAA recruiting rules. For the most part, club programs only recruit on their own campus and through a summer rowing camp, if they host one. If you plan to pursue varsity college rowing, you’ll have to stick to these recruiting rules.

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Recruiting video for women’s college rowing

Recruiting videos are more important in sports like softball or soccer. American rowing focuses on racing the 8+, which makes it difficult to get a thorough assessment of technique from a video when there are seven other rowers in a boat. Video filmed in a single scull or a pair is more helpful for college coaches. Most recruits rely on their 2k erg score, academics, experience and coach recommendation to get noticed by colleges.

However, recruits that have good technique and are looking to stand out from the pack can still utilize video—just keep in mind it isn’t the top thing college coaches look at. To get video footage, talk to your coach and ask them for footage from the launch so that you can share it with college coaches. Then upload it online with an easily shareable video link.

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