Do Rowers Deserve Admissions Advantages?

PRO by Lauren Dahlberg-Seeth

Rowing has always had a bad reputation in the high school community. When students see their academically average peers rowing for schools like Princeton or Yale after graduation, they almost instinctively question whether or not crew gave those students an unfair advantage. As a second-year varsity rower and the sister of a Miramonte High School graduate now rowing at University of Michigan, I would like to dispel all myths about the “unfair advantages” crew will give during the college application process.

To analyze how rowers get into college, one must understand the recruiting process. The more popular a high school sport is, the harder it is for athletes to get recruited, simply because there are more potential recruits for college coaches to choose from. And if there is one thing everyone knows about crew, it’s that it isn’t a very popular sport.

Dedicating six days a week—including Saturday and Sunday mornings—to physically demanding and technically challenging work isn’t the most attractive idea, especially to high school students.

Because crew has a lot less participants than the average sport, the probability of a rower getting recruited is statistically higher than that of, say, a football player. But in no way does this compromise the legitimacy of crew’s recruitments. College coaches have very high standards, and rowers must dedicate countless hours of training not only to increase their fitness but also to perfect their technique in order to be pursued.

More and more students are joining crew teams under the false pretense that rowing will overshadow their sub-par academics and get them into the school of their dreams. Not only does this undermine the hard work of teenagers who actually love rowing and dedicate countless hours to the sport, but it’s also causing a dramatic rise in the crew population, ultimately making it harder for rowers to get recruited.

In any case, rowing requires more than the desire to be recruited; it demands complete dedication of both body and mind. It is not a sport that one can excel at if the only reason for participation is college acceptance. Crew requires so much out of the athletes that they either develop a sincere passion for the sport and continue regardless of their chances of recruitment, or they completely hate the sport and eventually quit. For this reason, crew is an impressive addition to any high school resumé. The commitment it requires is exactly what colleges are looking for academically, but this reflects the attitude of the athletes rather than the sport itself.

So the answer is yes, just like every high school sport, rowing does present the chance of helping students get into college. But anyone who honestly thinks these athletes only do crew for college benefits clearly do not understand what rowing is.

Rowers are expected to work their hardest every day, not just for themselves but for their team and their coaches, regardless of whether or not they will be recruited. So please, show up to the boathouse on a Saturday morning, or better yet, come to an erg workout, weight circuit, or six mile Lake Merritt run, and then decide if you’re willing to commit six days a week, 10 months a year, to this sport solely because it might help you get into college.

CON by Mary Kate Engstrom

If six years of quality CYO basketball or eight years of top-level traveling soccer followed by a successful high school athletic career are not enough to help you gain entrance to a prestigious university, your ship is not sunk. All you have to do is learn how to row a boat.

These days, college admission is a main priority for most Miramonte students. They devote themselves to studying hard and fitting in as many extracurricular activities as possible, making themselves appear as the perfect student to top universities. But there is a loophole to all their stress and hard work, and that loophole is using crew as the means for college admission.

According to the website of the Oakland Strokes rowing club, “It’s true that prestigious colleges eagerly seek our rowers.” 84 Division I colleges and 15 Division II colleges offer scholarships for crew. Up to 20 scholarships might be given from each school. That is double the scholarships given for women’s soccer and five more than the scholarships given for basketball. Just last year, Miramonte women were enlisted to row at Harvard, Michigan, Duke, and other such institutions.

“Crew definitely helped me get into college,” said Dana Walsh, a Miramonte alum. “I am currently at the University of Virgina and it is really difficult to get in here out of state, so crew played a major role. I was really lucky and knew exactly where I wanted to go at the very beginning of my senior year. I signed with Virginia last year in late October, so I had a pretty easy college application process.”

Although some kids do work hard for four years to earn a scholarship for crew, others are recruited purely on genetics and potential, even with zero rowing experience. Recruiters/colleges are constantly searching for kids who may have natural physical disposition for the sport. With height and strength working to your advantage, recruiters take notice.

Over the summer, one current Miramonte senior was contacted by a top California university and although she had no prior rowing experience, was asked if she would join their women’s crew team. The college coach found her through her participation in other sports and recruited her because of the athletic build of her body, in hopes that she could become an accomplished rower.

Although an inexperienced rower may turn out to be outstanding, they are just as likely to have no aptitude to the sport and quit after only a couple of months. Coaches taking gambles is not only unfair to the average student, but it’s also unfair to those who actually do crew.  

“I thought crew was a really rad sport and both my sisters did crew and it also helped both of them get into good colleges so I decided to row too.

Thinking about college is a lot less stressful when I know I have crew as an advantage,” said sophomore Andrew Meily.

Row, row, row your boat, gently down the stream? Merrily, merrily, merrily, indeed – to achieve your college dream.