Few sports are as old as rowing, which has a storied history here in the United States and dates all the way back to 1852 when Yale and Harvard faced off for the first time in a collegiate contest. Today, women’s college rowing enjoys some of the largest roster sizes among women’s sports and offers great opportunities for student-athletes. For those that want to take their sports career to the next level or learn a completely new sport and earn a college roster spot while working towards a degree at a prominent university, women’s rowing offers a great opportunity.
Almost every student-athlete who wants to participate in women’s college rowing will have the opportunity to do so, as there are both varsity and club programs that can fit just about every skill level. As an NCAA-sanctioned sport, varsity women’s rowing also provides opportunities for scholarships, and the financial award that comes with them—but scholarships aren’t easy to earn.
Getting recruited for college rowing is about more than just rowing well. Student-athletes not only need strong academics and experience from a high school or club program, but they also have to effectively navigate the women’s collegiate rowing recruiting process. Student-athletes will have to find which colleges offer women’s collegiate rowing, contact college coaches, attend college rowing camps and improve their 2k erg times, making this a long process with many steps.
All of this may seem challenging, and that’s why we’ve compiled this college rowing recruiting guide to help athletes and families make the right decisions in order to get recruited or walk on to a team. This rowing-specific information is best used in addition to the NCSA College Recruiting Guide, which provides even more valuable information about the college recruiting process and will supplement what recruits will need to know about women’s collegiate rowing recruiting.
Recruiting calendars and recruiting rules compiled by the NCAA are meant to allow recruits to focus on school during certain times and restrict when college programs can contact recruits. Women’s rowing follows the same NCAA Division 1 and Division 2 rules and calendar as most other sports, while recruiting restrictions for Division 3, NAIA and junior college schools are minimal.
Although it is the responsibility of college coaches and athletic programs to keep track of these recruiting rules and dates, it’s important to be familiar with the NCAA calendar so that families and athletes don’t fall behind in the process and take advantage of every opportunity that presents itself. Reference this section to learn how rules guide college coaches and how to best navigate the recruiting timeline.
Top women’s college rowers are tall, strong, move well for their size and have impressive stamina. And while college coaches may look for different levels of experience or may target different recruit heights and weights, 2k erg times are the most important part of a recruit’s resume. That’s because 2k erg times can be easily compared across regions, recruit sizes and experience levels. It is difficult for college coaches to gauge how good a recruit’s club or high school team is, what the quality of competition in a specific recruiting region is or how good a recruit’s technique is in smaller boats, but college coaches can dependably compare 2k erg times to see how much raw potential someone has. Additionally, 5k or 6k erg timeshare is not as important for college coaches because the championship racing season in spring is much more important than fall head races.
Are there women’s rowing scholarships? Yes, women can find college rowing scholarships, but only at certain colleges and division levels. As an NCAA-governed sport, varsity women’s college rowing has regulations on the number of scholarships that schools can provide. For rowers thinking about competing in college, considering the number of available scholarships and their financial benefit is an important part of the recruiting and selection process.
Recruits looking for college rowing scholarships will have to focus on colleges that aren’t Ivy League (a subset of Division 1) or NCAA Division 3 schools, as athletic scholarships are not available at these colleges. Women’s college rowing is also an equivalency sport and programs are allowed to break up scholarship amounts as they see fit. There is a maximum limit of 20 full scholarships per Division 1 or Division 2 team and college coaches can either award full-ride or partial college rowing scholarships to rostered athletes, usually saving full rides for only the top recruits. Reference this section to learn about scholarship and financial aid opportunities for women’s college rowing.
Almost every athlete can benefit from attending a camp while they are developing their skills in high school. This can be especially true for rowers and coxswains who are set on rowing in college but may not have access to the sport in their region. At a rowing camp, athletes can work on honing their skills, learning how college athletes train and can even visit a college they’re interested in. To find the right camp, the first step should be taking the time to do some research and getting familiar with the different camp options that are hopefully available nearby. Camps aren’t just for experienced rowers—they can also help beginners who are set on rowing in college with no experience.
In women’s college rowing, a significant portion of most college rosters are composed of walk-on athletes. Access to the sport is difficult to come by in some regions of the country and for many athletes, the first time they will have a chance to row is when they arrive on campus in college. While walk-on athletes may not have access to rowing prior to college, they can still do some things to prep for tryouts. Attending a learn-to-row camp can help with a baseline understanding of the sport while reaching out to a college coach for information about tryouts can make a good impression. But the best thing that potential walk-ons can do is to hit the gym, learn how to use the erg (rowing machine) and start to improve their erg times.
What colleges have women’s rowing? You’ll find approximately 158 varsity women’s collegiate rowing programs between NCAA Division 1, Division 2 and Division 3, as well as NAIA and junior college levels. In addition to these, there were seven women’s lightweight teams racing during the 2019 spring season, though these teams are part of the Intercollegiate Rowing Association and are not part of the NCAA. In addition to these teams, more than 40 women’s club rowing teams competed in the 2019 spring season, according to cMax rankings. Keeping track of women’s rowing teams across different levels can get complicated, so use this section to find colleges with women’s rowing teams and learn how they are organized.
Know which college rowing programs are the best? There are several college polls that athletes can reference to see how women’s rowing teams are performing during racing season, and many of them are found on Row2k. These include the CRCA/USRowing Coaches Poll and Atlantic 10 Women’s Poll.
In women’s college rowing, top Division 2, Division 3 and club teams can be just as competitive as some Division 1 teams. To provide a more complete snapshot of college rowing, cMax rankings compare how fast college women’s crews are by including club and varsity teams in the same pool and analyzing nationwide race results. These rankings are not definitive, but they are helpful in estimating how different crews compare to each other and show Division 3, lightweight and even club teams outperforming several Division 1 teams.
Additionally, to find out which rowing colleges offer the best fit athletically and academically, student-athletes can reference the NCSA Power Rankings included below.
Insider tip: Despite the impact that coronavirus had on college sports, as of June 1, 2021, the NCAA resumed its regular recruiting rules and activity! Coaches are actively working to fill their rosters, so student-athletes should be proactive in reaching out to coaches. Read up on how the extra year of eligibility granted to athletes who were most affected by the pandemic in 2020 will impact future recruiting classes.