College Recruiting: How much weight do coaches have with admissions + what to do if there are no spots left

Previously: Intro || The recruiting timeline + what to consider || What do coaches look at? || Contacting coaches, pt. 1 ||  Contacting coaches, pt. 2 || Contacting coaches, pt. 3 || Contacting coaches, pt. 4 || Highlight videos + the worst recruiting emails || Official/unofficial visits + recruiting rules recap || When scholarships aren’t an option || Managing your time as a student-athlete + narrowing down your list of schools || Interest from coaches + coming from a small program

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Today’s topics are based on two really great questions that were asked at NRC. The first is about how much weight coaches really have with the admissions department. Rowing coaches will be the first ones to tell you that what you think you know about how coaches work with admissions departments is likely based off of what you hear about college football and basketball … aka how they do things and how we do things are very different.

It’s important to remember that each coach’s relationship with their respective admissions department varies. Some places will have a little more pull than others (we have practically none here at MIT…and that’s being generous) but Coach Lindberg actually said it best when he said that none of the coaches work in admissions because it’s not their job to get you into college. What their job does entail is identifying capable men and women that would be good fits for the institution and, as an added bonus, help their team create fast crews and win championships. That info is communicated to the admissions committee and the rest of the decision is made based on your actual application.

So what if the coach says they think you’re a good fit for that school and team? Is it unrealistic to think that they have enough weight in the admissions office that they could give your application a boost? This is where you’ll need to find out how the relationship between the coaching staff and admissions committee works.

One of the things they might do is write letters in support of your application, which is what happens here at MIT (and other places too I’m sure – you’ll have to ask and find out!). The coaches will summarize your high school experience (both rowing and academically), how that makes you a viable candidate for the team and addition to the academic community, etc.

Related: Letters of recommendation

They’ll also get in touch with your high school coaches (I’ve heard our lightweight women’s assistant do this at least four or five times this fall) to ask for anecdotes that can bolster their recommendation and make each letter more personal. This is another reason why it’s important to keep your coach in the loop, particularly if/when the college coaches ask for their contact info or you include it in the questionnaires you fill out.

Related: How involved should my coach be in the recruiting process? I know it sounds bad but I haven’t really talked to him at all about this.

Every coach-athlete relationship is different – by no means is it a scripted process that is the same for every person in your recruiting class – but eventually you’ll reach a point in your conversation with them where it’ll be appropriate to ask if they can see themselves supporting you through the admissions process (either academically or financially), are you on their list of athletes that they plan on supporting, if your application needs their support will they give it, etc. This isn’t a conversation you should force either so if you’re wondering when you’ve reached this point, it’ll be when it just feels natural to bring it up. It’s one of those things that every coach reiterated where you’ll just know when it’s an appropriate question to ask.

One other thing to remember is to follow up with the coaches once you’ve submitted your application, transcripts, test scores, etc. to the admissions department so that they can then follow up with them to get an idea of where you stand.

Related: I know a coxswain who just applied and got into UCLA. I heard that all she had to do on her application essays was write “athlete”. Does this ever happen? Or is it just like huge colleges if they really, really want you…

Moving on, the next question was one that got a lot of attention, mainly because it’s something everyone wants the answer to – what’s the best course of action when your #1 school comes back to you and says we don’t have any spots available, we don’t recruit coxswains, etc.? It might sound surprising but this is a situation that actually happens a lot. Many of the coaches agreed with that and said they’d definitely been in situations where they’ve had to say that to kids they were talking with.

Related: I am a senior in high school and have only been rowing for about 8 months. I was wondering if I should fill out the recruiting questionnaires if I plan on walking on to a rowing team next year.

Kate Maloney, from Williams College, said that if that’s the place you want to be at then you apply anyways … and honestly, that should be the most obvious “next step” when you’re in that situation. If you love the school as much as you’ve (probably) told the coach up to that point, not being able to be recruited shouldn’t change that (unless there’s financial issues at play but again, that should be obvious).

Once you’ve applied, ask about walking on to the team as someone who didn’t go through or complete the recruiting process. No team is ever going to turn away experienced walk-ons, especially – I cannot emphasize that enough – if you’re an experienced coxswain. (Everyone’s definition of “experienced” varies – I personally consider it at least two years of experience, meaning you have something beyond your novice year – but like I said, no one’s going to say “nope, sorry, you can’t sit with us”.)

Related: I am currently a senior in high school and have been rowing for a while. If I am interested in walking on to a team in the fall, should I fill out the questionnaire on the website? I am a senior in high school and have only been rowing for about 8 months. I was wondering if I should fill out the recruiting questionnaires if I plan on walking on to a rowing team next year.

You have to keep in mind that there’s nothing to be gained by being discouraged at not getting recruited. It’s never personal … it’s just business. Coaches have to draw a line in the sand somewhere and there’s always someone on the other side of the line that gets left out. Coaches have to consider which athletes will have the biggest impact on their program and those are the ones that they’ll go after first. That’s why it’s important and worthwhile for you to not burn your bridges and keep the conversation going if possible because you never know what might happen.

Related: I chose not to go through the recruiting process but I am interested in walking on to a team next fall. I am still deciding between a couple schools and I was wondering if it would it be worth it to email the coaches about walking on? Thanks for everything you do!

Katelin Snyder (Team USA women’s coxswain) has talked before about how her stroke seat was recruited to UW and the coach asked if there was anyone else that might be interested in going there because they had an open slot available. She’d already committed to Bates, to the point of having a roommate lined up and everything, before she switched to Washington. I’ve said before too that not getting recruited really isn’t that big of a deal because once you’re on campus, the playing field is leveled and no one cares that you got recruited. It’s fun to talk about when you’re in a high school because it’s a big deal then (I was one of only 5-10 kids, if even, from my graduating class that was recruited to play sports in college and the only one I think that was recruited to a D1 school so you can bet your ass that I bragged about that when I could) but once graduation has passed you’re back at the bottom of the totem pole and it doesn’t matter anymore. Don’t define your worth as an athlete (or person) by whether or not you get recruited … you’re just going to make yourself miserable.

I’ve talked about letters of recommendation before and if there was ever a time to ask your coach to write you one, being “turned down” – for lack of a better phrase – by a college coach is a really good time to consider doing that. Don’t ask for this lightly though … it shouldn’t be your automatic response if a coach says they can’t/won’t support you. If you’re that guy that falls just on the other side of the line drawn in the sand (and most times coaches will tell you this too) then having your coach write a LOR can help get you out of “purgatory”, as Coach Lindberg defined it, and encourage the college coaches to give you a second look. It might not make a difference but if there’s a chance it will, isn’t it worth the effort?

I would probably consider doing this if I were applying to an Ivy (or similar caliber school) and my application had a 50-50 chance of surviving on it’s own (meaning the coach’s support through admissions would probably give me a better shot at getting in than try to go at it alone). At the very least, it might take you from being the first one off the list to the last one back on it if your coach’s recommendation is strong enough to make the college coach reconsider and support your application through admissions.

Next week: The process of being recruited as a coxswain

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