Road to Ivy League

May 17, 2013 at 8:41 AM

With thanks to 2012 graduate, Max Lowndes

For any student, American or Kiwi, the opportunity to study at an Ivy League university could seem as unattainable as becoming an astronaut or stumbling across a flying pig. The Ivies are generally regarded as the cream of the crop of the American universities and the competition to get in is fierce. Typically only 6-10% of applicants are accepted.

Fortunately for me, varsity sport in the United States is a very important part of any university. Sporting events are big revenue generators and athletes are recruited from all over the world. The budget for the athletic departments is significant and, at most public universities, coaches can more or less override the admissions office to get players in.

The Ivy League schools are slightly different. Coaches still recruit for their team and they do have some influence on the admissions department. However, there is a ruling between those schools that the average GPA for a sports team must be within one standard deviation of the entire student body. For this reason, although the coach can strongly support an application, the athlete must still have a very good academic record.

The recruiting process is very long and stressful. For me, it started in August of my Year 13 when I sent my CV with all of my rowing statistics and achievements to the Head Rowing coaches at Princeton, Harvard and Brown Universities. After 4 months, 49 phone calls and 782 emails, I was offered an ‘Official Visit’ to all three. An ‘Official Visit’ is an all expense paid, 48 hour visit offered to those athletes on a coach’s short list. It is essentially a chance to experience student-athlete life at the university. Strict rules govern these visits. Coaches are not allowed to observe the recruits training, they are not allowed to give the recruits any gear or money and recruits are only allowed exactly 48 hours on campus.

For me, having the opportunity to see the schools was mind-blowing (and exhausting). I was flown out on the night of December 2nd, mid-way through the Leavers’ Dinner. 38 hours later, I was met at the Boston airport by the Harvard coach. I was paired up with one of the rowers and spent the following two days with him. I stayed in his dorm and ate meals with him and the rest of the team. He gave me a tour around the enormous campus and took me to classes. The general format of my visits to Brown and Princeton were pretty similar, however, I was at Princeton for the weekend, meaning I also got the opportunity to experience a college party!

All the schools had beautiful campuses with impressive facilities but each had a really tangible atmosphere and each student body had a very distinct culture. The faculty were among the best in their respective fields (a physics professor at Harvard was only teaching for four years, as he was in charge of a space probe mission for NASA and was waiting for the probe to reach its destination). I personally didn’t get a great vibe from Harvard during my visit, but at both Princeton and Brown I found an open, relaxed and fun atmosphere and an awesome training ethic among the guys in the team.

In the end, I could not choose between Princeton and Brown – academically Princeton was slightly more prestigious, however Brown had a much better crew team and their coach is regarded as one of the best in the US. In the end, my grades weren’t quite good enough to get into Princeton, but I did get into Brown, so my choice was made for me.

Seven and a half long months after first writing my rowing CV, I am now a member of Brown University Class of 2017, in Providence, Rhode Island. I start at the end of August.

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