Settling for Second?

I hate to finish second in horse shows.  Second is one place away from first.  Second comes accompanied by a red ribbon instead of a blue one (or, if you’re reserve champion instead of grand, the red/gold/white ribbon instead of the far superior blue/red/gold combination).  And second is usually a telltale sign to me that I made a mistake or I didn’t ride quite as well as I could have.

This is where I like to be at horse shows - in the front of the line with the blue ribbon. (That's me with my gelding Ricochet when we won the regional in 2009. Head of the class!)

But second isn’t always a bad thing.  Sometimes second can even be better than first.

Case in point:  This year’s annual report from UCLA’s Cooperative Institutional Research Program, The American Freshman: National Norms, revealed that, though 76 percent of this year’s college freshman were accepted into their first-choice institution, only 57.9 percent actually enrolled in that institution come the fall.  And while those numbers don’t seem too significant on their own, they actually represent the lowest first-choice enrollment figure since 1974 (which was the first time UCLA asked the question) – and it’s part of a declining trend that began way back in 2oo6.

Experts surveying the data attribute this finding to the economic realities of paying for a college education in the twenty-first century.  That is, students may be getting admitted to their first-choice colleges but they aren’t necessarily able to afford to go there (or aren’t receiving enough financial aid from the government and the school to make it feasible).  So instead, they’re attending their second (or maybe even third- or fourth-choice schools).

Unlike horse showing, however, that’s not a bad thing – and here’s why:

A student’s first-choice school earns that distinction for a myriad of reasons – most of which (in my experience) have a tendency to be more surface-focused that in-depth.  You’re looking for a “name” school, the opportunity to research with the noted Professor So-and-So, the chance to do homework on a scenic California beach, or even just because your neighbor/cousin/boyfriend/girlfriend goes there.  (Alternatively, as a rider, you may want to go there because you believe their equestrian team to be the best/their equestrian center is the coolest/your best friend from the barn rides there.)

Granted, there are other reasons that a school can be your first choice.  Maybe their psychology program is famous for its one hundred percent placement rate into nationally-recognized graduate programs and that’s your goal.  Maybe their riding team has consistently won national titles and you yearn for the experience of being a part of it.  Or perhaps both of your parents and half of your family went to a particular school and you feel as though you’ve grown up there so it seems like a natural extension of your educational journey to end up there.  But no matter what your reasoning, it doesn’t necessarily mean that First Choice University is the one and only school for you.  Second Choice University might turn out to be just fine on its own – and it might turn out to be even better than the first one.

Look at it this way:  If First Choice U costs $45,000 per year and offers you no financial aid, you and your parents will end up paying $180,000 (or more if tuition rises – which it normally does!) for four years of education.  Meanwhile, if Second Choice U costs $40,000 but offers you $10,000 per year in scholarship on top of that, you’re looking at $120,000 or so over four years.  That difference of $60,000 could be equivalent to your first year’s salary after school (depending on what career field you’re hoping to enter).

What’s more, no matter where you go to school, you’re going to go to classes in your subject area of interest, make friends, join clubs, and have all kinds of college-specific experiences.  (If you’re a dedicated rider, you’ll also find a way to make that a part of your life no matter where you end up.)  And if you do your homework, engage in campus life, and throw yourself into your college education with one hundred percent commitment, you’ll not only succeed but you’ll thrive – and at the end of four years, Second Choice University will no longer be your second choice; it will be your home.

(How do I know this to be true?  Remember I said that I hate to finish second at horse shows but that sometimes second can mean more than first?  I speak from the experience of enrolling at Second Choice U as a college freshman back in the 90s – the place I now lovingly refer to as my alma mater.)

Want help finding your first (and second!) choice schools?  Contact me – I’m happy to help!


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