Often when I first meet parents and students who seek my help in the college search and admission process, I’m met with the question of whether a particular school will “overlook” a student’s academic shortcomings (a low GPA or a low test score perhaps) provided that student is a very talented rider and will be an asset to their prospective alma mater’s equestrian team.
I’m always slightly reticent to directly answer this question – for many reasons. Namely, it would be impossible for me to answer for every student and every coach in every situation. There will always be exceptions to every rule and there will always be coaches who want to win so badly that yes, they will overlook poor grades and scores and will go to bat with their university’s admission office to help a student without tremendous academic credentials gain acceptance. Other coaches from other (more traditional) collegiate athletic areas already do this sort of thing, so why would equestrian coaches be any different?
That said, however, the majority of college equestrian coaches that I know (and I get to know more and more of them every year that I’m in practice) want good riders on their teams who are also “A” students.
- They’re organized. If a student comes out of high school with a solid GPA (a 4.0 or higher is fantastic, but even a student at 3.5 or above has academic credentials that many consider to be solid), those numbers tell a coach that the student has been able to balance their time in the saddle with time spent doing homework and gaining an understanding of the material presented by their high school teachers. Certainly they may have written a lot of papers from laptop computers in hotel rooms across the country as they traveled to shows and they may have scribbled down math formulas and calculations in the passenger seat of their mother or father’s car on the way to and from their riding lessons each day, but they used their time efficiently and prioritized their time wisely. Moreover, having already developed these skills in high school, these students are more than likely going to continue the trend at the collegiate level (when they’ll still be writing papers from hotel rooms while traveling with the team and scratching off math answers on the bus on their way to and from meets), which means less worries for the coach that someone will become academically ineligible and unable to ride at a crucial moment.
- They’re motivated. It isn’t just the ability to manage their time successfully that causes “A” students to squeeze their homework hours in between their riding commitments, but also a desire to succeed, no matter what obstacles may crop up along the way. It’s that motivation that coaches so covet in their team members because it drives them to put in the necessary time and sweat to not only improve their riding, but for the good of the team as a whole. The majority of IHSA team riders not only compete during their college years, but are also responsible for organizing and running their own home meets. That structure often means very early mornings and very late nights, both during the week and on weekends, and coaches need to know that they have members of their team who are going to show up and accomplish the tasks set forth for them no matter what. “A” students typically want to succeed at all costs so coaches with “A” students on their teams know they have a driven group on their hands.
- They’re marketable. Any college team – regardless of sport – is constantly recruiting new members. They have to – a collegiate athlete’s career can only last for four years so coaches need to have a never-ending pipeline of new student talent who are being looked at and recruited to fill the empty spaces that appear each May after graduation. In the equestrian world, because there are limited scholarships for riders, coaches who seek new talent for their teams have to rely on the strong academic programs at their schools, as well as their team make up and the riding opportunities available to their students in order to entice prospective collegiate equestrians to apply and enroll. In order to do so, they often use their current students as examples, touting their academic and equestrian records in advertisements, web site promotions, and brochures – and more often than not, the students they choose to profile are their “A” students: “Want to be pre-med and ride on the equestrian team? Easy! Want to write a thesis on Shakespeare’s female characters and their influence on the modern romantic comedy? Sounds like something a current rider is doing!” A team full of “A” student riders is more likely to recruit more “A” student riders – which is one more reason for coaches to like “A” students.
Now, as I said at the beginning, there are no hard and fast rules about the recruiting strategies of equestrian team coaches – just like there aren’t any hard and fast rules about college admissions in general. There is a school for every B and C student in this country and there are equestrian teams who will provide B and C students plenty of opportunities to ride as well. There are also students who come out of high school with Bs and Cs on their transcripts who become “A” students at the college level and there are students who face learning challenges or test anxieties that prevent them from showing their full academic and college potential on paper when they enter the undergraduate admission process.
The main point I want to make here is that being a good student is far more advantageous to students in the college admission process than athletic ability – a fact that is especially true for students who hope to participate on an intercollegiate equestrian team during their four years of college. So hit the books and then hit the saddle, students – it will pay far larger dividends in the long run! (And if you need help in your college search, contact me.)