Who’s driving the bus?

Last weekend, I rode in one of my regular clinics with Olympic dressage rider Michael Barisone, a topic about which I’ve blogged previously.  What I really enjoy about these clinics – aside from the wonderful riding tips I’m able to pick up and the progress that my gelding makes each time we attend – is that Michael’s vast experience as a horseman and his worldwide connections with some of the legendary horsemen (and women) of our time have given him a wealth of stories, training tips, and exercises he’s able to share with myself and my fellow riders.

Good advice - both in the saddle and in the college search!
Good advice – both in the saddle and in the college search!

But Michael is also very quick to point out that the riding lessons we take often also translate into life lessons – which I, as an independent educational consultant, also view as information that’s worth sharing with my students and clients because it’s so simple, straightforward, and applicable to the journey that students take while they’re searching for their right-fit college.

This week’s insight came halfway through my Sunday morning lesson with Michael as we worked on enhancing my horse’s adjustability in the collected canter – which only works when the horse stays forward and in front of the leg.  Michael told me, “It’s his job to let you drive the bus, not throw you under it.”

Humorous?  Sure.  But there’s also value in that simple statement.  If you’re a student, think about not your horse and your riding for a minute, but instead focus on your college search.  Whether you’re just starting out or you’re well underway, ask yourself:

Who’s driving my college search bus?  Is it me, my parents – or is some other factor at the wheel?

What do I mean by “driving the college search bus?”  I refer to the following ideas:

  • List your reasons for wanting to go to college.  Do you have a specific career field in mind that requires a degree?  Do you want to learn more about a particular (favorite) subject?  Or are you looking for a college because your classmates have started the search and it seems like “the thing to do” right now?  Be specific in your list of reasons – despite the all of the news stories on the topic, going to college is not for every student.
  • Examine the types of schools you’re putting on your list of possibilities.  Do you have a lot of big research schools on your list?  Or maybe you’re looking at a select list of Ivy League candidates.  Are you looking at only schools in your home state or are you looking farther afield?  Now think about why these schools are the ones you’re looking at – were they suggested to you by teachers, counselors, or family members?  Or did you start the search on your own and find these schools through research?  If you’re only looking at schools that have been provided by other people and you’re not doing any searching on your own, you’re not the one driving the bus right now.
  • Start thinking about campus visits.  Are you the one doing the research about visit opportunities at the schools on your list or are your parents dragging you all over the region to take tours?  And during the tours, are you asking questions of the guides, of the people conducting the information sessions, and of the other high school students who are on tour with you?  Or are you silently observing everything around you but allowing your parents to ask all of the questions?  Granted, parents always have questions of their own to ask and it’s important that they do so, but you’re hardly a player in your own search if you don’t find out the answers to the questions that are important to you.
  • If you’ll be a senior in the fall, it’s time to learn the application timeline.  As an educational consultant, part of my job is to work with students and families to walk through the preparation for completing applications and to supervise the application process itself.  (There are many steps involved so families like to have someone who has been through the process many times available to answer their questions.)  But the impetus behind completing the application itself shouldn’t come from me or from your parents; instead, it’s your responsibility to understand the deadlines that colleges set out for their applicants and to make a distinct effort to meet them.  If your parents and I are having to constantly nag you to get the applications done, we’re the ones in the driver’s seat.

    Students, it's time to sit in the driver's seat!
    Students, it’s time to sit in the driver’s seat!

I want to be clear that I encourage each and every student to identify their support system as they embark on the college search process (as I blogged about in last week’s entry).  But while those “cheerleaders” are important and valuable, it’s crucial that they are merely passengers on the bus and not the ones in the front making all of the decisions.  As I tell each of my students, at the end of the day, I already have two college degrees and don’t desire any more, so I won’t be enrolling at college with them – nor will their parents, teachers, or friends.  So while we can (and will!) offer advice, insight, and support along the way, we ultimately aren’t the ones who will be responsible for your success and happiness in college.  That comes down to you being the one at the wheel.

If you’re a student embarking on the college search, then, be sure to put on your driving cap and gloves and pull out your beaded seat cushion.  Start driving the bus toward your own future!  (And if you want me along for the ride, let me know.)

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