Safety First

My mother was a pretty progressive lady during my childhood back in the 1980s.  (She’s still a pretty progressive lady, but that’s another story.)

What made my mother a woman ahead of her time back then, however, was her insistence that I be fitted with an ASTM/SEI approved riding helmet at the age of four (which was about the time that I started riding my pony on my own).  It was non-negotiable – and at that age, I didn’t argue – so it became an automatic part of my riding preparation.

Today, a parent making that decision is commonplace.  In fact, the decision to put kids in helmets for nearly every sport is the norm – from kids learning how to ride bikes in their own driveways to the ski helmet that has become standard attire on the slopes.  And since Courtney King-Dye had her 2010 riding accident, the discussion about wearing helmets when mounted (no matter what your riding discipline) has led to substantial rule changes – most notably from the USDF and USEF concerning the mandatory wearing of helmets during dressage competitions.

Britain's Charlotte Dujardin made Olympic history when she became the first dressage rider to win gold while wearing a riding helmet instead of the traditional top hat.  You can bet she was thinking about safety first!
Britain’s Charlotte Dujardin made Olympic history when she became the first dressage rider to win gold while wearing a riding helmet instead of the traditional top hat. You can bet she was thinking about safety first!

But this blog posting isn’t about helmets as much as it’s about the broader idea of safety – in particular in regards to the conversation that most college-seeking students dread having:  the one about making a list of safety schools to apply to in the fall.

You see, my mother’s motivation in making me wear a helmet as a child (a practice I continue to this day) was quite simply to make sure that when (not if) I made mistakes on horseback, I would be protected.  While having a safety school (or three!) on your college application list isn’t necessarily to protect you from mistakes per se, the idea of defining those schools is in itself a form of protection – it essentially guarantees that you will begin your college life somewhere (even if that school isn’t the one you had in mind originally).

Safety schools come in all shapes and sizes and a safety school for one student isn’t necessarily the appropriate safety school for another student.  Some of it pertains to grades and test scores and some of it comes down to finances and personal preferences – much like saying that you’ll purchase a Troxel or IRH helmet instead of a GPA or Charles Owen.  They’re all approved to protect you in a fall but they look different, fit different, and come with different options.

The most important thing to remember is that choosing safety schools for your college list is not setting you up for failure in the college application process – much the same way that wearing a riding helmet doesn’t guarantee that you’ll fall off!  Instead, it’s a way to give yourself lots of options for your college journey after high school graduation.

A safety school, then, is one that meets the following criteria for you:

  • Based on their admission trends for the past few years, your grades and test scores indicate that you stand a better than 90 percent chance of gaining admission.
  • The school offers the major (or majors) that you have the most interested in.
  • The school will be affordable for you and your family and will require minimal student loans.
  • It is a place where you will feel comfortable living and learning.

You’ll notice in the list above that the idea of affordability is in bold text; this is by design because often for high-achieving students with very strong transcripts, the “safety” component of a safety school has little to do with their academic abilities and far more to do with what they and their parents are able to afford for their education.  In other words:

Safety encompasses more than just one factor when considering what schools will be “safe” for you.

It’s also crucial for me to point out that a true safety school is one that you actually like.  You must visit the campus, sit in on classes, and research the different opportunities available at a safety school just as thoroughly as you investigate those at your dream and “reach” schools – perhaps even more so!  (After all, you wouldn’t purchase a new riding helmet without trying it on first, would you?)  That way, if your dream school falls through for one reason or another, you’ll know that the school you will enroll in is one that still offers the options you need for your college goals – maybe they’re just not as bright and shiny as the ones at the dream school.

For me, my dream college for undergraduate was the one I ended up attending – but the dream school I wanted to attend for my Master’s degree wound up being a poor fit financially and in terms of how I wanted to conduct my graduate experience, so I can speak from both sides of the safety school perspective and attest that both routes can still take you exactly where you want to go.

(But if you’re going on horseback, do me a favor and wear your helmet.  And if you need help adding safety schools to your list, contact me.)


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