Dollars and (Horse) Cents

It’s an exciting – and nerve-wracking! – time of year right now if you’re a high school senior.  It’s perhaps even more exciting and nerve-wracking if you’re the parent of a high school senior!  While fall is dedicated to the rush of essays, transcripts, and the dreaded college application, families tend to spend January through May 1 in a cycle of excitement (“Yay! I got in!”), disappointment (“Oh no, I’ve been denied!”), and panic (“How in the world will we ever pay for this?!”)

You've been admitted - now how will you pay for it?
You’ve been admitted – now how will you pay for it?

If you’re an equestrian, you’ve no doubt spent more than a few moments daydreaming about the college coach who walks up to you at a horse show, says, “I love the way you rode that course,” and offers you a full-ride scholarship to his or her institution.  You’re human, so that’s normal.  Unfortunately, because equestrian at the NCEA (NCAA) varsity level is an equivalency (not a head count) sport, the mathematical odds of that occurring aren’t in your favor (a la The Hunger Games).

(The difference between a head count sport and an equivalency sport?  Equivalency sports split scholarships into varying amounts to divide among a greater pool of athletes so long as the amount of money allotted is not surpassed.  There is also a maximum number of athletes per team (known as counters) who may receive scholarship aid.  Head count sports (think football, basketball, etc.) have scholarships that are absolute – this many scholarships can go to this many athletes.  Period.)

If you seek a place on an NCEA (NCAA) Division I equestrian team, you must be a female student (sorry, gentlemen) and there are a maximum of 15 equivalency scholarships per team available.  There are likewise 15 for NCAA Division II.  (For full details and a chart, visit this site.)  If you look at the roster for the Baylor Bears equestrian team (for example), they carry just over 70 riders this season.  With a tuition total of roughly $36, 402 for the year (not including on-campus housing, meals, and parking – another $23,000), if you spread the scholarship money around to even just 10 riders on the team, chances are it still won’t be enough to cover the full costs of any of the riders.

(For the record, I’m not picking on Baylor University here.  The numbers are just rough math to demonstrate the realities of athletic scholarships for riders.  Baylor is a private university so its costs tend to be higher than that of a public university.  The University of Georgia – a public institution – costs an out-of-state student approximately $25,370 to study, live, and eat on campus.  For an in-state student, it (of course) costs less.  Also for comparison, the UGA Bulldog equestrian team, like Baylor, carries just over 70 riders.)

So, if you won’t get a full riding scholarship, how will you pay for school?

  • Merit Scholarships:  If you’re a top student (or even in many cases just a strong one), many colleges will award you scholarship money based solely on your grades and/or test scores.  This includes schools that compete in the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association (IHSA) and a host of other intercollegiate equestrian activities (dressage, eventing, rodeo, etc.).  Sometimes you’ll need to write an additional essay to be considered and other times you might need to do a phone, Skype, or in-person interview or go to campus to take a required test.  Be sure to check with the admission office early in the application cycle to see what you’ll need to do to set yourself up to be considered, as deadlines for these often come up quickly!
  • Riding Scholarships:  Yes, even though the full-ride equestrian scholarship tends to be elusive, a host of equestrian programs in the U.S. award nominal (partial) equestrian scholarships for both riders and for students who have an interest in majoring in an equine-related program.  Sometimes the amounts are as low as $500 and other times they can go as high as $8,000 to $10,000 per year renewable!  Usually coaches will require video footage of you riding multiple horses and may require you to come to campus to ride for them in person if you wish to be considered, so be sure to reach out to coaches as soon as you move their schools onto your list for consideration so they can let you know exactly how their program awards money to riders.  (There’s also scholarship information available through the U.S. Equestrian Federation.)
  • Financial aid: Students and families who file the government’s Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and submit the form to the schools to which the student has been accepted will automatically be considered for aid through not only the government, but through the school itself.  Each school calculates aid differently based on their own individual costs for tuition and housing, so even if the government aid available to you seems limited, the school itself can use discretion to award grant aid if they see fit.  (Also important to note:  If you are considering any form of student loan, the government requires a FAFSA on file to award federal loan dollars, usually in the form of a Stafford Loan.  The interest rates on these loans tend to be far lower than those for private loans and there are also forgiveness programs in place for students in certain areas.)
  • External scholarships:  You know your hometown better than the financial aid officers at your first-choice school, so don’t overlook local and regional scholarships.  Check in your high school guidance office for lists of the local businesses and organizations that offer them.  And if you want to cast a wider net and search nationally, check out Zinch,, and Cappex for other opportunities.  Who knows?  You might even hit the scholarship jackpot!

Getting admitted to the school of your dreams can be hard enough, but figuring out how to pay for it all can sometimes be even more challenging.  The key to both is research, research, research and to leave no stone unturned along the way.  (And if you feel like you need support, don’t hesitate to contact me.)


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