It’s that magical time of year when the flowers bloom, the horses shed, and the school year comes to an end. Seniors graduate and become college freshman, juniors become seniors, and the educational circle of life renews itself once more.
For many underclass students and their parents, spring is also the time of year when they first begin to think about the college search that lies ahead. Many contact an independent educational consultant like myself or one of my colleagues to gain additional guidance and support along the way, and one of the first questions we’re often asked is, “When is the right time to really begin looking at schools?”
Naturally, the answer varies from case to case, but if you’re an equestrian, the picture can become further complicated by your sport. You see, the college admissions process is made up of a series of hard and fast deadlines that you must navigate in order to successfully gain entrance to the school of your choosing. Likewise, the competitive horse show circuit has its own deadlines, requirements, and timelines that must be followed – and most of them fall in direct conflict with college admission tasks.
Are you a competitive equestrian with lofty end-of-season goals? Better start your college search early so that you can be the one in charge – instead of the other way around!
If you stop and think about it, you’ll quickly realize that many of the biggest equestrian events of the year take place between the months of September and November. The United States Dressage Federation holds its regional and national championships during those months; the Maclay finals are held in early November; the All-American Quarter Horse Congress spans the month of October; and the United States Eventing Association holds their American Eventing Championships at the end of September. Meanwhile, early acceptance and early decision deadlines for many colleges tend to fall between October 1 and December 15 each year.
What’s a goal-oriented equestrian to do?
Achieving success at the Maclay finals or Quarter Horse Congress or even at your local horse show circuit’s end of the year championships are goals that don’t happen without a lot of planning and preparation. You need to make sure that you and your horse do all of the things necessary to compete against your peers, so you listen to your trainer’s instructions, compete in the right events so that you can acquire the right amount of experience – as well as enough points – to take the next step, and you put all of your mental energy into preparing for that One Big Ride when you finally make it to the finals.
College preparation is exactly the same way. It isn’t something you just decide to do one day; instead, it’s a conscious decision that you make to doing a little bit every day over a long period of time to make sure that you understand what schools are available for you, what opportunities they offer, what they cost, and what your life will be like if you enroll as a student. If you know that your junior and senior years of high school are going to be consumed with your riding goals and the pursuit of some big championships, the college process is something you’re going to want to enter in advance of your peers. It doesn’t have to be a formal entry with all-day campus visits, classroom observation sessions, and hour-long meetings with riding coaches and other faculty and staff in your areas of interest. Instead, it can be as simple as getting your name onto the mailing lists of schools that sound interesting to you, visiting their school web sites, examining their social media offerings, and getting a feel for the overall culture on campus. If you decide you like what you see, the spring of your sophomore year is plenty early to make a campus visit in person.
If you get on top of your college research early in the game, you’ll also be a lot more prepared during the spring of your junior year and the summer between junior and senior years to get a jump on requesting teacher applications and writing admission essays. Many college application forms – including the Common Application – become available as early as August 1, so a well-organized student can (in theory) get the majority of their application process done in the short lull between qualification season and the championships. (Those who are still chasing points in August should take heart in knowing that the essays can be the hardest part of the whole process, so as long as you have a handle on those by August 1, it’s quite possible to finish your applications while you’re out and about to shows.)
Achieving goals doesn’t come without planning, whether you’re working with your horse or planning for life after high school. And also as with horses, make sure that when fall of senior year rolls around, you’re the one in charge of steering and not the other way around!
(Need guidance to help kick off your search? Contact me.)