I’ve written in the past about the many changes that often come down the path when it comes to college equestrian programs – namely, I outlined how intercollegiate team coaches often change programs or leave the intercollegiate realm altogether and how challenging that can be for first-year students who face not only the uncertainty of entering a new school and riding program, but who also have to do so without benefit of working with the coach who may have recruited them in the first place. But with all of the recent changes that have hit college equestrian programming in general over the last few weeks, it seemed apropos to touch on the larger subject of how to address your college search in the face of potential upheaval.
For those who haven’t followed the news, it was announced just prior to the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association (IHSA) National Championships that long-time equestrian powerhouse Virginia Intermont College would close its doors permanently this summer. Then, just after the Interscholastic Equestrian Association (IEA) hunt seat championship last week, Andrews Osborne Academy in Ohio, one of the top middle and high school riding programs in the nation, announced that they too would shutter their equestrian program and convert their riding facilities into general athletic facilities for the coming 2014-2015 school year.
Yet amidst the shock of those transitions, we were treated to good news about riding programs as well: Texas A&M University unveiled their new $32 million equine complex to the public, Ferrum College in Virginia announced that they had brought back their IHSA team after a 14 year hiatus, and two of the coaches I spoke with during my time at the College Preparatory Invitational Horse Show back in March outlined new and exciting additions to their existing programs that will be unveiled in the coming semesters. (Sorry, I’m sworn to secrecy on the details, readers, but trust me, they’re good.)
If you’re a student looking for a college home to call your own after high school, how do you know if the one you choose has the staying power you’ll need to help you achieve your dreams?
Quite simply, nothing in life is ever guaranteed. (Horses do a very good job of teaching us that lesson on a seemingly daily basis already.) But when it comes to putting yourself on the right college path, there are a few steps that you can take to assess the stability of your options. They include:
- Choosing a school that has the academic program that interests you and offers lots of options for you to change a major down the road should you find that your interests alter. Liberal arts colleges as a general rule offer a wealth of opportunities for academic exploration, but many of the larger research universities will also offer you the chance to try one path and then settle on another if necessary. Regardless of what type of college you enroll in, however, make sure that you have chosen it based on your educational needs as opposed to your equestrian dreams. Passionate riders will always find a way to pursue their sport while in school – even if it’s not part of an organized campus club or team – but the most important part of college is the education you receive. Choose based on that and you’ll be successful no matter what.
- Conducting in-depth research on your potential colleges. Colleges and college equestrian programs don’t suddenly fold up and disappear overnight; in fact, the decision to close a school or remove a program is usually one that is one or more years in the making and tends to be documented in a variety of print and online sources. If you have concerns about one of the schools or programs on your list, use resources like The Chronicle of Higher Education or Inside Higher Ed to see what they’re writing about those institutions. They’re the same resources that college counseling professionals use to stay updated on trends and current events and they can help inform your search as well. If you see that one of your potential schools has had recent difficulties, you can ask in-depth questions during your campus visits that can help you determine if perhaps it won’t be the right school for you.
- Applying only to schools that you actually can see yourself attending. It seems so simple to say, and yet each year, thousands of students take the time to apply to colleges they don’t even like if only to give themselves the advantage of a back up, a safety, or to see if a prestigious and highly-ranked school will admit them into a very narrow pool of freshman. But what happens if those schools are not the right fit? What if they don’t offer the right balance of programs or their financial aid awards won’t make tuition affordable? You need to give yourself plenty of viable college options for your post-high school education, which means limiting your applications to only those schools you will happily attend if given the opportunity. By doing so, you’ll have a variety of options to choose from as a freshman and later as a transfer if a programmatic change necessitates such a change for you.
If horses and the sport of riding have taught you anything by now, it should be that the rules of the game are sometimes known to change unexpectedly – and usually when it’s least convenient for you. (Think about the horse that inevitably goes lame the night before the big show.) Higher education is no different, but regardless of the school you choose, you’ll always find an outlet for your equestrian needs as long as you do the right kind of research beforehand and are truly passionate about your sport.
(And if you would like some professional guidance during your college search, please don’t hesitate to contact me. I’m happy to assist.)