In my book, Horses for Courses: The Definitive Guidebook for the Prospective College Equestrian, I talk about how searching for your right fit college is a lot like searching for your right fit horse. (I’ve also blogged previously on this topic.) As someone searching for a young prospect right now, my own advice is paying off – especially as I make sure to avoid the horse purchasing pitfall of falling in love at first sight. With horses – as with the college search – it’s usually not real love; instead, it’s most likely just a crush.
Wait a minute. What do love at first sight and crushes have to do with the college search?
If you’ve searched for a horse before, you understand the general process; you send feelers out to your network of trainers and horse-owning friends with a list of characteristics you want in a prospective mount. You spend hours (!) surfing the Internet for classified ads with links to YouTube videos so that you can assess horses from outside of your known circle as well. Certain types of horses inevitably catch your eye – “Ooh! He’s gray – I love gray!” or “Look at all that chrome – and look how tight her knees are over the fences!” Others get pushed aside for reasons both concrete (“I don’t have the time and patience for a three-year-old – I need something farther along”) and… well… decidedly less concrete (“I won’t even look at a chestnut mare; I don’t care how talented she is.”)
It’s the same when you set out on the search for your right fit college. Colorful brochures arrive in the mail (yes, even in the age of the Internet, schools still print them), you meet friendly admission representatives at college fairs and campus visits, and you surf the schools’ social media sites to see if their personalities match your own. It’s exciting and fun and when you find schools that really appeal to you, it can be easy to fall into the very same trap of love at first sight that you risk encountering in your horse shopping. With colleges, however, instead of remarking about competition records and physical attributes, it’s more like, “Look at their rankings in U.S. News! They have a Starbucks truck near the student union every day! It’s perfect!”
Mind you, there’s a chance that you really are a good judge of character and the school that you’ve developed a crush on is a terrific fit for you. Perhaps you set foot on the campus and instantly know without a doubt that this is where you’re supposed to be. Love at first sight happens between people, it happens between riders and horses, and it’s been known to happen to a few high school students on their search for a college.
Ninety-nine percent of the time, however, it’s just a crush, so unless your name is Katniss, the odds are not in your favor.
Here, in the slightly gritty “real world,” there are a lot more factors that need to be taken into consideration – namely, the possibility of there being many great matches out there for you. All too often, whether searching for horses or schools, we get caught up in the idea that there is “ONE PERFECT MATCH” and forget that there can be a lot of wonderful, viable paths we can take. We can also fall into the other the trap wherein we only see our beloved through a lens that makes them appear perfect and we forget to identify the inherent flaws that are a part of their make up as well. Neither horses nor colleges are perfect but if we fall into love at first sight with either one of them, we might forget that fact.
Does this mean I’m suggesting you should enter your college search with an eye toward identifying every single negative thing about the schools you receive mail from and the campuses you visit? No! But it does mean you’re going to have to use more brain and less heart when you decide which schools make the final list to which you will apply. Perhaps one campus is smaller than the others (both geographically and in the size of the student body), but it has a top level physics program with faculty members who really inspire you during your trip to campus. Can you live with a smaller school if you get to encounter that level of scientific excellence every day? Or perhaps one school is four hours from your home and you had hoped to be much closer to your family but the equestrian team has a top competition record and the coach has outlined some amazing opportunities for you that will begin right away in your freshman year. Is it worth the trade off to be farther from home?
Neither question has a ready answer and you could just as easily find yourself in a similar situation when it comes time to choose the horse you plan to purchase. Should you buy the upper level schoolmaster with clean x-rays who can teach you an immense amount during his remaining years of usefulness or take a chance on the younger, spunkier horse whose personality meshes so nicely with your own? There isn’t a right or wrong answer. The important thing is that you take the time and steps necessary to gather all of the pertinent information before you commit yourself – which means you can’t afford to be swayed by the influence of something as intangible as love (or a crush) at first sight.