The Pre-Purchase Exam

Regular readers of this blog have undoubtedly seen a lot of recent postings that compare a student’s college search to my recent (and continuing) search for a young dressage prospect to follow in the footsteps of my FEI horse.  In fact, you may be wondering if I’m ever going to run out of analogies.  (Perhaps you just wish I’d purchase a horse already and move on to other subjects!)  But the search for anything – a college education, a horse, a new home – anything requiring a significant commitment of both time and money is bound to be similar no matter what you’re purchasing.

Do your homework!
Do your homework!

So no, I’m not going to run out of analogies anytime soon.

This week’s topic is the pre-purchase exam.

Think about it:  Before you write a check to cover the cost of your new horse (or sign the loan paperwork at the bank if you’re shopping in the upper price range), don’t you want to know that you’re getting the absolute best and healthiest horse possible?  We’re talking about a new partner whose job it will be to carry you soundly and safely over fences, across the diagonal in a dressage arena, around the cones in a horsemanship pattern, or cross-country over jumps.  We’re talking about a new partner upon whom you (and your parents) are pinning a lot of hopes and dreams, a new partner you’re either already in love with (if so, see my previous horse shopping blog) or are sure to fall in love with over time.  This is a commitment that you’re making both financially and emotionally and you want to know as much about your new horse as you can before you get him or her home and begin forming your partnership.

Thus, the decision to schedule a pre-purchase examination with a trusted veterinarian seems the very least you can do to ensure that things start off on the right foot.

You wouldn't buy a horse without vetting it, so don't buy an education without doing the same.
You wouldn’t buy a horse without vetting it, so don’t buy an education without doing the same.

Remember also that it’s not only in your best interests as the buyer to request a pre-purchase examination, but it’s also in the best interests of the seller.  In particular, if he or she is a professional who sells a lot of horses in the course of running a business, the best way to secure a solid and trustworthy reputation among other professionals, amateurs, and junior riders is to conduct horse sales with complete transparency and honesty.  If the pre-purchase exam reveals some mild arthritic changes in a horse whom the seller has already told you is being managed for this, you’re going to be that much more confident that nothing has been kept from you and that your new horse has been fairly marketed.  It’s a win-win situation.

Pre-purchase exams can make or break a horse sale, so why wouldn’t you “vet” your potential dream school just as thoroughly?

Don’t you want to know as much as possible about the place you’re considering calling your home for the next four years?  Don’t you want to look past the surface and the glossy brochures and find out what the real high points are, as well as what the drawbacks will be?  And likewise, doesn’t it seem like it’s in the best interests of the college to let you examine every single facet of their academic, athletic, and social programming to determine whether or not they will be a good fit for you?  After all, happy alumni not only donate money, but they also send other prospective students to them!

So with that in mind, here are some of the methods you can use to vet a school:

  • Do an overnight visit or see campus on an evening or weekend.  Now, those who’ve worked with me for a while or have read any of my other writings on the topic know that I preach up and down that students are not to visit campuses on weekends or evenings because they won’t get a real glimpse of the day-to-day life of the school.  This bullet point is not a retraction of that declaration and I stand firmly by it.  (Don’t tour campuses on weekends, kids!)  Instead, this bullet is a refinement of that belief, which is to say that at no time should your first visit to a campus occur on a weekend or evening.  When you want to tour the campus, eat in the dining hall, and observe a classroom, you need to go on a weekday so that you see campus as it is the majority of the time.  As you approach your final decision as to where you will enroll, however, you need to go beyond those surface exercises – and that’s where the overnight, evening, and weekend visits come in.  Because you’ve seen a typical day on campus during a first or even second formal visit, the next logical step will be to see it on a day that isn’t at all typical.  Attend a major weekend sporting event or concert, go to a lecture or other academic program, spend the night with a student in the residence halls and see what happens when classes aren’t in session.  It’s no different than trying a horse once in his own familiar environment and then trying him again during a clinic or show situation to see how he’s different; in both cases, you’re looking below the surface to see if you still like what you discover there.
  • Spend time in the community outside of campus.  College students usually don’t spend all of their time on campus, especially as even the largest of campuses can begin to feel small when you’re spending your days going from your dorm to class to the dining hall and back again.  So what type of environment is the campus situated in?  Are they in the middle of a large city or tucked away at the edge of a small, rural town?  Is there convenient mass transit available to shuttle students around or are students responsible for finding their own transportation on and off campus?  Where do students do their shopping, eat, get haircuts, etc.?  What community-related activities does the college participate in – or are the campus and the community two completely separate entities who keep to themselves?  Remember, when you move onto a college campus, you also move to a new town or city – so it’s best to learn a little bit about it as soon as you can!
  • Look into alumni outcomes – and talk with some if you can!  Most career service offices maintain thorough records of where the graduates of the college are, as well as what the school’s placement rates are to both graduate programs and the work force.  That’s a good place to start, to be sure, but why not also see if there are any alumni of your prospective college who live and work near you?  Or perhaps there’s an alum who doesn’t live close by but who works in the exact career that you hope to have one day – is it possible for you to contact that person via email or by phone?  Ask questions not only about what he or she learned during college that got them into their current career, but also about the kinds of extracurricular activities that filled his or her time outside of class.  Was Greek life popular on campus?  Did the girls on the riding team spend a lot of time together outside of practice and competition?  What favorite stories or memory can the alum share with you about what made his or her time at the school special?  Can you picture yourself doing similar things and having similar experiences?

Just like an equine sales prospect, the type of vetting that you need to do on your potential college should be thorough and should leave you feeling like you don’t have any further questions that linger or give you doubts about the educational experience you’re about to have.  Will the unexpected undoubtedly occur along the way?  Absolutely!  (Who do you know who ever bought a horse that didn’t throw at least one wrench into the works?)  But if you do your pre-purchase homework properly, you will minimize the surprises and be better equipped to deal with the ones that do materialize so that you’re well on your way to forging a lasting and wonderful partnership with either your new school or your new horse.

(Need help finding potential schools to conduct a pre-purchase examination on?  Contact me or pick up a copy of my book.)


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