Like most educational consultants, I work with students who are willing to look farther afield for their prospective college than the local state university down the road. Typically that’s why their parents hire me – because they wish to conduct a more thorough school search than one that is merely geographic; they want to find the right school for their son or daughter regardless of physical location.
As the sole equestrian-focused educational consultant in the business, you can imagine that I also spend a lot of time examining the schools that offer various equestrian experiences for students – everything from majors and minors to varsity and club equestrian teams and horse boarding. This means that I spend a lot of time surfing school web sites to gather information (and refresh my memory when it comes to the many schools I’ve visited) and to grab quick web links I can send to students to help them speed their own examination and research process.
Along the way, I’ve learned something about how a lot of schools talk about their equestrian programs, facilities, and teams – and even more about how some don’t talk about them.
Note to schools – my students and I often have questions you don’t answer on your web sites. Here’s why:
There are many colleges and universities who are part of the fabric of intercollegiate equestrian sport in this country. They have long records of winning performances in competition – we’re talking national titles here – and boast impressive rosters of alumni. Their names are the ones that spring immediately to mind the moment anyone says the words “intercollegiate,” “equestrian,” and “team” in a united phrase. They are the ones instantly considered by any “serious rider” who wishes to compete at the college level.
And they know it.
That’s the message their web sites broadcast anyway. In a cyber “mic drop” of sorts, the web profiles of many of the top intercollegiate equestrian programs are minimalistic, featuring merely a list of their national championship appearances and titles, a roster of their current team members and coach profile, and a schedule with recent show results. A few also include basic equine facility information and some school horse biography (and donation) information.
I think they should say more.
Naturally I’m not disputing the strength of these teams because they do boast excellent records. I’m also acquainted with many of their coaches, who are among the best and most respected in the business (for good reason). But what I take issue with is the difficulty that a kid from the middle of nowhere in (let’s say) Oregon (no offense, Oregonians) has in researching an East Coast school. She wants more than just basic information about the equestrian programs of her prospective schools before she purchases a plane ticket – a completely reasonable request – and yet sixteen clicks into their equestrian team web sites and she’s wandering in circles with no answers to her questions in sight.
Can she ship her horse in and board it on campus? What amenities will that horse receive? Besides the coach, who else is on staff at the equestrian center? Are there assistant instructors that cover some lessons while the coach covers others? What equipment will she need to purchase or bring for herself and what will be provided? What’s the basic lesson schedule for team riders? How will she get to and from the barn if she doesn’t have a car?
The list goes on.
Now if that same student wants to know about the school’s biology or psychology major, she most likely can click over to the academic pages on the school’s web site and find out exactly what courses she’ll have to take in order to fulfill the graduation requirements for either. She’ll also find out who teaches them and what their areas of teaching and research expertise are. If she’s interested in music or theatre, chances are that audition information and performance schedules will be readily available. And when she wants to find out her eligibility for academic scholarships, financial aid, and how the school’s tuition payment plans work, she can find out with a few more clicks of the mouse. (To be fair, there are college web sites that are painful to navigate and either don’t post information where intuition tells visitors it should be or require an exasperating number of clicks to get to; thankfully these are in the minority, however.)
So what’s an equestrian (from Oregon or anywhere else) to do?
A few tips:
- Read what information you can and make a list of the questions you still have. This will form the foundation of information you still need to acquire, either through conversations with faculty/staff or perhaps later on if you make the trip to visit campus.
- …speaking of conversations with faculty and staff, fill out an admissions inquiry form online and an equestrian recruitment form as well. This lets the school know of your interest and puts you on their mailing list so they can send you additional information and hopefully provide some more answers to your questions.
- Do additional research on the academic programs the school offers and see if you can picture yourself fitting in to every other facet of campus life (not just equestrian). If you can, it’s safe to set up that campus visit and learn more about the equestrian program (and everything else!) in person. If you can’t – if the courses offered in your prospective major don’t fit your interests or you don’t think the student body is big/small/diverse enough, cross the school off your list and keep searching.
Above all, students, don’t rule a college’s equestrian program in or out based solely on what you see on their equestrian program web site, because a limited site is only offering you half (maybe even one third) of the information you actually need to make an informed decision about whether or not the school may be right for you. If a school has dropped the mic about their equestrian team online, it’s your job to pick it back up, hand it to them, and don’t let it drop again until all of your questions are answered.