Walk Your Course

I don’t know a single rider who competes over fences who doesn’t walk their course at least once before their class begins. Whether jumping in an arena or going cross-country, riders (and usually their trainers) take the time to plan their lines, strides, and angles to each fence on course, cementing a plan of attack in their minds so they can choose the best way to communicate the track to their mounts when it’s their turn in the order of go.

So you can imagine how absolutely baffled I am by these very same students when college application time rolls around and they dive in headfirst with no plan of any kind.

That’s right. We’re talking about the decision to pack up and move to the campus of an educational institution whose programs and people will determine the course of your entire future, an institution whose accounting office will charge you and your parents six figures worth of tuition and fees before you’re done, and you somehow don’t think that merits a tiny bit of research before you click “send” on your application?! Maybe even a cursory glance at their freshman class profile or the courses offered in the biology department?

As I said, readers: I’m baffled by this phenomena.

Let me provide a concrete example to demonstrate my point and help provide insight into the current world of college admissions:

A rider and high school senior (not a client of mine) recently applied to a college well-known for both its rigorous academic programs and its varsity riding team. She knew of the school because it’s relatively close to her home and she figured she would be an asset to their team but she had no contact with anyone who worked on campus prior to submitting her application – that is to say she never reached out to the riding coach, visited campus, or spoken with an admission representative. She might have been on their mailing list through another source (her PSAT, for example), but for all intents and purposes, her application was sent in cold.

Her high school transcript revealed to the admission counselor reading her file that her GPA and test scores were well below the college’s averages for incoming first-year students but the student indicated her strong horse show record in her application so the counselor reached out to the riding coach and asked, “Is Jane Doe a student you’re looking at for your team this fall?”

The coach scanned the recruiting list and said, “Never heard of her.”

The admission counselor said, “Her grades and scores are really too low to admit for fall.”

“Cut her loose then,” the coach said.

Two weeks after this conversation – right as the first round of deny letters were mailed by the admission office – the coach received a recruiting video of the rider, who proved to be extremely talented and might have been an asset to the team.

Now, I wasn’t part of the conversations or decision process involved in this situation, so I’m left in a position that is more armchair quarterback than anything else, but from my extensive experience in both college admissions and working with prospective college equestrians, I can tell you this fact readers:

This student went wrong right from the start.

Let me be clear: Without having seen this student’s transcript or the evaluation grid the school worked from in making their decision, I can’t say with any degree of certainty that making contact with the coach prior to submitting her application would have changed the final decision. If her grades and scores were as low as I was told, she most likely would have been a clear deny for them regardless of her athletic abilities, simply because no school wants to set students up to fail by admitting those who are truly unprepared for the rigors of their curriculum. Period.

But no one enjoys the sting of rejection either and this student could easily have taken several pre-emptive steps to avoid the outcome she received, including:

  • Reviewing the school’s freshman profile. Typically found on the admission office web page or on the “About” section of the college’s web site, this information reveals the average grades, test scores, and other pertinent academic and demographic information about the school’s current class of new students. Freshmen classes change from year-to-year, of course, so always take profile information with a grain of salt (and realize that averages are just that – averages), but it can help you see where you rank academically as you begin your school search and what each college looks for in their freshman students.
  • Reaching out to the riding coach. Coaches will never advocate for students they don’t know. Period. End of story. Whether the student is strong academically or weak, if the coach doesn’t know anything about him or her – their performance record, their grades, their future goals, and (most importantly) their attitude and how coach-able they are – they won’t give admissions a thumbs up or down if the student’s admission status is in question. They preserve their energy for the students they’re tracking through the enrollment cycle. And if you’re the student who’s perched on the line between admitted and denied (see Bullet #1), you really need the coach to know you so you have an extra advocate in that moment of doubt.
  • Forging a relationship with the admission office. Here’s the thing with admission offices: they love attention from students. In fact, they even go so far as to measure it. That’s right – they keep track of the number of contacts a student has with the school, through electronic communication, through campus visits, and through meetings with college officials off campus. (Social media contacts are harder to track so don’t rely on that to get your contact numbers up.) So if you’re a student who really wants to go to a particular school, it’s in your best interests to show those admission people some love – reach out, get to know which counselor works with students from your school or region, and ask them how you can gain your best chance of admission. They don’t really want to deny you so rest assured they’ll give you the best help they possibly can!

Again readers, please don’t think that I’m giving you a so-called magic key that will instantly open any and all doors to college admission happiness you wish; that isn’t my goal here. The takeaway I want you to possess instead is twofold: 1) the college admission process is exactly that – a process – and you need to commit to becoming as familiar with it as you are that course you walk before it’s your turn to go and 2) there are a variety of people who can help guide you along the way, from riding coaches to college admission counselors, school counselors, and educational consultants like myself. Rarely do students walk a course and plan their jumping route alone – why should you enter the college admission process without support?

(Need someone to walk the college admission course with you? Contact me or pick up a copy of my book today.)


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