Pitfalls of Following the Crowd

With the holidays behind us and the New Year well underway, the new cycle has begun. (“What cycle is that, Randi?” you ask.) It’s the cycle of new students – high school sophomores and juniors – who find their way into my practice. These are the students with whom I will spend the next year and a half to two years helping through what is arguably one of the most stress-inducing times in their young lives.

(Championship horse shows have nothing on the college search process when it comes to teen stress, people.)

Lately, however, said stress has presented itself in a different form than I’ve seen previously; instead of the usual “I have no clue what I want to do when I grow up – how can I possibly select a college?” and “I don’t know if I’m good enough to ride in college – will I even make the team?!” anxieties, I’ve had a lot more conversations with students who are ready to divert their current riding and academic paths at the drop of a hat as a means by which to gain admission to college and/or placement onto a team.

The conversations have gone something like this:

“I love to event, but I’ll never make a college team as an eventer – I should buy an equitation horse and chase the Maclay, right?”

“Coaches want to see riders who can ride all different types of horses so we’re leaving the barn we’ve had a great experience at for the barn two hours away where we know zero people but there are more horses. That’s going to help us out, right?”

“Art is my passion but I’ll never get a job doing that; I’m doubling down on biology and chemistry next year.”

Forgive me for saying so, but let’s hold our horses for a moment, shall we?

When I was in high school back in the Dark Ages (!), every single adult in my life, from teachers to trainers to parents, told me not to go along with what everyone else was doing just for the sake of being part of the crowd. It was the old analogy of “If everyone else jumped off a cliff, would you do it to?” (Sorry for inducing a groan there, parents – I know that chestnut has been handed down for generations and it’s really showing its wear and tear.)

Still, I can’t believe that even in this age of social media, anti-bullying campaigns, and even the return of the Chuck Taylor that those who mentor teenagers aren’t continuing to pass along the exact same advice: “Don’t follow the group; forge your own path.” “It’s okay to be different.” “Every piece of popcorn is different – you should be the same.”

And guess what, kids? The same rules that apply to navigating the social waters of high school also apply to the college search process.

I won’t get into too many specifics here, but suffice to say, that if you’re planning to change fundamental parts of yourself (your riding discipline and/or goals, your favorite subject in school, etc.) as a means by which to gain admission to a particular college or “set yourself up” to gain a place on a well-known equestrian team, you’re essentially planning to begin your entire college career – the years that have the potential to be some of the most formative of your entire life – on a lie. Are you lying to the schools? Perhaps – but the lies in your carefully-crafted application or the sudden shift on your well-planned activities resume aren’t half as dangerous to your future as the ones you tell yourself as you shift paths to make yourself more admissable or give yourself an edge or whatever it is you think you’re doing by ignoring the things that currently work for you in favor of things that work for other people.

(And didn’t your teachers and I just finish explaining that it’s okay for you not to be like other people?)

College is the time when you discover not only the path you want to take for your working life, but for your life life as well, students. And if anyone is going to be in charge of determining what that path will look like – whether it’s well-trod and many people have followed it before you or whether you hack a brand new trail into the collegiate wilderness – it really should be you. Moreover, the right college for whichever experience you choose to have is out there – it might not be one you’ve ever heard of before, it might not be on your college list right now, but it’s out there and it’s educating students and it has a desk waiting for you.

You just need to be open to finding it – which won’t happen if you start changing things now. So be you, students, and things will turn out just fine.

(Need help navigating the path? Contact me or pick up a copy of my book to help guide your search.)

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