The Ivy League, the NCEA, and Selectivity

I don’t mean to confuse readers with the title of this week’s blog entry. During my time at the Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA) conference in Los Angeles last month, I realized that there’s a correlation between selection for an NCEA riding team and selection for the first-year class of an Ivy League university – both of which come down to an issue that’s much-discussed in all circles of higher education these days:


I’ve been thinking about selectivity a lot lately and while in LA, the opportunity to hear keynote addresses from admission deans at schools like Claremont Makenna (2017 admit rate: 10.4% of 6,300 applicants) and Stanford University (2017 admit rate: 4.29% of 47,000 applicants) increased these thoughts until I reached my ultimate conclusion, which is this: Despite the inroads to accessibility we’ve seen in recent years, in many ways, the most selective colleges have become still more selective and not necessarily less so.

Ditto the NCEA.

Whereas in its early days, riders selected for (what were then labeled) NCAA equestrian teams were still the elite of their graduating classes and disciplines, we were more likely to see diversity in their ranks – a dressage rider selected for a hunt seat team in order to use her skills in the flat test, for example, or a rider who could crossover between the hunt seat and western disciplines, thereby increasing her recruiting value to a coach.

Not anymore.

Today’s NCEA coaches are looking at increasingly higher levels of horse shows every year in order to increase the talent base of their teams. Forget just using the ASPCA Maclay for hunt seat riders (though that’s still a favorite recruiting venue) – now students who have completed show jumping tours of Europe aren’t out of the question anymore. And even though roster numbers have grown (Texas A&M this year is carrying a total roster of 51 riders and Georgia has an impressive 64), the resumes of the riders selected for those teams each year have likewise broadened and deepened.

Please know, readers, that this is by no means an attempt to disparage either the NCEA or the Ivy League. Both are highly revered for a reason. I’m likewise not saying that determined, hard-working students from all backgrounds aren’t making it past the gatekeepers and having wonderful, life-changing experiences in both of these realms.

What I am saying, however, is that just because something looks approachable doesn’t mean it actually is approachable. Both the Ivy League and the NCEA have their pick of whomever they want each year because they’re so widely known and revered – thereby increasing the level of selectivity they’re able to exercise.

And the reason I’m talking about this issue today is because my job – my singular role – as an educational consultant is to help my students achieve their dreams. It’s a role I take very seriously. But in order to achieve those dreams, it’s vital that my students know what their dreams are and why. They also need to understand that sometimes dreams and reality come into direct conflict with each other.

If a student doesn’t have the academic background to get into Harvard or Yale or Stanford, it would be completely and utterly unethical for me to foster a dream that will only be crushed with a rejection letter from an unapologetic dean – especially if I know of six or eight other wonderful colleges where the student will not only be accepted, but will likewise thrive academically, athletically, and socially. That’s my job. Likewise if a student doesn’t have the riding experience or abilities to secure even a walk-on spot on an NCEA team should not be discouraged so much as encouraged to examine the other viable (and wonderful!) options are out there to find the right team home for the next four years – that’s also my job.

It’s very often challenging and uncomfortable to have these types of honest conversation both with students and with their parents, but I’ve said before and I maintain that I’m a tough love kind of counselor. Not everyone wants that sort of guidance through the college search and some families are willing to chance the extremely selective institutions and their stringent admission policies in the hope that luck will win out over data in the end.

Me? I’m a data girl all the way and 4.29% is too selective a percentage for me to leave merely to chance.

At the end of the day (or admission cycle), every student deserves the chance to pursue his or her dreams to the fullest, but also must realize that it’s okay if the first dream must be scrapped in favor of a new one should the odds not be in his or her favor. Selectivity can be exercised on both sides of the college admission equation and it’s my job to show students how.

(Want me to show you how selectivity works? Contact me or pick up a copy of my book to guide your search.)


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