High School Timeline—What You Need to do to Prep for College

By Terisé Cole

As if high school isn’t stressful enough, applying to college can seem like an intimidating task to upperclassmen. Tests, tours, and applications can feel like the last thing you want to think about on top of your current schoolwork and riding schedule. You can make the process a smooth one as long as you approach it correctly, so take a breath and follow our timeline to stay on track.

Fall/Winter of Junior Year

“How to start the search, where to start the search, and then doing the search.” These are the three things that Randi Heathman, founder of Equestrian College Advisor, finds most students struggle with, especially at the beginning of the college hunt. “I would say 99% of students don’t know where they need to start,” she says. Making a list of what you are looking for in a college will help you take the first step. Start off simple by considering things like location, size of school, and tuition price, and then go into more detail such as teams or clubs and atmosphere. Keep an open mind and remember that you may not find a school with all of these characteristics; they are made as guidelines.

Location is often a big player in the search process. Abby Brand, a freshman at Mount Ida College in Newton, MA, found that she had a hard time leaving home. “Deciding where I wanted to go to school was the hardest part of the college search for me. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go somewhere far away or if I wanted to stay closer to home. There were even days where I thought that maybe I should just go to a nearby community college and live at home.” If you think about it, your whole life is at home—your barn, your horses, your friends and family—everything. “I didn’t know if I was ready for such a big change, but now I am so glad that I went to school where I did.

Sometimes change is a good thing. Living at college gives you freedom and different responsibilities. These things help prepare you for your future,” says Brand. Compile a list of a few schools you love that cover most of your list, a few you like that may not match your requirements perfectly, and a few back up schools as a safety net. In the end you want to end up applying to around five or six colleges.

Spring of Junior Year

Time to take the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) and American College Testing (ACT). Some colleges don’t require these tests or only ask for one, but you don’t want to miss the test dates if they do. Most students choose to take the tests twice, once in the spring of junior year and again in the fall of senior year. “The SAT scores help with class placement and can sometimes help you get scholarships, so I would advise taking one and taking it seriously,” says Brand. Once you receive the test results you can begin applying to your colleges of choice and scholarship opportunities.

Summer/Fall of Senior Year

Take a look at the applications for the colleges you wish to apply to, think of your essay topics, update your resume, and make a list of references. “Although time consuming, the actual filling out of the application process is not too difficult. It’s a lot of information that you already know—your birthday, family information, education, etcetera,” says Brand. Heathman agrees, “The application process is pretty straight forward if students have done the search properly.” Most colleges let you apply online and some—more than 600—use The Common Application to make the process easier. You don’t want to find a school that you’re in love with only to find out you’re too late to apply, so watch those deadlines.

It’s time for college tours! Some students choose to do these before applying; it works either way. Keep an eye out for some of the things on your necessities list when touring the campus. Don’t be afraid to ask your tour guide questions. “Dig deeper,” Heathman advises. “Ask as many questions you need to ask of anyone on any part of campus until you feel that you have gotten the information that you need.” Use that information to compare schools and help you have an easier time selecting a school in the end, suggests Brand. “The most important part about the college search and application process is really weighing all of the pros and cons of each school you are interested in,” she says. “There are a lot of colleges and universities to choose from, and finding ‘the one’ can be a daunting task. Making a list of the things I liked and disliked about each of the schools I looked at helped me a lot when it was time to narrow down my choices.”

If you are interested in certain sports or clubs, specifically equestrian, Heathman suggests planning ahead with the director or coach to meet with them that same day and to know your stuff. “Make time to stop at the equestrian center on your campus visit and don’t be afraid to reach out to the coaches—any student that wants to be an intercollegiate athlete as a rider should prepare and know their riding resume, know the highlights of their riding career, have their trainer’s contact information, and be ready to present that verbally or on paper.” She also advises to stay in contact after your visit and follow through until you are accepted or declined. If there is no way to meet with the coach, Brand recommends checking their athletics website for a recruitment form that may direct you to a coach or captain.

Winter/Spring of Senior Year

This is when acceptance letters start arriving in the mail. Rip them open and find out your fate, but the process is not over yet—you still have to decide on what college you will attend. A college’s team can be something that easily sways a searching student. “Blue ribbons look great on your riding resume but not on your job resume,” warns Heathman. “Students forget that riding happens a few hours a day and maybe only a few days a week—everything else has to match. If you weren’t riding, would you still be happy at this school?” Heathman also cautions parents to keep the financial components in mind. “I think sometimes parents are too willing to say, ‘well my son or daughter loves this school, we are willing to go into X-amount of debt’ without thoroughly researching if there may have been another school that is just as good of a fit that is more affordable.”

Look back on all your research throughout the process to form a decision you are comfortable with—if it doesn’t feel right, chances are it isn’t the right fit for you. Brand agrees, “Mount Ida offered me the community environment I had been hoping for, along with one of the best vet tech programs in the country,” she says. “As soon as I found out that there was also an equestrian team, it seemed like an easy decision. Everything I wanted was right here.” Don’t forget to send written notice to all the colleges you got accepted to with your notice of acceptance or rejection.

The first step toward your degree is finished. Now you just have to pack up your life, kiss your parents goodbye, and pass all your classes for the next four years. Good luck!

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