By Brianne Goutal
Skipping college was never an option for me. My parents raised me to put a high value on education and intellectual matters, and I have always wanted to be challenged. I feel strongly that you never know what life will throw at you, so you should plan for the worst and hope for the best. College allowed me to do just that.
Deciding to go to school was the easy part, but picking where to go was another story. I narrowed my search to the East Coast to be close to the horse shows in the Northeast, since my time would be split almost 50/50 between studies and riding. I visited lots of great schools in the region – NYU, Princeton and more – but when I stepped on the Brown campus it was a done deal. The teachers, classes, curriculum – everything there felt right for me. On top of all that, traveling to horse shows would be made easy by a national airport 20 minutes from campus and an international airport just an hour away. So, I became a Brown Bear.
Since Brown boasts one of the best history departments in the US, I had intended to be a history major. Once school started, though, I became obsessed with my English courses and switched to an English major. Old English literature classes were my favorite, and I loved reading the classics such as Beowulf and The Odyssey. Because I didn’t have the fluid schedule of most of my classmates, I had to get creative with how and when I got all that reading done. I would do schoolwork while I was traveling – on a plane, on a train or in the car. And I got used to doing work at odd hours, often waking up at 5 a.m. to get homework done before going to the barn.
Showing while in college presents challenges, but can also be very rewarding. I competed on the Brown team during my first semester of school and then turned pro. With all the traveling and trips to the barn, I became adept at compartmentalizing different parts of my life as a way to help prioritize and make sure everything received its due attention.
Here are some tips that kept me sane while trying to balance showing and schoolwork. If you’re in a similar situation, maybe they will help you as well!
- Always be ahead of your work schedule. Make sure you know what you need to do and when it’s due. Last-minute surprises and cramming don’t work very well with a busy schedule.
- Before registering for classes, email the professors to see if their classes will work for you. Be sure to ask about the format of the class, i.e. grades based on essays, on tests, on weekly quizzes, etc., and what their attendance policy is. Be upfront that you will have to miss class for competitions, and make sure you will not be penalized.
- Build good relationships with your professors once you enroll in classes, and maintain an open dialogue. In my experience, they tend to be more lenient if they know that you value their classes and know why you are absent.
- Skip the meal plan. You probably won’t be on campus enough to make it worthwhile.
Missing so much school was hard sometimes. But I was lucky enough to find a great group of friends, and we made sure to make the most of the time we were together so that it didn’t matter how often I was gone. I always knew that when I was on campus, our friendship would pick up right where it left off. My fondest memories from school are of the dinner parties we used to throw, having 15 people over to share a great meal and lots of laughter.
College was one of the biggest challenges I have ever faced; yet it was also one of the most rewarding. I know that attending college is a daunting task for many riders, but I am living proof that it can be done. With a strong support team and a good work ethic, you can do anything. I can honestly say that I am both stronger and smarter as a college graduate, and I wouldn’t trade my experiences for anything.
About the writer: Brianne Goutal is a 2012 graduate of Brown University and professional show jumper. She made history by becoming the only person to win all four junior equitation finals.