I was recently accepted to transfer to Stanford University, but like many of you I come from a humble background: I grew up without much money, barely passed high school, and joined the Army Reserve because I wanted something more out of life. It was the best decision of my life, because those years in the Reserve and a deployment to Afghanistan turned me into a well-rounded, mature individual. I was different, light years away from those high school days when I could barely pass the standard. My story isn’t all that unique; the military experience generally makes everyone wiser – which is why many universities are looking to add Veterans to their student population.
In his blog post “Student Veterans: Don’t Set Your Sights Too Low,” former VA blogger Alex Horton addresses Veterans selling themselves short when it comes to higher education. Veterans sometimes label themselves “not smart enough“ or point to their high school record as an indicator for college success and don’t take credit for how much they’ve grown since high school.
On its admissions page, Stanford identifies Veterans as having “unique” experiences and says the school is looking for unique qualities. In other words, Stanford wants Veterans to be part of their diverse student population. Stanford isn’t the only school that gives Veterans a competitive advantage. Five other universities, of many, that have special websites for Veterans are UCLA, UC Berkley, Columbia University, Amherst University and Ohio State University.
You might think those schools are just giving lip service, but that’s far from the truth. In fact, there’s hard evidence that Veterans are very much in demand. Stanford’s transfer admission statistics over the last few years show that in 2012, 16 percent of incoming transfer students were Veterans. In 2011 it was 19 percent and in 2010, it was 10 percent. These numbers may actually be higher, as only combat Veterans were identified in the news release.
Just looking at 2010, considering that the number of Veterans who apply is probably much lower than 10 percent of all applicants, the odds increase dramatically for Veterans who are looking to transfer. This doesn’t mean being a Veteran automatically gets you admission, but it does get your foot in the door.
What is it that makes Veterans such competitive applicants to universities? Whether you’re a war Veteran with several deployments under your belt or just finishing initial entry training, you’ve probably got a story or two to tell. Maybe your story is about the time you discovered a hidden cache of explosive materials. Maybe your story is about how Skype saved your marriage during deployment. Regardless, you’ve got tales to tell that are far different than what most applicants offer. The fact that you’ve served is an achievement in itself that will stand out during the application process and your learned maturity is a big plus in the eyes of admissions staff.
Here are a few more reasons to apply to your dream university.
First, while top-notch universities are famous for their higher tuition rates, they also have more money to distribute for need-based financial aid. In my case, I’ll be paying much less at Stanford this year than my friends at local, public universities.
Second, you may be able to better relate to your peers. A common complaint among Veteran students is that our civilian peers are hard to relate with. I’m not saying you won’t experience this at a selective university, but you’ll be surrounded by students who also worked very hard just for admissions.
Third, the opportunities are better at these universities. One main reason I applied to Stanford was because of the ease with which undergraduates can conduct research. Many educational opportunities await at top-notch universities. Also, many selective institutions of higher learning purposefully seek to have a diverse student body. Within that setting, students from all over the world, who have their own unique history, will be studying with you, and you won’t feel so out of place.
And finally, networking. You never know; maybe you’ll meet a future president of the United States!
The bottom line: don’t limit yourself. Start your application process early and tap into your military connections for letters of recommendation. And if you get into your dream school, let other Veterans know about it and encourage them to do the same. The World War II Veterans returned home and changed America for the better. Now it’s our turn to shine.
Find information on your VA educational benefits here.