You’re a brainiac who aced the ASVAB. You could have attended college after high school, but for whatever reason, you didn’t. You might not have felt ready, or maybe you didn’t have the money. Either way, the military’s education benefits were a huge selling point – for later. Now you’re ready to separate and get into the school of your dreams.
You’d make a competitive candidate, right? Since joining, you’ve gotten boatloads of training and worked some pretty cool missions. And compared to other people your age, your life and leadership experience is hard to beat. But unfortunately, here are five reasons why enlisted veterans don’t get into top schools:
You didn’t think you could.
We’re social creatures by nature, and the things we think about, talk about, and do tend to fall in line with people we know and spend time with. If you don’t know anyone who’s gone to a top school and your friends aren’t planning to either, you might not even consider it. That doesn’t mean it’s not in the realm of the possible. Dream big – but have a backup plan!
If you start telling those around you that you’re thinking of applying to a top school, you’ll be surprised how many will be willing to help. Just remember that there will be naysayers too, some of them well-meaning, and others not.
Have you heard the story of the crabs in a bucket? As soon as a crab almost reaches freedom, one of the other crabs pulls him down. Basically, it’s the sentiment that “if I can’t have it, neither can you.” This manifests in different ways – from telling you that it’s a dumb idea to constantly reminding you of how much income you’ll give up by leaving. Recognize this for what it is and keep moving forward.
You didn’t start planning early enough.
It’s 3 months until your ETS and you’ve decided that now’s the time to use those GI Bill benefits. Unfortunately, this may not line up with the various admission rounds and application deadlines.
Top-tier programs often require tests, essays, and recommendations, all of which take time. Start researching a couple of years before your enlistment ends. Dig into the evaluation criteria used by the admissions office. If you’re weak in any of those areas, you’ll have a chance to steer yourself towards opportunities that will give you the experience you need.
You didn’t take advantage of helpful programs.
You’ll search the internet for just about anything – so try this: www.service2school.org. This non-profit was started by veterans to help veterans get into top schools.
After signing up, you’ll be paired with an “ambassador” who has actually walked the walk. He or she will help you navigate the application process from beginning to end. Along the way, you’ll get feedback on your essays, test prep advice, and more. And the best part? It’s completely free!
You can also reach out to veteran organizations on campus to ask questions and get more insight into the veteran experience there.
You didn’t think you could afford it.
The Post-9/11 GI Bill pays for all in-state tuition for public schools, but tops out at around $22,000 for private schools, so the public school is a better deal, right? Not necessarily.
Many private schools participate in the Yellow Ribbon program. The school kicks in additional money for tuition, which is then matched by the VA. Amounts vary, but these generous aid packages can mean that a fancy top-tier school will be just as affordable as a state school. Combined with the monthly housing allowance, you won’t live high on the hog but you can survive!
You didn’t apply.
In the end, you must apply to be considered. Yes, it can be overwhelming and time-consuming, but if you’ve done the prep, at least give it a chance to pay off! Set goals for yourself and plan just like you would for any mission.
Don’t be afraid of rejection, either. Even if it doesn’t work out the way you hoped, the self-reflection, interview practice and essay writing will leave you better prepared to achieve the future you desire.
Valerie Rivera left active duty as a Master Sergeant with 15 years of service in the Air Force to get her MBA at Stanford. She’d love to see more enlisted veterans at top schools. Feel free to connect with her on LinkedIn!