Don’t Let “Sticker Shock” Deter You From Considering Universities

Authored by Financial Aid Consultant Jill Stone. Jill has been working for the past 15 years to insure that student’s have affordable access to higher education. She has been a member of the financial aid staff at both the University of New Haven (where she also served as the institution’s Director of Veteran Student Services) and most recently Yale Law School.

The average undergraduate tuition at an Ivy League institution for the upcoming 2016-2017 academic year tops $42,500. Add in student fees and room and board and the average escalates to $64,594. Such a high price tag in and of itself might be a major deterrent in even considering submitting an admission application to those schools, but before making that decision, consider the following…
First, in evaluating the cost of an educational institution, don’t look at the pure “sticker price” of the tuition cost or the add-ins of fees, room and board. Examine instead the “net price”- what are student truly obligated to pay out of pocket after financial aid. It’s pretty easy to do – since (beginning in 2011) all schools administering federal aid must provide students with a “net price calculator” (traditionally on their website) to assist in calculating what an individual student might expect to receive in financial aid and, consequently, the balance for which they might be held responsible. Net price calculators simulate the types of questions the institution will ask and use in making financial aid determinations. And while all the calculators have major disclaimers (i.e. – a true aid award can only be made based on submission and review of the school’s actual aid application) the calculators can still give you a good idea of your bottom line costs. Make sure, when evaluating the net cost, you are also factoring in any GI Bill benefits to which you are entitled. Many of the online net price calculators may not make accommodations for that specific support. Ultimately a school, which on the surface appeared financially out of reach, may seem a lot more attainable when the “net cost” is revealed.
Second, remember the basic reality – many of those private, higher priced institutions are also the schools with the most robust endowments. Quite simply they have more donors (including alumni) who will support the institution by establishing scholarship funds. Those scholarships might be need-based or merit-based, but ultimately there will be many more scholarship opportunities at a private, highly selective university than other colleges and universities, so there is a greater chance overall of receiving support to reduce that net price.
Third, just like the sticker price on a new car, there is room to negotiate. After receiving an aid award from any school, you should never hesitate to contact the financial aid office to discuss the offer. Here are a couple of financial aid negotiation tips:
• It’s never the best approach to ask for more money just for the sake of receiving more money. Provide the financial aid officer with a clear rationale for your request by sharing as much information as you can about your unique financial situation and why the initial financial aid award creates a “net price” (yes, use that term!) difficult for you to manage.
• Be sure, in addition to talking dollars and cents, you also reiterate (over and over) your interest in the institution and sincere desire to attend so they understand if the award can be amended there is a very high probability you will attend. In other words, make it worth their while to work with you in the negotiation.
• Understand how your initial award was made and what methodology the Aid Office is using to calculate the award. You have a higher probability of receiving increased merit-based aid funds than need-based, since merit funds are awarded on a far more discretionary basis than need-based aid.
• And, if possible, find a way to make your pitch face-to-face with a member of the Financial Aid staff. The reality is it’s far easier for a staff member to say “no” when you are just a name on a paper than when you are sitting across the desk from them. Be aware many schools have a formal “appeal” process for their aid awards, and you should be careful to follow any instructions and file any paperwork required for their formal process. The Financial Aid Office should still be a priority stop in scheduling any campus visit. Establishing a personal contact and connection in that office could gain you a valuable ally in negotiating the aid award.
Finally, always (always) apply for financial aid. Many students assume, based on economic, family, or personal experience, they won’t qualify for aid; or perhaps they didn’t receive aid at a prior institution so they presuppose they will not qualify at another school. So going back to our highly selective, private cohort of schools – those institutions traditionally award “institutional aid” (from those healthy endowments) in addition to federal aid. As such, most have their own individualized methodologies to award their institutional funds, so you can’t make a blanket statement you won’t qualify when each school has its own policies and formula to determine how they distribute their funds. The only way an intimidating high sticker price will ever be reduced is if there is an aid award at play. If you don’t turn in a financial aid application, it will never happen, but if you do the price may come down significantly.

What are my odds applying to the top MBA programs?

One of the most frequent questions we get is: What are my “chances” at getting into that top school? In order to help our applicants gain a better picture of the MBA admissions landscape, we looked through our historical data to draw some rough conclusions about what applicants can expect when applying to various business schools. First, some caveats…

  1. There are lots of intangibles in MBA admissions. For example, different admissions offices value different traits and characteristics in their candidates and weigh certain data points differently. Getting admitted is not a pure numbers game. Rather, hard data points often reflect conditions that are requirements/prerequisites but are not, in and of themselves, sufficient for admission.
  2. The information below is not a complete picture of veteran applicants. In fact, it isn’t even a complete picture of the S2S veteran applicant pool. The charts below are based off of self-reported data taken from our 2015-2016 exit surveys (n=50) that represent a very broad cross-section of military applicants. Additionally, our applicant alumni pool is disproportionately made up of service academy graduates relative to various other commissioning sources and enlisted backgrounds. However, the sixth and seventh charts below provide some insight into how undergraduate pedigree can influence outcomes.
  3. When it comes to admissions, a double blind controlled study is virtually impossible. In other words, correlation does not and should not be taken to imply causation.
  4. When we denote M7 or T16 in the charts below they are defined as the following:

M7 = Harvard, Stanford, Penn (Wharton), Northwestern (Kellogg), Chicago (Booth), Columbia, and MIT (Sloan)

T16 (Poets and Quants Ranking) = M7+ UC-Berkeley (Haas), Dartmouth (Tuck), Yale SOM, Duke (Fuqua), Virginia (Darden), Michigan (Ross), UCLA (Anderson), Cornell (Johnson), New York (Stern)

Additionally, when we denote admits to T16 schools, it is specifically in reference to those applicants admitted to T16 schools but not admitted to M7 schools.

 

Now to the fun stuff…

TEST SCORES

Our data shows GMAT/GRE test scores are one of the best indicators of success. Even for military applicants, a high test score is important. This is a great example of a necessary but not sufficient condition. Many schools divide applications into “buckets” based on industry (i.e. consulting, banking, government, non-profit, etc). Tangibly, this means that, while your military experience and background make you unique as an applicant, you are effectively competing against other military applicants—in some cases, this bucket encompasses international military applicants as well. There is a popular notion amongst veterans their military background can help offset weaknesses in GMAT – while we don’t have sufficient data to prove or disprove this, we do see GMAT scores correlate strongly with veteran success. So, whether or not veterans have a lower GMAT bar to cross, they are still heavily evaluated on that metric relative to other veterans.

S2S has partnered with Veritas Prep and Manhattan Prep to provide S2S applicants with the best possible resources for attaining a high GMAT/GRE score at a significantly discounted price. Please contact your ambassador if you are interested in taking advantage of these resources.


MBA1

Below you’ll find the data broken down further by school by mean, median, and range (practicing those quant skills!). We found a couple interesting trends when we created the following model. First, at M7 + T16 schools, the discrepancy between S2S admits’ median vs. respective schools’ published is fairly minimal. However, outside of M7 +T16 schools, the difference between those two figures begins to diverge considerably. This is somewhat unexpected because for lower-tier schools with lower yield (i.e. the percentage of admits that end up matriculating), admit scores tend to be considerably higher than enrolled scores. Here we see the opposite. In other words, if the GMAT/GRE seems to be an impossible hurdle for you, schools just outside the T16 may be strong safety school options for veterans.


MBA2

UNDERGRAD GPA

Obviously, higher is better, and the data shows higher GPA scores are positively correlated with admission to target schools. However, the data surprisingly shows undergrad GPA, while important, does not immediately reduce an applicant’s odds of success as much as GMAT/GRE scores despite GPAs being relatively farther from the published incoming class medians, especially at M7 schools.


MBA3

 

UNDERGRAD INSTITUTION

No surprise here. While military applicants come from many different undergraduate institutions, those who come from service academies and top 50 schools (i.e. US News and World Report Top 50) fare much better (as a function of applicants within their pedigree cohort) at T-16 schools.


MBA4A

However, graduates from non-service academies and non-US top 50 schools who have strong GMAT and GPAs find as much success as their service academy and US top 50 counterparts.



 

UNDERGRADUATE CONCENTRATIONS

Finally, we see that undergraduate STEM majors fare slightly better than other majors, but that shouldn’t dictate what applicants major in if he/she is a veteran currently in undergrad. There are many factors we didn’t account for in this model. For example, it may not necessarily be the fact that STEM backgrounds influence higher rates of admissions, but it’s possible that STEM majors are more inclined to have stronger quantitative abilities and higher GMAT scores, which did in fact influence their admission decision. In short, correlation does not equal causation.


MBA5

 

AGE AT THE TIME OF APPLICATION

Age matters in MBA admissions. The median age of MBA classes is generally getting younger at most schools. However, S2S applicants find success despite being older than their civilian peers. Anecdotally, we’ve seen that this trend is even more pronounced if an applicant comes from an aviation or special operations background as admissions officers are generally aware of their career track and minimum service obligations.


MBA6

 

 

TARGETING TOP SCHOOLS

S2S applicants enjoyed remarkable success at M7 schools (40+% at Columbia, MIT, & Wharton to 50+% at Booth & Kellogg) in addition to T16 schools this past year. Keep in mind, this data set does not account for the assessed competitiveness of applicants. In other words, the data points don’t discriminate the finer details of an applicant’s admission/ding whether he/she had an 800 GMAT, 4.0 GPA, Ivy League/SOF background (i.e. highly competitive for M7) or a 500 GMAT, 2.0 GPA at an online non-accredited institution (not competitive for M7). Some non-competitive applicants applied to reach schools and got dinged while some highly competitive applicants applied to back up schools and got admitted. In short, the model below is a very broad snapshot of S2S success stories from this past year (when exit surveys were introduced).


MBA7

 

KEY TAKEAWAYS

Everyone’s story and application is different but we hope this has given you an idea of the landscape and the competitiveness of your application relative to other military applicants.

S2S is made up of awesome volunteer ambassadors who are eager to help fellow veterans get into the best school possible. There is no cost for our services. If you’d like to receive free application guidance and mentorship, please sign up here! We are here to help!

David Lee, Co-Director of MBA Operations, was commissioned through the NROTC program at the University of Michigan and graduated with degrees in Political Science and History. He was stationed in Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii with 1st Battalion, 12th Marines where he served as a platoon commander, the assistant operations officer, and the operations officer. David is currently serving with 3rd ANGLICO as a Firepower Control Team Leader and will be pursuing his MBA at the Stanford Graduate School of Business upon completion of his service.

A Singaporean native, Gary Ng came to the United States for his undergrad after serving two years of military service in his home country as a combat signaler. He received his M.B.A. from Chicago Booth and B.A. in mathematics and economics from Connecticut College, a small liberal arts college located right across the street from Coast Guard Academy. After brief stints at an investment bank and a management consulting firm, Gary ultimately decided his true passion lies in data analytics. He’s currently a Data Scientist at Rocketmiles, an online travel website that helps customers earn airline loyalty miles while booking hotels. 

Andrew Hanson: My Story…

I was going nowhere. At least, that is what some people thought.

Iraq1You see, I started out in high school as an honors student but ended as a dropout. I had made a detour from the path of a traditional student. This deviation from the plan did not happen overnight; it was the result of a series of bad decisions on my part and the lack of a stable environment at home.  This, of course, was not what I had envisioned for my life. It was, however, a much-needed reality check. I did not want to be another statistic. I did not want to be a failure. I knew I was capable of more. The Marine Corps would be my path to redemption.

TOW The military was always one of my interests as a kid and it remained an option for me, considering my circumstances. If I were going to join the military, however, I did not want just any branch of service. I wanted the most challenging experience available, and for me, this was the Marines. Since I was a high school dropout, my recruiter instructed me to complete my GED and fifteen units of college courses in order to enlist. I did just that: I moved out of the environment I was in, I completed the tasks he had given me, and I was on my way to becoming a Marine.

I gained a lot from my time in the Marine Corps. Boot camp was my cocoon, so to speak; it was the beginning of my transformation as I went in as one person and came out a new and improved version – a Marine. My time in the infantry furthered my development. Undeniably, joining a profession where people want to kill you and your job is to kill them first is a transformative experience for a young man. The Marine Corps taught me valuable life lessons about disciplineMarines1, courage, determination, and commitment. In order to succeed and, indeed, survive in the infantry, one must possess these qualities. After four years of service and two deployments, I have become the man I am today.

Towards the end of my service, I used these acquired attributes as I prepared for life as a civilian. My wife encouraged me to finish my education, so I began taking online courses. Surprisingly enough to me, I did very well. This gave me hope for life after the military. I decided I was going to get out and finish my education. Despite my recent success, I was still nervous about becoming a “classroom student” after such a long time away from the traditional school environment. In true Marine Corps spirit, however, I hit the ground running.

Social RecentAfter having been stationed in California for four years, my wife and I decided to remain there after I was discharged from active duty. I had thirty-three college units under my belt at the time, so I was not considered a freshman applicant. I was also unfamiliar with the higher education process beyond the online courses I took while on active duty. I enrolled at the local community college intending to obtain the sixty units required to transfer to one of the state universities. I was hesitant at first, but soon found I had a lot of potential – potential I intended to realize.

They say luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity. Well, I became very lucky. While at community college, I used the skills I gained in the Marines to apply to my studies. I worked the graveyard shift full-time as a security guard, I got involved in various extracurricular activities, and I even served on my community college district’s Board of Trustees. One day I received a letter from Columbia University’s School of General Studies about their transfer program. I knew Columbia University was a big deal, but I did not think places like Columbia took people like me – a high school drop out at a community college. After some research, I realized many of the schools I thought were out of my league did, in fact, accept transfer students from community college. With this knowledge, I cast a wider net when applying to four-year universities.

I applied to UC San Diego, UCLA, Berkeley, Stanford, and Harvard. This was before I knew about services like Service to School – but what I did know was that veterans are always willing to help our fellow brothers and sisters. As I did research about these universities, I came across a veterans group at Stanford. I sent them an email asking for information about the university. What I got in return was a support network willing to give me some of their time to help me succeed. Two veterans in particular were willing to speak with me on the phone and even help review my various essays – turning my military experience into marketable language. I truly think their help was a big factor in my getting accepted to Stanford. I have tried to pay that forward ever since.

Stanford GradThere was a strong military presence at Stanford. I had classes with both veterans and active duty members. I also had classes taught by military officers. My last year at Stanford, General Mattis actually became a fellow there. There was a vibrant ROTC program on campus as well. I became friends with some of the veterans at the law school, as that was my next goal. It was through these veterans I learned about Service to School. I volunteered my time as an Ambassador for a little while, and I’ve directed many veterans to the Service to School website. I continued to apply the work ethic I gained from the military and I did well at Stanford. As a result, I was able to get accepted to many great law schools. I have since joined Harvard Law School’s class of 2017.

There is a vibrant military community here at Harvard as well. We have many military themed events, social outings, and networking opportunities. It is a valuable support network to have. With one year left, I feel truly grateful to be where I am today. I am grateful for my time in the Marines, the brothers and sisters I have gained, and the help they have provided me with along this journey.

There was a time when a college degree was unfathomable for me – let alone degrees from Stanford and Harvard. Yet, here I am. What I hope that means, for any veterans and active duty members reading this, is that anything is possible. I wish there were more enlisted veterans in the ranks of Stanford and Harvard. Professional HeadshotSince those of us from the enlisted ranks do not have West Point or Annapolis in our backgrounds, we may think “elite” universities are out of our range. but I hope my experience illustrates they are not. In fact, I believe our life experiences make us desirable applicants who can enrich the student body and help us succeed in our own academic endeavors. I hope to see more veterans pursuing their education and not selling themselves short. If I had held onto the belief I did not “belong” at a great university – or any university for that matter – I would not have applied. I would not be where I am today, but, instead, I gave it a shot. I encourage you all to do the same, and I hope you make use of the natural support network we have in veterans on campus and groups like Service to School.

 

Q & A with Patricia Wei, Director of Admissions for Yale’s Eli Whitney Students Programs

Yale University was founded in 1701, and has been a center for academic excellence ever since. As a VetLink partner, Yale works with Service to School to identify competitive applicants. We interviewed Patricia Wei, Director of Admissions for Yale’s Eli Whitney Students Programs, so prospective veteran applicants know better what to expect from both the application process and life as a student at Yale.

Q1. What qualities do veterans possess which could make them a good fit as incoming students at Yale?

Yale welcomes applications from veterans. Veterans add much to the Yale community by providing perspectives that are often different than those of traditional undergraduates. Veterans’ life and professional experiences add to the intellectual discussions both inside and outside of the classroom. They tend to be self-motivated, resourceful, confident, intellectually curious and mature.

Q2. What can a veteran do to make his or her application more competitive?

If a veteran has not taken any academic classes recently, then I would strongly encourage them to take college courses at a local college before submitting their applications to Yale. They should take classes similar to the liberal arts and science courses offered at Yale, especially classes that would enhance their writing and quantitative skills. We do not recommend they take online classes as those are not transferable. Presenting strong recent academic credentials would enhance their chances of admission.

Q3. What would you say to a veteran who doesn’t feel he or she would be competitive at Yale?

If a veteran feels Yale is the right fit and he/she can show strong recent academic performance, then I would encourage the veteran to submit an application to Yale. That said, with an acceptance rate of below 10%, most applicants are not offered admission to Yale. If someone is not offered admission, it does not mean the Admissions Committee feels the student would not necessarily thrive on our campus. It simply reflects our extraordinarily deep applicant pool. I would encourage all prospective Yale students to apply to a range of colleges with different admissions selectivity, and not to just one or two schools. There isn’t just one college that would be the right match. We are blessed in this country with many wonderful institutions of higher education.

Q4. Once at Yale, does the university have additional resources for veterans?

I am thrilled Yale has recently announced the appointment of Jack Beecher, our first Veterans Liaison. Jack will serve as Yale’s central point of contact in supporting our faculty, students, staff and alumni who are military veterans.  Jack will assist our veterans in accessing services and resources both within and external to Yale.  He will work with various constituencies to develop and coordinate processes to enhance veterans’ experiences at Yale.

Currently all veterans who are undergraduates at Yale are enrolled in our Eli Whitney Students Program for nontraditional students. This is a very small program with only 25 students, and they receive excellent guidance and advice from their residential college deans and the Director of the EWSP. Our current veterans also serve as peer support for incoming veterans and for each other.

There is a VA Hospital in West Haven, only a few miles away from the Yale campus, and it is on the Yale shuttle bus route.

Yale participates in the Yellow Ribbon Program GI Education Enhancement Program.

There is also an active Yale Veteran’s Association on campus.

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Do you have questions about the admissions process and want to learn more about S2S VetLink?

Fill out our contact form below.

Q&A about S2S VetLink

Many college applicants are heaving sighs of relief. Most schools are beginning to review applications for  students who will begin classes this fall. For those applicants applying to schools with later deadlines, we still have time to help with your application.

The application process is daunting, but thousands make it through every year! Service to School (S2S) is here to help, with college guidance as well as our S2S VetLink Program. I interviewed Luke Sajer and Beth Morgan to find out more about the S2S VetLink Program.

Luke, who just finished applying to schools, is an SPC (Specialist) with the 75th Ranger Regiment. He is transitioning out of the Army and hopes to start college in Fall 2016. Beth Morgan is the Executive Director of Service to School, and provided additional advice for veterans considering applying for college  admission.

Q1: Applying to colleges is often perceived as a daunting task. Mr. Sajer, what was the most difficult part of starting the application process? How did you decide which schools to apply to?

Luke: Getting in the swing of producing formal writing pieces was the most difficult part of starting the application process.  I was shocked at how challenging it was to sit down and write essays that I felt would be competitive. I had to warm up for a month and then throw most of my work out before I could actually get started.

I decided that it was important to clearly define why I am leaving the service to go to college, what my goals are long term, and how my current value system should factor in.  I developed my list of priorities and criteria and started putting schools to the test.  I ended up gravitating towards larger, competitive schools in locations I would be willing to live in.

Q2: Ms. Morgan, how does Service to School help applicants begin the process and choose colleges to apply to?

Beth: Our job is to help the veterans and active duty service members get into the best possible college for them. Many times they come to the table with certain ideas of where they want to apply, and we help give them a sense of how competitive they are right now for those schools, and how to become more competitive for the future.

In addition, S2S Vetlink is a new initiative, just for our undergraduate applicants with specific highly selective schools: Yale University, Smith College, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Chicago, Cornell University, Notre Dame University, Princeton University and Williams College. We are helping them identify applicants who might be competitive and interested in those schools.  They also accept an addendum which showcases their military experience and is included in their application package.  Of course, we are still going to help all of our applicants if they want to pursue an undergraduate institution outside of this group of schools, along with those veterans who already hold undergraduate degrees and are interested in law degrees, business degrees, or other graduate programs.

Q3: Mr. Sajer, what was the most helpful thing S2S did during the application process?

Luke: I applied as a true freshman and found that all the applications were designed for and geared towards seniors in high school.  Unlike those HS seniors, I did not have easy access to my guidance department, teachers, or anyone else who had much experience in navigating the application sites as a true freshman-veteran.  S2S helped me by being my application guide from start to finish.  My ambassador, Mike Anderson, frequently checked in on me and helped me put the finishing touches on my essays.  Beth Morgan helped me see the application process all the way through and was there for me when my HS failed to send my documents to my colleges the first time around.

Q4: Mr. Sajer, what part of the application process was easier than you expected? Harder than you expected?

Luke: School selection was the easiest part for me.  I was looking forward to transitioning into higher education for a while and had already spent a lot of time developing my list.  See Q1 for the hardest part.

Q5: Ms. Morgan, what would you say to a veteran who does not believe he or she would be admitted to a top college or university?

Beth: They need to understand our S2S VetLink partners and other highly selective colleges/universities are interested in having them on their campuses.  If you are a qualified veteran, they are actively seeking and hoping to find you. Veteran applicants may certainly need to do some additional coursework, whether that be community college or another four year school, as they need to have a good academic record, but many of these schools even offer financial aid packages on top of the Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits which allow veterans an opportunity to attend, without ending up with significant debt. If someone believes these universities might be a good fit, they should apply. S2S can help guide them. Our goal is to inspire people to reach a little higher than they might have originally expected to achieve.

Q6: Mr. Sajer, is there anything you want veterans to know before they start applying for college?

Luke: I want veterans, especially those who find themselves applying as true freshmen, to make sure they stay on top of their admissions trackers once they’ve sorted out their applications.

I ran into some serious issues where my HS guidance department failed to send my documents due to some internal miscommunications and human error.  If I hadn’t been checking on my statuses and keeping track of the reasonable delivery timelines, I may have had incomplete applications across the board.  Because veteran packets may have contributions from multiple sources, it’s important to confirm the schools have everything they need.

Do you have questions about the admissions process and want to learn more about S2S VetLink? Fill out our contact form.

Veterans Day

Today is Veterans Day. Americans have commemorated variations of this holiday for nearly a century, dedicating our nation to the pursuit of peace and reaffirming our commitment to those who have sacrificed for our nation.

Long after the heroes’ parades are over and the yellow ribbons are put away, America’s veterans often face an uncertain future when they return home. Service to School hopes to change that by connecting members of our armed forces and veterans to the higher educational opportunities available to them.

We provide academic mentoring, standardized test preparation and networking with many of the country’s exemplary colleges and universities. We teach veterans how they can harness their unique experiences in our military when applying for and completing their higher education. We help give them the confidence to pursue their dreams – dreams to improve their lives and the lives of their families.

But, we can’t do this alone. We need your help. If you are looking for a special way to honor the enormous contributions our armed forces have made to keep us safe and free, please consider giving to Service to School. Your donation is tax deductible, and it will help our qualified veterans receive the education they deserve.

Please consider giving today. Click here to donate.

From Military to Medicine – Creating Your Narrative

By AJ Elumn

Are you a veteran interested in medicine and think that not having served in a healthcare-related MOS or rate works against you? I’m happy to tell you that you’re wrong! If you’re genuinely interested in medicine and can provide proof that you’ve tested this interest, your military experience will serve as an incredible asset for building your primary essay.

The first thing to think about is how to explain what drove you toward medicine. This explanation can be guided by a seed that was planted before you enlisted or commissioned, or could have developed by some of the things you’ve done or seen while serving. For the late bloomers (myself included), the drive toward medicine could have evolved from your experiences as an undergraduate student and volunteer, but retrospectively reinforced by your time in service. The point? It’s never too late, and with proper planning, an interest in medicine doesn’t have to seem too soon.

Note, however, that this isn’t a suggestion that veteran applicants are waived from obtaining healthcare experience. While medics and corpsmen will have a wealth of relevant experience to pull from, those of us who don’t are still able to gain this through entry-level jobs (medical assistant, EMT, scribing), shadowing physicians, and volunteering in in-patient or ER settings. In other words: you’re still going to need some combination of these experiences to verify your interests, and because you’re not precluded from getting them, you should get them. Don’t engage in these opportunities to check the box; do them because you earnestly want to feel out what direct patient interactions are like. Do them because you weren’t sure about medicine. Do them because you want to learn more about what you’re getting yourself into. Do them because you genuinely want to serve people – that’s a statement that ought to resonate with ANY veteran.

What about the military itself? Military experience is an excellent way to kick off a narrative of reinvention and maturity. For those of us who were academically diligent, you can focus on how well-rounded your education was and how you sought challenges reserved for our nation’s bravest and brightest. In either case, you’ll bring up the core values that have been integrated into your life and how you’ve been tested. What you won’t do is be apologetic for your service no matter your specialty – I don’t recommend bringing up what you believe are conflicts with medicine only to try to resolve them in paragraph form. Tell us instead about how the military helped create the individual you are today, and the physician you will be “tomorrow” (realistically, at least 7 years later!) because of it.

There’s a lot to say, and many ways to say it, when writing your primary essay. Here are some ideas for great starting material as you think about putting it together: What do your honors, awards, and decorations citations read? Where have you been and what missions have you been a part of? What ancillary duties did you accept in addition to your primary ones? How do your performance reports read? A successful veteran and serious medical school applicant will be able to build a strong narrative with military service as an asset to, if not the center of, the essay.

Lastly, every detail matters, but not every detail belongs on the essay. Use your essay to hook an interview invitation by including the most powerful and pertinent parts of your background, but consider saving the specifics for the interview. The same details that can obfuscate the message of your written essay might better serve you by instead allowing you to speak articulately about your military background.

Carry on!

AAR: A Pilot in Law School

As pilots, we often fly into airports surrounded by fog. In those situations, we make the decision to start our descent from 35,000 feet even though we don’t yet know if we’ll be able to land. The decision to land doesn’t come until 200 feet from the ground. Between 35,000 and 200 feet, even if we can’t see more than a foot in front of our face, we’ll continue the approach as long as our instrumentation tells us we’re still on track. If we stay on track all the way down to 200 feet, we then begin to look for visual cues. If those visual cues are in sight, we land. If not, we abort the approach and “go around.” Attempting to land while either off course or lacking the proper visual cues is the recipe for disaster.

How does this relate to S2S’s ability to help you through the law school application process?

1)   When did you make the decision to attend law school? At 35,000 ft or 200 ft?

The beginning-to-end process of applying to law school is very time consuming. I remember when I first registered for an account on LSAC thinking, “This is it. I’m actually doing it. I’m going to law school as the next chapter in my life.” The thing is, I was still at 35,000 feet in the process and was just starting to begin my descent. There is nothing wrong with the decision to begin the descent into law school, but it can be dangerous to make the full commitment to land when you still have a lot of unknown variables ahead of you that should be taken into account when deciding to attend law school

When I first contacted S2S, I approached them with a flawed mindset of needing to show a 100% commitment to the prospect of going to law school no matter what. Instead what they showed me was the importance of being committed to flying the proper approach (i.e., the application process), but that I didn’t need to make the decision to land (i.e., go to law school) until later. This input came from the standpoint of a fellow veteran who had been in my shoes and knew what it was like to make the decision to transition out of the military and being on a limited timeline in the desire to do so.

With that new mindset, I was able focus on the proper priority: developing the best application possible.

2)    How do you know if you’re flying “on track” to your intended law school(s)?

Pilots have aviation equipment that tells us if we’re on course or how to get back to course if we’re off. Does something similar exist in the law school application process? How do you know if your LSAT study methods are appropriate? Is the intended topic for your personal statement worthwhile? Who have you asked for personal statements?

Sure, you can buy books that provide excellent advice to set you along the right path, but you’ll get the same (and better) advice from S2S’s JD Guide. The real value of S2S during the application process is how your ambassador works with you 1-on-1 to ensure the advice in the S2S JD Application guide is applied to your application. That “live” feedback is what keeps you course.

When I first contacted S2S, my resume and personal statement were complete. At least that’s what I told myself. Looking back at the original resume compared to the one I eventually submitted…well, let’s just say it would have been embarrassing if I submitted the original. The amount of time my ambassador spent reviewing multiple version of my resume truly demonstrates the dedication you’ll find in S2S. The end product was a resume that accurately presented my Air Force career in a concise, logical manner that maximized the value of my experiences.

3)   Even after you’ve determined which law school is right for you, how will you know what visual cues to look for and determine if it’s time to land?

The answer depends on what visual cues you are looking for.  How did you determine which law schools to apply? Was it based solely on USNWR? What happened when you get multiple offers of acceptance? Do you have the ability to visit every single school? What information are you using to determine which school you will ultimately attend?

An advantage of S2S is the ability to put you in contact with fellow vets currently attending your desired schools. Within a week of telling my ambassador of my preferred schools, he was able to put me in contact with other vets. The unfiltered input I gathered during those conversations was priceless. They provided me the details I needed to determine which schools were right for me and which were not. It was candid information that you won’t find on forums or on the school’s website.

Bottom line: Service to School helped me reach my full potential. Even though I had already began my descent by the time I contacted S2S, they helped get me back on course and kept me there through the landing. They gave me the confidence to recognize that getting accepted into law school isn’t difficult. Getting into the right law school that allows me to attain my goals is where I needed to calibrate my focus. It wasn’t a question of if I could get into a law school, it was a matter of getting into the right law school.

Matthew “Ocho” Wilcoxen – After graduating from the United States Air Force Academy in 2002 with a degree in Astronautical Engineering, Matthew completed undergraduate pilot training with the Navy and Air Force. Having served as both a T-6 instructor pilot at Pensacola Naval Air Station, Florida, and a KC-10 combat schoolhouse instructor pilot at McGuire Air Force Base, New Jersey, he has amassed 3,100 flight hours on worldwide missions. Matthew has completed five combat deployments while flying over 900 combat hours in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Horn of Africa. He is pursuing law school at Washington University in St. Louis.

5 Resume Tips for Military Spouses

With the average military family moving approximately every 36 months, for spouses, managing a resume can be a difficult proposition. Military spouses bring a lot to the table, but how do we communicate that to potential employers or admissions committees?

1.  Make a master resume.

A master resume is a single document and organizational tool that serves as a source for the resume you will send to potential employers or schools. The trick to master resumes is to keep them up to date and to update information while your responsibilities and your organization’s contact information is still fresh in your mind. Making a note of each potential future recommender on your master resume and keeping in contact with them is also a good idea. A master resume makes constructing a tailor-made resume with relevant experience for each later submission much easier.

2.  Fill in employment gaps with volunteer work.

Be a joiner—admissions committees and employers want to see what you did with your time. Volunteer work is a great way to show your commitment to your community, your willingness to take initiative, and it can be extremely rewarding. Even better, if you have a passion but are not in a position to work in that field yet, volunteer work is way to show continuity of interest, gain relevance, and stay involved. Additionally, volunteering is a great way to network, which is a much more streamlined path to employment. Those with minimal work experience can emphasize volunteer work as a central part of a resume. If you’re already in a career track, a separate section is appropriate.

3.  Consider using a functional or combined format resume.

If you have gaps in your resume, using a chronological resume format can make those gaps stand out. Functional resumes allow you to highlight transferrable skills while deemphasizing gaps. Make sure that you include dates—you do not want to leave the impression that you have something to hide. Regardless of the format you choose, always submit it in PDF form to minimize formatting errors and, when you have the choice to upload a resume or fill in an online form, always fill in the form. The formatting of online forms is easier for potential employers to search and process, which increases your chances of having your resume read.

4.  Know your audience and don’t get stuck on rules.

Every resume you submit should be tailored to the recipient with only relevant experience or transferrable skills included. The resume you give to veterinary school admissions, for example, should highlight volunteer work at the local shelter as well as your great undergrad GPA and the office you held as president of the campus animal welfare league. This is obviously different than a resume you would submit to a potential employer at a PR firm. That employer will not be as impressed by your GPA as they are by the successful media campaign you spearheaded to raise funds for your local shelter. The general rule is stick to a one page resume unless you have a master’s level education or equivalent work experience, but getting stuck on rules can limit your ability to effectively tell your story. Make every entry thoughtful, purposeful, and true to the bigger theme you want to present and breaking those rules can be a calculated risk that pays off. Your resume is your story. How do you want to be read?

5.  Seek help.

It takes a village to raise a child and it takes a cadre of friends and relatives to craft a good resume. This is true for admissions essays as well. Edit, edit, edit and then ask trusted people to do the same. Seek those successful, smart people in your life and ask for help. Most successful people know that success isn’t a zero sum game and they want to you to do well. If this isn’t an option for you, use your available resources. Military OneSource, base transition assistance office (many offer resume writing classes!), or a hired resume expert are all options you should consider. You only get one shot to impress people so think of it as an investment in your future.

Lisa Rich, an S2S ambassador, is pursuing her master’s in Nurse Midwifery and Women’s Health at Yale School of Nursing. She is a mother of four and wife to a recently retired enlisted Marine. Lisa is a proud Tillman Military Scholar and she believes veterans and military families are uniquely poised to make a difference in the world. Following graduation she hopes to open a freestanding birth center serving at-risk populations and participate in international birth work.

New York Times Selects S2S Applicant’s Essay

Screen Shot 2015-05-22 at 11.20.53 AMWe are very excited to see that the New York Times has published the college application essay of one of our Service to School applicants, Robert Henderson, who is also an alum of our wonderful partner Warrior-Scholar Project. Rob worked with S2S ambassador Mike Anderson. Just crushing it.

You can read Rob’s essay here.

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