The application process that our prospective students follow is familiar to most of us. Applicants complete an application, perhaps the Common App and pay an application fee. They submit scores from standardized tests, high school transcript, an essay, and recommendations from a high school counselor and one or more teachers.
Pause for a moment and think about this process from the veteran perspective. High school was a long time ago, and I didn't do all that well some might say. Are my teachers still working at the school and even if they are, will they be willing to write a recommendation for me?
Will they even remember who I am? Since I didn't plan to go to college right away, I never took the SAT or ACT. I haven't been in school in years, so I'm sure that I would do terribly on them if I took them now. Because of this many veterans may choose not to apply, even if they are more than qualified to be admitted.
The Common App itself may pose some obstacles, here are three potential issues. Take a look at this question. This could signal to a service member or veteran that only applicants from an elite high school are welcome to apply.
The only mention of veteran status in the Common App is in the optional section, where applicants are asked about religious preference and race and ethnic information. This may signal that veteran status is not a particularly important part of an applicant's profile.
The section on extracurricular activities and work experience could be a great place for service members and veterans to show off their military experience. However, the nature of the instructions make it difficult to see a four year enlistment as appropriate for this section.
For example, how can a veteran characterize their military service as occurring during the school year or during summer school break? Even though there is a specific box to indicate that the experience occurred after high school graduation, the remaining questions in the way that they are worded are clearly aimed at high school students.
It should be noted that the Common App is not biased against veterans. In fact, they recognize that military service is one path to higher education, and have a section on their website to help service members and veterans navigate the Common App in a way that highlights the value of their military experience.
Nonetheless, we can see how a potential veteran applicant might feel as though the Common App is really for an 18-year-old high school senior and not a 24-year-old veteran. Here are a few suggestions to ensure that your institution's application process is equitable and inclusive of service members and veterans. Make veterans prominent on your admission website.
Ideally, there will be a clear link for service members and veterans near the top of the admission home page, immediately signaling that their applications are desired. Make sure there's information on the website to help guide them through the application process, and best represent their full experience from high school through their military service and beyond in their application.
Make sure that applicants are encouraged to follow up in person, or by email, or telephone with any questions, giving specific names and contact information for key admissions personnel, the Certifying Official and any other relevant parties on campus.
Consider adopting policies that show that the institution is veteran friendly. For example, the institution could offer an application fee waiver to all service member and veteran applicants. Service members and veterans who are applying can be encouraged to submit their joint services transcript with their applications.
Veterans can also be encouraged to submit their DD 214. Make sure that there are clear instructions on how to submit these materials. Finally, service member and veteran applicants should be offered the opportunity to write about their military or veteran experience for their personal essay. Or they could be offered the opportunity to submit their story in a supplemental essay.
Provide training for admission staff on service member and veteran applicants. All staff should be knowledgeable about the questions that service member and veteran applicants will typically ask and know where to direct more technical questions, including those on VA educational benefits which would typically go to the Certifying Official.
To summarize, our institutions can be more veteran friendly by making sure that the admission process is inclusive of the service member and veteran applicant experience. We should provide the opportunity for service members and veterans to fully demonstrate the value of their military experience. And that the student veteran experience is included prominently on the admission website and other materials.
We should ensure that our staff members are knowledgeable and provide assistance to applicants along the way. Take a careful look at your institution's materials and practices. Identify where they could be more service member, veteran applicant friendly. And develop and implement strategies for improvement.