A meaningful, holistic review of a service member or veteran applicant requires a good understanding of the applicant's service and what elements demonstrate the potential for success in the college environment.
For a traditional applicant who is a senior in high school, their high school academic record-- courses taken, grades earned, standardized test scores, and teacher recommendations-- provide a solid basis on which to make that judgment. For a service member who is completing a four-year enlistment though, relying on their high school record in the same way doesn't make sense. Their high school experience was as long in the past as middle school for a traditional applicant.
During the time that a service member or veteran spent in the military, they learned maturity, discipline, time management, and other skills that are crucial for success in college. They also learned skills that enabled them to perform in their military occupation and possibly pursued some academic training as well.
Consequently, it is helpful to take the approach to think about the time in service, which typically lasts four years, as an educational experience of its own. Taking this point of view will open up the opportunity to get a much more accurate picture of who the applicant is right now, as opposed to many years ago in high school, and so give a much truer view of their potential for success in college.
Determining how the service record speaks to the academic preparedness of a service member or veteran applicant can be tricky, especially when the high school or academic record raises some concerns. Application materials that are helpful in evaluating academic preparedness include a supplemental essay where the applicant reflects on their service and the motivation for applying to college at this time, a letter of recommendation from a commanding officer, a resume, a copy of the Joint Services Transcript, JST, and/or for a veteran, a copy of the Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty, the DD214.
The first three of these are pretty straightforward. A supplemental essay provides a writing sample, in addition to a clear sense of the applicant's reasons for applying to college. The letter of recommendation and the resume give some direct information about the character, background, and capability of the applicant.
The JST and the DD214 are more technical but can provide a wealth of information. The JST includes personal service member data, military course completions, military occupations with full descriptions and skill levels, college-level test scores, and other learning experiences. Let's look at a sample JST from a fictional applicant.
We first see the basic information that our applicant is a first sergeant and still in service. First sergeant is the top enlisted position in a company of 80 to 120 soldiers, which tells us right away that this applicant has been promoted to a position of significant leadership, and so might be somebody we want to admit. A little further down, we see that our applicant attained a public affairs officer qualification at the Defense Information School. This gives us confidence in this applicant's writing and communication skills.
Even further down, we see this, which tells us that the applicant has pursued regular educational opportunities during their time in service. The range of courses taken and the scores that this student earns is impressive. This is likely someone who will be motivated and successful at our college. There is more detailed information, sample JSTs, and credit recommendations at the American Council on Education, ACE, website.
The DD214 provides a lot of information about a veteran in a very condensed form. It is a crucial document for a veteran to have, as educational benefits are certified based on the DD214. The DD214 also gives an overview of the veteran's service record, including dates of service, primary specialty, decorations and citations, military education, and discharge status. Unfortunately, these are in a very condensed format that takes time to decipher.
Here is the military education information taken from a sample DD214. This may seem intimidating at first. However, with some research, we can see that this applicant completed the Advanced Leaders Course. This is offered to noncommissioned officers being considered for promotion. It speaks well for this applicant's potential in college.
To summarize, considering a college application from a service member or veteran requires a different approach than an application from a senior in high school. Thinking of the applicant's military service as an educational experience can provide a clear and holistic view of the applicant's potential for succeeding in college. Asking for specific materials to allow the applicant's record to speak to readiness for college will allow for a more informed decision. Evaluating these materials requires using our knowledge of military structure and culture.