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What Colleges Look For In Prospective Student Veterans

You knew what your military superiors wanted & expected of you, but you are now faced with the question, ‘What do admissions counselors look for and want from you?’ Here’s how to go into the admissions process with a clear strategy and end goal in sight as a military affiliated student.

Applying to college as a military veteran

Approach the college application process like you would any opportunity in the military. Get to know who is making the decision, have a conversation with them, and make sure they remember you for the right reasons.

Once you have researched your ideal college or university and have spoken to admissions counselors, you’re ready to begin the application process. But, how do you appropriately highlight your experiences in the military to them? How will your time in service translate onto a college campus?

Let’s first discuss what institutions are looking for in prospective students and how you can use that framework to your advantage.

What colleges look for in prospective students

  • Leadership
  • A willingness to take risks
  • Initiative
  • A sense of social responsibility
  • A commitment to service

According to the dean of Admissions at The University of Tulsa, the above six points are the best indicators of what students will bring onto campus. Uniqueness within these areas and characteristics is what is going to make you stand out to the admissions panel.    

The 6 characteristics demonstrated through military experiences

  • Leadership — In the military you were most likely appointed to lead a project or a mission. However small or big that leadership position was it doesn’t negate the fact that you were the leader. Take this opportunity to expand on that particular situation and how you see your learned leadership skills will transfer into your campus life.
  • A willingness to take risks — Putting yourself in harms way voluntarily is a huge risk you took when you signed up for the military. The tricky part about this is that life on campus is not life or death. How can your risks in the military translate into calculated risks on campus? Will you start the campus’s first ever Veterans club with the knowledge that it could flop? 
  • Initiative — When have you taken initiative and what was the outcome? 
  • A sense of social responsibility — Do you feel you have an obligation to act for the benefit of society at large? Is that why you went into the military? Where did your sense of social responsibility sprout from?
  • A commitment to service — You’ve got this one covered. Why did you choose to go into military service? How else have you applied service in your life? What does serving others mean to you?


Make sure to articulate in your application what you’ve learned from your experience while serving our country.” — UC Berkeley Veteran Site

“What is it that makes you unique, and how will you contribute to the life of our campus?” 

How will you contribute to campus?

College campuses try to be all that you need. However, they also want to make sure that you are what they need. Institutions want well-rounded, dynamic students who will make a difference on campus. So, go ahead… start brainstorming. How are you going to contribute to your campus?

A game-changing tip for veterans applying to college:

It’s really difficult (or so I think) to write about oneself and toot your own horn. So let someone else do it! Put careful thought into a mentor or superior you have worked with closely and who can speak about you on different levels. Ask if they would be willing to write a recommendation letter on your behalf and submit it along with your application. You don’t have loads of recent grade reports to speak for you if you just got out of the military. Instead, you have real life experiences and relationships with people who can speak about your past.


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