Interview with a College Admissions Officer


Information that comes directly from a first-hand source is always a tremendous asset. With that in mind, S2S contacted Yale University admissions officer and head of admissions for Yale’s Eli Whitney Non-Traditional Students program, Patricia Wei, hoping to gain further insight into college applications for veterans. Patricia was eager to help, despite being in the thick of undergrad admissions season and reading through a deluge of essays from some of the most promising high school seniors from across the country. For this, all of us at S2S would like to extend our deep gratitude and appreciation.

Interview Transcript

S2S: "A chief concern of many vets is that their less than stellar high school record will prove to be an obstacle when they decide to apply to college. How much will high school performance factor into a vet’s application and what can they do to overcome this?"

Patricia: "In college admissions, the most important factor an admissions committee looks for is evidence that an applicant will be able to do well in the school. Academics are very important for this, and not only veterans, but also non-traditional students in general, often do not have the best high school grades. It is recognized that veterans have developed in many positive ways through their time in service, which is looked upon very positively by an admissions committee. Nonetheless, strong academics remain crucial, and a poor high school performance record may be compensated for through scholastic success in rigorous community college courses relevant to the degree the veteran hopes to earn. Courses in specific fields such as criminal justice or accounting are typically not acceptable to demonstrate academic potential in this regard. In applying to selective schools, professional accomplishment is good, but will not be helpful without recent academic success. Do not forget the importance of academics."

[S2S Comment: What is meant by “relevant, rigorous” courses are courses in academic subjects that directly correlate with an intended field of study. They tend not to be pre-professional classes, which is why she gave examples from criminal justice and accounting as ones to avoid. Elite colleges tend to prefer courses from the humanities, hard sciences, or social sciences. If the intended major were English, writing, literature and other liberal arts courses would be most relevant. Similarly, biology majors should demonstrate strong performance in science and math courses.]

S2S: "Does it make a difference whether courses are taken online or in an actual school?"

Patricia: "Community colleges are fine, but Yale does not accept online courses. Classes can be taken at a 2 or 4-year public or private institution."

[S2S Comment: While Patricia can only speak for Yale, it would be best to assume that other four year universities have a similar position on online courses. In person community college classes should be your first choice.]

S2S: "Are the military experiences of the veteran relevant to an admissions committee? To what degree do they matter to universities?"

Patricia: "Veterans are important as they add diversity to the student body, and can add substantively to class discussions. At Yale, it is expected that veterans will share their experience with other students in and out of the classroom.

Regarding how Yale and other highly selective colleges evaluate military service, it is desired that non-traditional students have contributed substantially to whatever it is that they were doing outside of school, military or otherwise. One career field is not favored over another; what is looked for is that a candidate has made a demonstrated impact through their work."

S2S: "In your personal experience with veterans, what have veterans done to make the most significant impression on you during the admissions process?"

Patricia: "The military background of veterans is important, but so is their ability to demonstrate their own views and academic interests. They can embrace their military side while still demonstrating their individuality in other ways; admissions committees want to see what candidates are passionate and excited about. Veteran applicants should not be afraid to offer their own opinions in an interview. Be respectful, thoughtful, and know what you are talking about, which will demonstrate that you can contribute to classroom discussions. Good college interviews often involve a respectful back and forth discussion that demonstrates intellectual depth and curiosity beyond what grades and test scores can indicate.

It’s also important to remember that the most successful college students know when to ask for help, and student veterans need to be willing to do the same. It’s my understanding that many military training courses are designed to test a soldier’s endurance and dedication under trying circumstances. This is a great characteristic for veterans to have, but they should also be cognizant of its limits. If a veteran is struggling in a particular course, it is important that they not only stick to it, but that they seek out the help they need to overcome their difficulty. Professors, teaching assistants, and campus tutoring services are all there to help students, and veterans must be willing to use them when needed if they want to succeed in college."

S2S: "Is there any final advice you could share with veterans concerning succeeding in college?"

Patricia: "In terms of applying to highly selective schools, an applicant must focus on their academic performance. Academic achievement in courses which are relevant to the degree program being applied to is crucial, so if an applicant hopes to transfer from another institution their former coursework must be germane to what they will study at their new institution. Career success is a definite positive in the eyes of an admissions committee, but it will not negate the need for demonstrated academic success.

Candidates need to think about their own goals, strengths, weaknesses, and the type of environment for which they are best suited, then research different schools and programs to see what they offer. Do some soul searching, be sure of whom you are, and then find the school that is right for you."