When it comes to your college application essay, you probably are not going to write about the three months you spent "finding yourself" in the Seychelles. The value of your spring break trip through Patagonia seems equally doubtful.
We're guessing you won't even be writing about the 107 cats you saved from that burning building last year.
Why? Because that is not your life. The military is. And you want to know how to use your military life experience in your college essay.
What to write for college essays?
For many prospective students, the essay required by colleges and graduate schools can be the most difficult part of the application process.
"I have no idea what to write about and these suggestions don't make any sense to me," said Rebecca, a college-bound Air Force spouse I met thumbing through essay help books at her local Barnes + Noble.
"If everyone else is writing about priceless, incredible adventures or their plans to free the world from AIDS by 2018, what would writing about military life add?"
We asked military spouses (including some former military brats) for their experience, and we found out that for many, writing about military life added a lot of heft to their application.
Rebecca was hesitant. "What am I supposed to do? Talk about the time I parked in the wrong parking spot? Or didn't know about colors? Or that PCS where everything broke?"
Maybe you are thinking about the deployment when everything went wrong: the washer broke the day he left, and your car died on the way to the hospital with you, in labor, inside it. Or maybe you will be writing about the challenges your family has faced with budget cuts, sequestration and looming layoffs. Perhaps you will even open up about PTSD.
But no matter what aspect of it you choose, leveraging military life in your college application can lift your application from the stacks of mundane, boring essays and bring it to the top.
Open up to stories about your real life
"I applied to a distance learning program at a Boston liberal arts college," says Bethanny, an Army wife. "Writing that application felt like the hardest thing I've done. But I'm pretty sure I was the only one who wrote about dealing with three girls, a PCS, and a husband facing PTSD."
The idea of opening up about her personal life frightened her, Bethanny admits, but her topic was open-ended: Tell us about a moment when you applied something you learned in school to a real-life event.
"I spent a lot of time thinking about that, and the first idea I thought of was persistence," she explains. "Yeah math is hard and you have to stick with it. But learning that in second grade, you don't realize you'll be using it one day in your own family."
This was an early lesson, but an invaluable one. Persistence has carried her through every challenge her family has faced, she said, and it's the hallmark of her experience as a military spouse.
"I try to tell my oldest girl that when teachers say "you'll use this later," it's not about actual fractions or multiplication tables. It's about what you're learning about yourself when you struggle with those."
Bethanny poured her heart out in her application, and when she was finished with her last draft, she knew she had successfully made her point.
"Military life is harder than anybody's summer internship at a hospital or your mission trip to Zambia," she says. "That's pretending to know real life. I'm living it."
Focus on a powerful story
That real-life experience is something that can help you stand head-and-shoulders above the other applicants. But to use it to your advantage, you have to make sure you focus your military experience into a powerful, personal story.
According to the experts, the best way to make your essay count is to focus it on personal experience, keep it unique, and use it as an opportunity to really express your own voice. It is your one chance to tell the admissions committee something about you they do not already know.
"View it as an opportunity," encourages the admissions team at Carleton College. "The essay is one of the few things that you've got complete control over in the application process, especially by the time you're in your senior year. You've already earned most of your grades; you've already made most of your impressions on teachers; and chances are, you've already found a set of activities you're interested in continuing. So when you write the essay, view it as something more than just a page to fill up with writing. View it as a chance to tell the admissions committee about who you are as a person."
Consider the joys and hardships of military life and how they have shaped the person you are today. Those are not things shared by every candidate in the admissions pool. What kind of experiences has the military granted you that no one else will have had?
"I knew living in Germany was unique, but I know plenty of other kids probably visited in high school on some expensive trip and would be writing about that," says Marine Corps wife Robin.
Robin is as military as it comes without putting on a uniform herself: She and her husband have been together for over a decade, and she grew up in the Marine Corps, too.
"I didn't attend a typical college after graduation because I got married so young," she said. "I did an associate's degree, and I didn't think I would ever need more schooling than that."
Now that she wants her bachelor's, she is excited about school, but the application process has made her more than a little nervous.
"The essay is really scary," she says.
Robin had a travel prompt: Talk about a trip you've taken and the impact it had on you.
"I was afraid if I wrote about military life, they would think it's boring. My mom encouraged me to do it. I think what makes my story so different is it isn't about just taking a trip, it is all about dealing with real life overseas. Not being able to work. Trying to make ends meet without my income. Figuring out I needed to do something for me like going back to school, and that it would help my family too."
Robin is right: Her essay is honest, personal and tells the reader about who she is as a person.
Sure, her story isn't unique in the military world. Plenty of spouses face these challenges every day and find their own solutions to them. But in a sea of admissions essays, her story does something powerful: It tells you more about who she is in two pages than the rest of her application could put together.
"You don't know I'm a military brat or a military wife. You just know I have a broken employment history and a community college degree," she says. "In my essay, I can tell you who I am. This is who I am, and a lot of it's military."
If you are trying to make your military life experience work in your college or graduate school essay, try following these simple do's and don'ts from military wives like yourself:
Do's and Don'ts From Military Wives
Talk honestly about the challenges of military life. -- Army wife Bethanny
Be open about adversity. Sometimes the hard stories are the best stories. -- Army wife Erin
Challenge assumptions about military life! -- Marine Corps wife Monica
Show who you are outside of your husband's job. -- Marine Corps wife Mary
Whine about how hard it is. You have to use a challenge to your advantage. If you are just whining, it should be an email to mom. -- Navy wife Rachel
Assume they know the lingo. They don't. Take the time to spell things like FRO out. -- Marine Corps wife Robin
Expect them to understand military life is hard. You have to tell them about it. If they aren't in the military world, they won't know. -- Navy wife Christine
Use your thesaurus the whole time! You are smart enough as you are. Use the words you really know. -- Marine Corps wife Barbie
If you have leveraged your military experience in your college essay, we want to know. Do you think it was an asset to your application? What did you write about?Show Full Article
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Only the few and the proud can be admitted into a United States Service Academy, and rightly so. It’s tough to get in and tough to make it through, but since the job after graduation requires people of great courage and determination, then the application process is a fitting place for you to start showing your mettle.
So, you think you want to be an officer in the Military? To do that, you can go to one of the 5 Federal US Service Academies, you can go to a military college or university, or you can go to a university that offers a ROTC Program. Begin to research these programs as soon as possible, because there are many things you need to do to become an Officer.
The Federal Service Academies include: United States Military Academy (often referred to as West Point), United States Naval Academy, United States Merchant Marine Academy, United States Air Force Academy, and United States Coast Guard Academy. The five Service Academies offer a free, top-notch college education to these men and women who dedicate their careers to serving our country, many of whom choose to major in some field of Engineering (yay Engineering!).This is a breakdown of what you need to do to get into one of the Academies.
1. Focus on your grades.
Just as an example, 90% of Cadets at West Point were in the top 20% of their class.Your GPA is really, really going to matter in this game, so do your very best starting freshman year of high school.
2. Open your (pre) Candidate Profile on each academy’s/school’s website.
This starts the process and is not optional, and it should simultaneously register you for the mailing lists so that you can stay informed about events near you.
3. Visit the campuses
Try to do an official, registered campus visit when at all possible so it goes on record that you were there. Some campuses may allow you to stay overnight and sit in on classes, or even meet someone in admissions. While you are there, be sure to take the tour and be on your absolute best behavior. Every interaction counts in admissions, and doubly so in the military.
4. Meet the Academy liaison in your area
Each geographic area of the US is assigned to a representative or liaison for each Academy, and you will need to meet and likely interview with this person. Prepare for and ace your interview with the liaison. Read current events before you go and practice what you might say. Be sure to show your desire to be in the military; have a ready, polished answer for why you want to join the Service. You should also attend the Academy events in your area (which are usually held in October and March).
5. Begin networking to get a nomination from a Senator, Congressman, or the Vice President of the USA
You will want to reach out to everyone you know to see if anyone can introduce you to one of these government officials, or even put in a good word for you. Every little bit helps, and be diligent about asking people. Start early. Network with both Senators and Congressmen because they can only offer 10 nominations each. Call their office and ask if they offer any events that you can attend, or if you can intern or volunteer there, or if you can just come and meet them sometime–anything. Always be amazingly polite. In the military, “Yes, Ma’am” and “Yes, Sir” go a long way.
In the Spring of your Junior year you will need to start the formal application process to receive the nomination. Contact the offices of these government officials to ask about the procedure–or better yet, check on the website first and then follow up with any questions via a call or scheduled visit. You do not need a nomination for the Coast Guard Academy. You should also see if you can claim residency in multiple districts (state and county, perhaps) as this would increase your chances of securing the nomination because you could ask multiple officials. You can apply for a nomination from these four sources: 2 Senators, 1 Congressman, or VP of US. Many of these officials make their decisions in the Fall as to whom they will write letters for, but you should start MUCH EARLIER with familiarizing yourself with the process and networking (networking means getting to know people who might someday be able to help you). The nominator will notify the Academy if you are selected, so there is nothing you need to do there. (Note: Each member of Congress can have only 5 people attending the Naval Academy at any time. Members can nominate 10 candidates for each vacancy so the Naval Academy can choose–OR they can nominate one principle nominee and 9 others as alternates).
6. Apply for summer leader seminars at the Academies in January of Junior year
These seminars, where offered, are solid introductions into what your life would be like at a Service Academy. The camps, like the Academies, are intense.
7. Line up 3 recommendations for your nomination during Junior year
Many Academies like one rec to be from your guidance counselor. Some Academies want a rec from your English, Math, Physics or Chemistry teacher. Check requirements and do your absolute best for all of your teachers.
8. Apply for your nomination (April)
A Senator or Congressman will typically request that you submit: an application, 3 rec letters, official transcript, SAT/ACT scores, resume, 250-500 word essay (usually on why you want to be in the military or what it means to you to serve), optional photo. They often request that you mail these in one envelope.
9. DoDMERB exams — Dept of Defense Medical Examination Review Board (pronounced: DAHD-merb)
You will need to pass a medical examination to demonstrate that you can physically handle the regimen of an Academy. The physician will often ask for previous medical records. You can do this in the Summer after Junior year.
10. APPLY EARLY even though admission is rolling
Some military applications open in April so you want to apply as early as you can; applications are date and time stamped when they arrive. (In the event that you may not be accepted, let them know you are interested in their prep school programs, where they may offer you a spot.)
What you need to apply:
Transcripts for all 6 semesters
Super-scored SAT/ACT tests (Average ACT: 26, Average SAT: 1260)
English, Math, Chem, and Physics teachers to do a School Official Evaluation in the summer
Candidate Personal Data Record
Candidate Statements (Essays).
You will receive one of the following responses:
An offered spot in the Academy
An offered spot in their prep school (for kids who fit what they are looking for, but need to improve their GPA)
If you don’t get in, RE-APPLY. Go to a civilian university and join ROTC, go to a military school, or go to a Post Graduate year to improve your GPA. DO NOT GIVE UP. Military personnel exhibit determination at all times. This is the first of many tests. Do NOT give up.
Use the CollegeMapper Military Timeline to stay on track with all your tasks.
There are many things that you can be doing to prepare yourself for the military and your application, as early as freshman year of high school:
- Volunteer: Start volunteering in your community or school as soon as possible and regularly.
- Be a leader: Join clubs and activities through your school or community to show your leadership skills, likely when you are an upperclassman.
- Be athletic: Earning a Varsity letter looks good for your commitment, and being in shape will help you pass the Fitness Assessment.
- Be prepared: Always know your high school rank, GPA and test scores so that you can set goals for yourself to improve.
- Do something leadership-related in the summertime: Try mentoring, coaching, tutoring, being a camp counselor, working, etc.
- Consider going to a military summer school prep program: These really help you understand what the military will be like.
Some summer camp options include:
Whatever grade you are in, there is something you can be doing now to prepare if attending a military school is your objective. You will need to be focused and set clear goals for yourself. Grades need to be a top priority, and you should take advantage of every opportunity to talk to Academy graduates and current members of the military. These schools are prestigious places to be, and if you gain admittance, you have every right to be very, very proud.
For more information login to CollegeMapper and take a look at our timeline for applying to military programs.Google+