When I was a kid, Harvard always seemed almost mythical. It was a place for geniuses and prodigies, the children of foreign dignitaries and heirs to vast fortunes. You hear about it in movies and TV shows where the “Harvard” name is used to invoke wide-eyed wonder. Simply put, I didn’t think I belonged at a place like Harvard. Had I not experienced it for myself, I would have never believed that I could one day be a Harvard student.
While I had collegiate ambitions before my time in the United States Army, they did not include Ivy League colleges. I thought an applicant like myself (3.35 High School GPA and a 32 ACT) didn’t belong at Harvard and it wasn’t worth the effort of applying. In fact, I would never have applied had it not been for my Service To School Ambassador. He pushed me to dream bigger, expressing a belief in me for which I am grateful to this day.
As I sat in my barracks room preparing to write my admissions essays, I found myself a bit lost. I didn’t know what to say, so I wrote about what I knew. I told my story through my Common Application essay. I introduced myself to the various admissions boards and explained what I had done over the last three and half years. I wasn’t the average applicant and I was no longer the person who graduated from high school.
It was in writing my essays that I realized what I had to offer Harvard and other schools. I offer a unique perspective due to my time in the Army, due to my experiences and the knowledge I gained. My experience in the Army helped make me who I am today: I am more disciplined and mature. I have a better grasp on who I am and what I want. I am more knowledgeable, but also know my limits and when to ask for help. It was with this realization that I approached my essays and admissions interviews.
With my Common Application essay complete, I moved on to the Harvard-specific one. While Harvard provided numerous prompts, I chose to use one of my own to better tell my story. It is at this point that I would recommend veteran applicants share their own unique experiences. Every essay is read by admissions officers and it plays a crucial part in how they make their decisions. Yet, I would worry less about writing the best essay and more about sharing who you are.
My application was now complete, and I had double checked everything twice. However, I was still hesitant about clicking “Submit.” I already pictured the rejection letter and wanted to save myself from the disappointment. Thankfully, I ended up submitting my application, knowing that I had given it my best shot.
A few days later, I heard from my Harvard alumni interviewer, and we scheduled a time to review my application. Though I was a bit nervous, I knew that all I had to do was be myself and everything would be okay. His first few questions were standard interview fare, but after a few minutes the conversation evolved into a back and forth as we talked about my background, Harvard, career goals, and more. Occasionally, he’d interject a specific question, but my nervousness proved unnecessary. I left feeling good about the interview and content that all I had to do was wait for a decision in March.
However, that was not the case. A month later I received a phone call from the Harvard Admissions Office asking if I would come up to Boston for a series of conversations/interviews with members of the admissions team. Of course, I said yes, and two days later I found myself sitting in my car nervously watching the clock as it ticked closer to my appointment time. Once again, I didn’t need to be nervous since the three admissions officers I spoke with were friendly and genuinely wanted to learn more about me. There was no barrage of questions or board of inquiry, simply three 1-on-1 conversations with members of the admissions team. While there were some interview-style questions, they mostly wanted a better understanding of my background in the military and my thoughts concerning my role in the Harvard community. I left the admissions office with greater anticipation than ever for their decision.
Luckily, I did not have to wait long. In the first week of March I received an email from the Harvard Admissions Office inviting me to Harvard College. I remember telling my parents that I had been accepted to Harvard, but I didn’t want to believe it until I received my formal welcome packet in the mail.
I would like to think that it was then that I knew I belonged at Harvard, but it wasn’t until I arrived on campus and became a part of the community that I truly understood I deserved to be there. I am fortunate to be a part of such a diverse community of friendly and helpful people who desire my success. I almost didn’t apply because I didn’t think I had anything to offer Harvard, but now I know that I have much to offer by bringing my own story.
Veterans bring a unique perspective to the Harvard community and their stories are in great demand at other top schools. Don’t ever feel like you don’t belong, because there’s a place for you.