Life in the military is challenging, but transitioning to the civilian world after service can be the toughest challenge of all. We know that schools and employers can benefit greatly from your military experience. The problem for most veterans is convincing schools and employers of this.
You may think that getting into school is just a matter of applying and then showing up for class. For prestigious colleges like Stanford, Columbia, Georgetown, or Harvard; or post-graduate programs, nothing may be further from the truth. These colleges regularly receive several more applicants then they have openings for so they can afford to be picky about who they admit to their programs. For these programs you may be expected to:
- Submit an application
- Write an application essay
- Provide letters of reference
- Attend an admissions interview
In the military, your record spoke for itself, you usually weren't required to brag about yourself to get a promotion or a new assignment. In the civilian world it is different, you are usually expected to be able to “sell yourself” to a potential school or employer, and self-promotion is an important skill you must master to get ahead in the civilian world.
One important skill to master is networking. Networking is an often overlooked yet absolutely critical part of applying to schools. What is networking? Simply, networking is reaching out to people attending or people that have graduated from your target school. It is a combination of research and meeting new people with a purpose. Before a mission, you had to conduct reconnaissance and gather intelligence, right? Networking helps you do the same thing.
Through networking, you can get an idea of the school’s people and whether or not the school would be a good fit with your personality. Are they the kind of folks you want to spend 2-4 years with? Life is too short to be around people you don’t like. Networking also helps you gain a lot of relevant information about your choice school. Many schools talk up their offerings, but speaking to current students can give you the inside scoop of what resources the school truly has to offer. After networking, you should know whether you can reach your goals with a degree from your target school or if it is just hot air.
Networking, though, does more than just help you conduct research. It also helps introduce you to the people that may have input on your admission. If the conversation goes well, the person you spoke with may just make a recommendation on your behalf. It is important for you to remember that these networking calls have a purpose: to help you get into school.
When you are transitioning from military to civilian life networking with fellow workers, veterans, classmates, or neighbors is a vital step in learning to “sell yourself” or learn the intracacies of gaining admission to the right college for your future career. The nonprofit organization Service to School, Service2School.org, is a great starting point and offers free advice on networking as well as experienced “ambassadors” who can help you get started on your journey to a successful civilian life.