In June, the University joined an initiative to bring more high-achieving military veterans to Yale College.
The program, titled VetLink, identifies qualified veterans and assists them in navigating the admissions process at top-tier schools. The program is part of a wider organization called Service to School, which provides college counseling to military veterans. Tim Hsia, co-founder of Service to School, described VetLink as “groundbreaking,” since it is the first program of its kind working with elite universities.
“We’re trying to help schools like Yale, Smith, Cornell, Williams and MIT,” Hsia said. “The idea is to find and identify veterans, help them get in and provide the full context of these veterans to the schools.”
Hsia is a military veteran himself, having served in the US Army as a platoon leader, an executive officer and a battalion logistics officer. He is also a Pat Tillman Scholar and a graduate of Stanford’s JD/MBA program.
Hsia said VetLink aims to be a “QuestBridge for veterans,” as the program embraces the notion of helping schools identify high-achieving veterans, while also helping these veterans with the technical details of the application process. The organization is currently working with the Office of Undergraduate Admissions to help identify and showcase high-achieving veterans while also helping those former service members with their applications.
Currently, veterans make up less than 2 percent of the undergraduate population at Yale. On a national scale, veterans make up roughly 7.3 percent of the U.S. population. Hsia said that while there is currently a core group of veterans at Yale graduate schools, the same is not true of Yale College. As a whole, he added, veterans are underrepresented at most undergraduate schools. Part of the issue is that many veterans lack an awareness of their own potential, Hsia said, and do not have someone to guide them through the college search and admissions process. Some veterans neglect to mention their military background or major experiences in their life, such as their deployment or being injured in combat, Hsia said. He added that those who work with VetLink can receive help framing their application or picking an essay topic.
“Many veterans say they’re going to the army and plan to get a college degree afterward, but after a few years of service with or without deployments, they don’t know what to do,” Hsia said. “They don’t have a guidance counselor, they don’t have someone telling them, ‘This is your background, this is what will work for you.’”
Rob Henderson ’19 , an Air Force service member who will attend Yale this fall, said the assistance he received from Service to School with his application was tremendously helpful in answering questions he had about the admissions process. The process reinforced his belief that veterans and members of the military are capable of getting into highly selective schools, he said.
Zach McDonald ’15, a recent graduate of the Eli Whitney Scholars program and co-leader of the Service to School undergraduate team, said he had a lot of questions about the application process when he applied to Yale. He was unsure of whether his military record would factor into his admissions decision, or if it would make up for not being a good student in high school. McDonald now works with veterans applying to college and mentors them throughout the process.
McDonald said his time in the military had a substantial impact on his academic experience. He majored in political science while at Yale with a focus in international relations and was able to contribute to many class discussions with information about his experience in the military. For instance, McDonald said he took a “New Iraq” course last year, and having served time in Iraq, he did a Q and A session with the other students in the class.
Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Jeremiah Quinlan said VetLink would allow for more opportunities like this at Yale: chances for students to learn from veterans during class and benefit from their specialized knowledge.
He added that most of the veterans working with VetLink will apply though the Eli Whitney Students Program, which admits a small group of people and allows them to pursue a B.A. or B.S. degree more flexibly than the average undergraduate.
Although VetLink will provide assistance to schools and veterans, Hsia stressed that schools will make the final decision about the applicants.
“I want VetLink to thrive, but more importantly, I want Yale to thrive,” Hsia said. “I want Yale to have a critical mass of veterans so that they don’t need VetLink. If this works as we envision to work, it’s a win-win — it’s a win for the students, a win for the school, and it’s a win for society. These veterans are going to come to school and continue their notion of service on campus.”