Jack Beecher MPH ’84 became Yale’s first Veteran Liaison just two weeks ago, but he is already taking steps to help expand Yale’s undergraduate veteran population.
Beecher, who was appointed in February by University Provost Benjamin Polak to serve as the University’s inaugural veteran coordinator, will meet in the coming weeks with Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Jeremiah Quinlan to find out whether veteran status can be made another distinguishing factor for admission to Yale, in addition to traditional factors like athleticism or musicality. This initiative would be part of a larger push on Beecher’s part to foster a vibrant community of veterans across the whole University, including within the College. Applying to elite schools like Yale is competitive, but Beecher said veterans are up for the task.
“They won’t be your typical 19 year olds,” Beecher said. “The women and men who complete a tour, most of them have some or no college experience, but they come out with a sense of maturity and purpose which is different than what the typical high schooler has.”
Patricia Wei, associate director of undergraduate admissions, said most veterans currently apply to Yale through the Eli Whitney Students Program, a program for college applicants who have had their educations interrupted for five or more years. There are typically 20 to 30 Eli Whitney students per year among 5,200 total undergraduates, according to the Office of Undergraduate Admissions’ website.
This year, six veterans are enrolled in Yale College through the Eli Whitney Students Program, Wei said. Since 2012, seven Eli Whitney student veterans have graduated from Yale College, and one veteran withdrew before graduating, according to Assistant Dean of Academic Affairs at Yale College Risa Sodi, who directs the program. Although the majority of those students served in the U.S. military, one served in the Australian Army before coming to Yale.
Beecher said he hopes to utilize a number of veteran recruitment programs, including the Eli Whitney Students Program, in order to bring more veterans to Yale. Yale has a number of other outreach efforts in place to recruit veterans as well. For example, University administrators assist with the nationwide Warrior-Scholar Project, which provides free academic “bootcamps” for enlisted veterans, as well as the nonprofit organization Service to School’s VetLink program, which helps connect high-achieving veterans and active-duty service members to admissions officers. Admissions Office staff also periodically visit military bases for recruitment purposes, according to Margit Dahl ’75, director of undergraduate admissions.
Wei said her office shares Beecher’s hopes of expanding the number of veterans enrolled at Yale College.
“We embarked on our partnership with Service to School’s VetLink program [last summer] so as to improve the pipeline of veterans to Yale,” she said. “However, we do not have a quota or a specific number in mind. The number of veterans admitted will depend on the strength of their applications.”
Sodi said that from her experience in the Admissions Office, Yale looks favorably on veteran applicants.
“These are very motivated, highly driven, high-performing people,” Sodi said.
The credentials required of non-traditional applicants differ from those of typical applicants. Wei said Eli Whitney students submit a resume rather than a list of extracurricular activities, as would be expected from high school students. Veterans are often decorated with medals and have been promoted through the ranks, Sodi added, which can be an added attribute in their favor.
But Wick Sloane SOM ’84, a columnist for Inside Higher Ed who has written about the veteran population at top-tier schools, characterized the application process of veterans to Yale as an uphill climb.
“Veterans I know who have inquired at Yale report either no reply at all or an unfriendly reply,” Sloane said, adding that Yale College recruits other demographics more than it recruits veterans. “If Yale put the same effort into recruiting football players as undergraduate veterans, there would be no football team.”
Applying to Yale may be especially challenging for student veterans who did not perform well in high school, who must compete with high schoolers with perfect SAT scores and numerous Advanced Placement exams on their transcripts, Sloane said.
But the veterans who do come to Yale are nonetheless well-equipped for Yale’s academic rigor, as most already have a good sense of what they want to study, Sodi said. At Yale College, veterans tend to take courses in history, political science, economics and Global Affairs, she said, adding that she does not have the exact breakdown of veteran majors. Sodi said she thinks veterans are a benefit to the broader undergraduate population and bring firsthand experience that other students lack.
“They have really clear goals for being here at Yale,” Sodi said. “They’ve had boots-on-the-ground experience, now they want to study the theory and history of the conflict they were in.”
Elizabeth Verardo GRD ’16 completed two tours in Afghanistan and now studies in the Jackson Institute for Global Affairs at Yale. Verardo said many of her classmates have some service experience, from the Peace Corps to the military to the public sector.
In class, Verardo said, her military experiences often reveal interesting tensions between theory and practice in war. In Grand Strategy, for instance, Verardo found that she sometimes disagreed with certain theories about combat that she encountered in the reading.
Veterans may not be the “practically-perfect-in-every-way” applicants that Yale and its peers prefer, Sloane said, but their military service gives them motivation, awareness and focus that will allow them to succeed at Yale.
Yale is not alone in its efforts to expand the undergraduate veteran population. Earlier this month, Princeton University announced plans to expand and diversify its undergraduate student body by accepting a greater number of transfer students — a plan that was discontinued in 1990 but which is expected to begin again in 2018 — including U.S. military veterans.
Beecher said Yale is also looking to schools closer to the Elm City that have thriving veteran programs. Quinnipiac University has a very active military program, Beecher said. Southern Connecticut State University and the University of New Haven have similar, though less well-developed programs, he added.
“The focus right now is on information gathering,” Beecher said.
Yale is only just beginning to keep track of its undergraduate veteran population, Sodi said. Before around 2011, the University did not keep very accurate records of which students had military experience and which did not, she said.