“It was a challenge for me being a military child because I had to stay emotionally tough.”Melissa C.
Our oldest son began college a few months ago, and our youngest son is beginning to apply to colleges now. Last year, when we began the college application process, my son struggled to decide what to write in his college essay.
The college essay is a chance for prospective students to tell the admissions committee about themselves and it is their opportunity to stand out from other applicants. It is the “interview” where they are expected to sell themselves. Think of it as, why should a college take a chance on my child instead of the many other great applicants they have?
My son asked me what he should write about. I asked him what makes him unique as compared to the typical high school senior. I said think about what the typical high school senior writes about. He said, they write about school, sports and activities, and possibly volunteer opportunities or part-time jobs. So, I next asked him, now, what sets you apart from nonmilitary kids? Suddenly, the light went on in his head. It became clear to him that he needed to use his military kid background to his advantage. He realized that his experiences were nothing like a typical high school senior who has lived in the same town since birth.
The first sentence of our son’s college essay read, “I attended nine different schools in twelve years, including three different high schools.” Is that a great attention grabber that’s going to make a college admissions committee take notice? You bet it is.
The purpose of this article is to ensure our kids are effectively using their military backgrounds to their advantage when applying to colleges. When your child talks about hiking the Great Wall of China or living in Europe for part of her childhood, college admissions boards will take notice. When your child talks about a parent being deployed in a combat zone for fifteen months and how your child stepped up and stayed emotionally tough, college admissions boards will take notice.
To effectively use their military kid backgrounds, I recommend that your child discuss one or more of the following in his or her college essay: frequent moves, constantly making new friends, attending new schools every few years, living overseas, and deployments and other extended separations that they faced.
A typical nonmilitary kid moves two times in his or her first eighteen years, with the large majority being local moves in the same area and same school district. How many times does a military kid move before age eighteen? Have your child discuss the number of moves he or she has incurred. Explain the value in this. While it is hard moving every few years, it is also rewarding. Moving builds character and makes our kids more well-rounded. Living in different states exposes military kids to different cultures, diversity and different ways of living. It helps them to understand people and accept them the way they are. Talk about the road trips your family took driving from one duty station to the next. Talk about seeing the different states and the uniqueness each has to offer. All of this translates into making military kids well-versed, diverse, cultured and unique, which is exactly what college admissions committees are looking for.
Constantly making new friends
It is difficult for military kids to move every few years. As soon as they get settled in and accustomed to a new school, it is time for the next move. There are only positives, however, in making new friends. There is no such thing as having too many friends, so have your kids talk about how they keep in touch with a variety of friends and how they get together during the summers with kids that they’ve met all over the world.
Attending new schools every few years
Schools offer different programs and varied curricula. Being exposed to different schools and teachers expands military kid’s interests. Schools also have different sports and extracurricular activities. Have your kids talk about the unique activities they were exposed to based on the local culture. For example, learning hula dancing in Hawaii or bon dancing in Japan shows your child’s willingness to try new things and to be engrained into the local cultures. It also helps them to develop empathy and be well-suited to lead in today’s diverse environments. Such a fearless attitude translates well to college, and it is what college admissions committees are searching for.
Living overseas is a rewarding and invaluable experience. Few kids other than military kids get to enjoy this experience. Living in different countries exposes military kids to diverse cultures and makes them well-rounded and mature. If your military kids were immersed in the host country schools, have them talk about those experiences. Living overseas also means more travel, so have them speak about their experiences with the different countries and cultures that they were fortunate enough to visit. Military children have vast experience with people who come from different backgrounds and become extremely comfortable with diverse groups. Focus on these experiences to demonstrate how they will be able to add value to the college community.
Deployments and extended separations
Deployments are a way of military life, and over the past twenty years, we have all endured multiple deployments of our loved ones. Do deployments affect military kids? Sure, they do. Have your child touch on these experiences in his or her college essay. Have your child write on the difficulties they faced with a parent deployed. Have them also write on how they persevered during this time and how they stepped up at home and helped more with chores and fixing things around the house. Have them discuss how they kept their grades up and continued to excel in school, despite the stresses of the deployments. While deployments are tough on all of us, military kids come out stronger and more mature. They develop an understanding that the most difficult challenges are temporary, and they are able to put setbacks into context, knowing that they will be overcome with dedication, teamwork, and perseverance. Ensure the college admissions boards understand this.
If military kids are one thing, they are resilient. Military kids face unique challenges their entire childhoods that non-military kids don’t face, so they need to capitalize on these challenges when applying to college. Make sure your kids use their experiences to their advantage and set themselves apart from other applicants. Remember, your kids have to sell themselves, and the end result will be your children being accepted to many of the colleges they apply to.
* Kerry L. Erisman is a military spouse, Dad of two awesome teenage boys, Army retiree after 28 years of active duty service, attorney, and Associate Professor with American Military University. He writes and teaches on important military spouse issues including leadership, critical thinking, and education for Military Spouse Magazine and other military spouse publications.