Supporting Our Veterans: Jeff Ubben Posse Foundation Fellow Nick West reflects on his experience as a student veteran
Nicholas West is a junior sociology major at Vassar College. He is a veteran of the U.S. Air Force and attended Solano Community College in Fairfield, California before receiving a scholarship from the Posse Foundation Veterans Program to transfer to Vassar. He spent the summer of 2019 interning with the Common App as a Jeff Ubben Posse Fellow.
What was your experience like transitioning from the military to community college?
I was able to take a few community college classes while I was on active duty, so my transition was a bit smoother. Once I separated from the Air Force, the hardest part for me was adapting to the campus environment and figuring out how to schedule my time and develop a routine. Getting out of the military affords you a lot of new freedoms, which is liberating, but the lack of structure can be challenging. Reaching out to peers of mine who had gone to college or were currently enrolled, both veterans and friends from my hometown, helped me relearn how to be a student.
What was your transfer experience like?
I was lucky enough to receive a scholarship from the Posse Foundation, and they handled a lot of things for me. Once I arrived at Vassar College, I quickly made an appointment with the Dean of Studies to let them know I had credits to transfer in and they handled the rest from there. Connecting with offices at the college and letting the staff and faculty know that I wasn’t a traditional student allowed them to better address my needs. People at your college are being paid to help you, so you should never hesitate to reach out to them.
What are some of the challenges you've noticed for student veterans?
The biggest challenge for veterans that I’ve noticed is adapting to their new life on campus. Everyone handles their social lives differently, but it was certainly a challenge for me. But the great thing about college is that you get the opportunity to reinvent yourself. Just because you’ve lived your life a certain way for so long doesn’t mean you’re stuck living it that way forever. Embrace the opportunity to explore who you are and what you’re into, and approach everything with an open mind.
"The great thing about college is that you get the opportunity to reinvent yourself. Just because you’ve lived your life a certain way for so long doesn’t mean you’re stuck living it that way forever. Embrace the opportunity to explore who you are and what you’re into, and approach everything with an open mind."
What were your expectations or assumptions about Common App coming into your internship, and what do you feel changed throughout your experience?
Honestly, I didn’t know what to expect. The only thing I knew about the Common App before my internship was that it allowed students to apply to multiple colleges at once, which is really helpful to people from the working and middle classes. I was pleasantly surprised to learn about the Common App’s commitment to access, equity, and integrity in the college admission process. As a first-gen student myself and a student leader during the 2018-19 school year for Vassar’s Transitions program for first-generation, low income, and/or undocumented students, equity and access are really important to me. It was refreshing to meet so many professionals in the education world, especially those at Common App, who shared similar values. It let me know that I can make a difference in that world without sacrificing my own values.
What advice might you give to student veterans as they go through the college application process?
Be bold. Elite institutions across the country are finally realizing that veterans are just as qualified as everyone else to attend top-tier colleges and universities, so don’t be afraid to apply to your dream school, even if it’s an ivy league or an elite liberal arts college. Interpersonal skills are often more important than test scores and grades, so confidence and self-awareness will take you far. Take control of your narrative and express your authentic self in your application writings, and never sell yourself short. You deserve an excellent education, and you are more than qualified to attend any college you prepare yourself for.
What should admissions officers know about student veterans applying to their institution?
The traditional metrics used in admissions are deeply flawed and miss a lot of talented students from non-traditional backgrounds. Veterans might not have had the best grades and test scores in high school, but their life experiences and unique insights can deeply enrichen your institution if you evaluate them holistically. Many veterans might not think your institution is for them, so you need to actively recruit them and ensure your website has a unique section describing the resources, opportunities, and assistance available to them. Lastly, don’t be intimidated by veterans and any preconceived notions you might have about them. We are normal people just like everyone else, and you don’t need a special set of skills to interact with us. You just need to be willing to listen.