Resources for Student Veterans at USC

Each year, the University of Southern California admits student veterans from all branches of the military to our incoming freshman and transfer classes. In order to best accommodate their transition to and success here on campus, the school and its campus partners provide a number of different resources to address the academic, financial, social, or professional needs of this important population of USC students.

Departmental Supports

Since 2014, the Veterans Resource Center (VRC) has worked to support student veterans in all endeavors of college life ranging from outreach and admission all the way to graduation and job seeking. The center is a collaboration between multiple student affairs and administrative divisions and serves the nearly 1,200 veterans who enroll in USC classes each semester. The VRC provides students with a study space and access to computers and opportunities to socialize with fellow student veterans, check in with veterans certifying officers, find out about on-campus services, and participate in programs, such as the advisement luncheons offered at the beginning of the semester. The month of November heralds USC Military Appreciation Week, in which student veterans can receive professional advice (resumes, cover letters, networking and interviews), attend a job recruitment fair, enjoy catered luncheons, and receive complimentary tickets for sporting events!

Across campus, USC staff members in various academic and student affairs departments serve as direct contact points for student veterans to address any specific questions or requests that they may have as they navigate their educational journey. This includes the Career Center, the Office of Religious Life, Disability Services and Programs, the Counseling Center, and so on. Additionally, each of the admission counselors in the USC Office of Admission are able to answer general questions about the application and transfer credit processes. Admission counselors are assigned to applicants based on the high school they graduated from or the post-secondary institution they enrolled in pre- or post-military service.

Clubs & Organizations

To help student veterans make connections and build their social and professional networks both during and beyond their time at USC, there are multiple student and alumni associations to join. The USC Veterans Association is a student organization composed of undergraduate and graduate students and keep members informed of various opportunities and resources. On their active Facebook page, students can find out about upcoming social events and workshops, job openings and research opportunities, and apply for leadership positions within the group. The Marshall Military Veterans Association is a group for student veterans pursuing their MBA at the Marshall School of Business. In an effort to provide ongoing supports for student veterans as they transition to USC, the USC Student Veterans Support Network was created to help current and former students, staff and faculty connect with students. Lastly, the USC Alumni Veterans Network is open to all USC alumni who are veterans and are interested in staying involved with the Trojan Family long after graduation.

Financial Benefits

In addition to their GI benefits, student veterans have access to the same scholarships and financial aid resources utilized by all USC students. USC’s Office of Financial Aid and the Veterans Certification Office work with military veterans to help them understand their educational benefits, along with providing assistance with financial aid and other funding. They have also created an eight-minute video that explains this process more in-depth. USC is proud to participate in the Yellow Ribbon Program, which is open to post-9/11 GI Bill recipients and covers up to one-half of tuition and mandatory fees that are matched dollar for dollar by the VA. The Schoen Family Scholarship Program for Veterans was established in 1986 by William J. Schoen, a former U.S. Marine and USC alumnus (’60, MBA ’63), to provide additional funding for student veterans at USC. This scholarship is available to new and continuing students in the Marshall School of Business and the Viterbi School of Engineering who have served a minimum of three years of continuous, full-time, active duty in the previous ten years.

Research & Practice

In concert with meeting the needs of our student veterans on campus, the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work’s Center for Innovation and Research on Veterans & Military Families (CIR) is also committed to being at the forefront of research, education, and outreach for all veterans and their families. The CIR conducts a wide range of research projects, provides training seminars to behavioral health providers and clinicians, and works with community partners to address the issues that face today’s veterans and military families.

Student Perspective

Cesar Jimenez Jr., a transfer student from Pasadena City College, served 26 years in the Air Force and recently completed his first semester at USC as a Sociology and Non-Governmental Organizations and Social Change double major. “USC’s connection with the ROTC and military, along with the Veterans Resource Center” are some of the factors that initially attracted him to USC. He recommends that prospective student veterans attend the transfer student luncheons hosted by the VRC in order to meet with current students who will share their experiences on campus (Cesar attended two such events prior to applying). As applicants to the university, Cesar feels that veterans “have a competitive advantage because of their life experience, leadership experience, they have been given major responsibilities, and know what is expected of them [as students].” He is especially thankful for the resources that he has been able to access through the Disability Services and Programs office due to a traumatic brain injury he sustained during his service. This office, along with understanding professors, have enabled him to utilize the accommodations he needs to “be able to compete with an even playing field” and complete his first semester of college as successfully as he did.

USC is grateful for the sacrifices that our student veterans and their families have made to defend our country and we look forward to best supporting them as members of our campus community and the Trojan Family.

Addressing Difficult Topics in Your Application

Your college application is the place for you to document your hard work and accomplishments so that you can make your case for why you would be a good fit at the school of your dreams. For some students, however, there are parts of the college application that may bring up issues or struggles that are difficult to write about. Here are some thoughts on how to address a few of these unique factors in your own application.

Personal Challenges

Many students have dealt with trying circumstances or personal challenges that have had a profound impact on their lives. These types of challenges can vary in intensity and scope, but they each have a personal effect that a student may want to write about in their application. There is no right or wrong way to address this in an essay or additional information section, as long as it comes from your authentic voice and fits within the story that you want to convey to the admission officer reading it. Since it is your personal account to convey, feel free to disclose as much or as little as you want. Do not feel pressure to share every detail, but also do not feel that you need to have a “happy ending” or solution. Your writing should provide a context within which the reader learns about who you are and what has brought you to this stage in your life. Try to tie your account into how this has made you develop as a person, friend, family member or leader (or any role in your life that is important to you). You may also want to make a connection to how this has inspired some part of your educational journey or your future aspirations. Perhaps your interest in occupational therapy has come through supporting a loved one who utilized these services or you want to be screenwriter so you can tell stories similar to your own. The most important thing is to make sure that this history or anecdote supports the totality of your application, whether by illustrating an important part of your personal history and/or demonstrating the motivation you have to continue your academic pursuits.

Low Grade Trends or Learning Difficulties

It is not uncommon for students to struggle in their classes at some point in their high school career, but it may be hard to talk about a series of low grades or a long period of underperformance. Whatever the reason for this is, address it succinctly in your application, but make sure you also address what you did to turn around your performance and cite any upward trend in grades that may be more recent. It’s fine to talk about some of the reasons you did not do well or factors that affected your work and study abilities, but try not to dwell too long or place blame on someone else (we know you may not have been enamored of your pre-Calculus teacher, but scapegoating them for your low grade is not a good strategy). Rather, put the focus on the hard work you put into improving your grades and connect this initiative to the effort you’ll put in at college. If you formed a study group, met with the teacher after class, or changed your work/study habits, these types of things can show your ability to adjust to and handle the rigors of higher education.

Other times, you may have received a medical or psychological diagnosis during high school (or earlier) that helps to explain lower grades or difficulties you encountered in your coursework. If you feel comfortable addressing this in your application, you are encouraged to do so. There are many successful college students that have dealt with the challenges posed by learning disabilities, ADHD, autism, mood disorders and so on – often, these aspects of your personal development have helped you to develop a resilience and work ethic that makes you a stronger scholar. Discussing this in your application does not negatively impact your consideration for admission, but can help to illuminate extra effort you have had to put forth in the classroom, along with tools or strategies that have enabled you to perform at your best. Letters of recommendation from counselors and teachers can also be a good source of information about learning differences, as they have seen your progression through high school and can speak to the growth you have made in light of any obstacles you faced.

For students who have been diagnosed with a learning disability or other condition that may require academic support, it is important to get in contact with USC’s Disability Services and Programs office once admitted to find out about accommodations and resources that may be available. Another academic resource open to all students is Supplemental Instruction (SI), an academic support program through the Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences that provides study sessions to students enrolled in select math, economics, and science courses. In small group settings, students have the opportunity to review lecture material and assignments, study and testing strategies and work collaboratively with classmates. Lastly, since writing skills are an integral part of being a successful student, Dornsife also has a Writing Center where students can work individually or in small groups to improve their writing skills and receive feedback on their work.

Disciplinary Issues

The Common App asks students to indicate whether they have been found responsible for any disciplinary violations since 9th grade, along with a description of approximate dates, circumstances, and reflection on what was learned. While it may be tempting to gloss over this spot in your academic record, there are other ways it might appear in your application (transcript, secondary school report, etc.). Additionally, counselors are often required to report any disciplinary issues that students face during high school, so it is better to get in front of the issue and make sure we understand it from your perspective. The first piece of advice is to take responsibility and be honest. Whether it was unfair, overly punitive, or ridiculous in hindsight, you somehow violated your school’s rules or ethics code and had to bear some punishment. Next, do exactly what the Common Application asks of you – reflect on what you learned and how you changed things moving forward. The point of this question is not to hold the violation against you forever, but to make sure there is not a continuing pattern of such behavior with no understanding of the consequences. Showing that you have learned from this event and taken actions to ameliorate it and improve on yourself show the type of maturity colleges are looking for in their applicants.

As an applicant, you have full discretion to decide what you want to include (or omit) from your application. You should be comfortable with the application you are putting forward and feel that it provides an accurate overview of what you can offer as a student. As admission officers, we strive to be open-minded, empathetic, and comprehensive in our review of your application materials. We are not looking for one type of applicant – it’s the unique features, accomplishments, and aspirations of our students that make us excited to build USC’s incoming class.

How to Take Control of the College Application Process

Applying to college can feel like a full-time job – in addition to your other full-time jobs of school, extracurricular activities, work or family responsibilities, and fitting in some time to have a personal life. What seems manageable during the long, lazy days of summer can suddenly become overwhelming when the school year starts and you are trying to juggle a dozen other responsibilities. Do not worry – you are not alone in this predicament. There are plenty of strategies and ideas you can utilize to take control of your application process. Let’s get started:

Research Your Options

The first step of the college admission process is to do your research. While you may know of schools based on their name recognition or through a friend or family member, it is important to narrow down a list of the schools that provide the things that you are looking for in your college experience. This could be based on location, cost of attendance, a particular academic program, campus culture, post-graduate preparation, or any number of factors that you feel are essential to where you want to go to school. Since it’s often not possible to travel to all of the schools that you want to learn more about, the best place to start is online. Most universities will have a robust website where you can get a good introduction to what their school is like. Try to go beyond the main page, however, and check out the additional links that matter to you, such as academic departments, housing and residential education, financial aid, career services, or recreation and sports. Don’t assume anything about a college –find information about all of the aspects of the school that you find important so that you can determine whether it would be a good fit for you.

Making a Good Impression in Person and Online

Another great way to do research on a college is to see if they visit your high school or a nearby area sometime during the application process. Each fall, USC admission counselors visit high schools in all 50 states and internationally and we hold Discover USC receptions in major cities around the world (you can find the full list here on our Undergraduate Admission website). At these Discover USC events, students can meet a member of the Undergraduate Admission office and talk to representatives from various academic departments and the financial aid office. For these events, it can be helpful to come prepared with questions you have about the school or about the application process that you want your admission counselor’s perspective on. Since these visits can often go quickly or be packed with other students, do not hesitate to ask the admission counselor for their contact information so you can follow up with them later (USC also provides contact information for the admission counselor that works with your high school at this link). It’s easier to give a fuller introduction of yourself or ask a nuanced question when there’s not a line of people behind you!

If you have questions beyond what you’ve found in your research or you want to reach out directly to someone at the school, here are some tips to help you put your best foot forward electronically. You can use this opportunity to give a bit of background about yourself, but make sure you have a clear purpose for why you are reaching out (we will read your application in its entirety so do not feel the need to list all of your accomplishments in an e-mail). Aim to ask questions that you could not find easily with a Google search or try to get feedback on what particular departments are looking for in an application supplement or portfolio. While e-mail can be an easier way to contact a prospective college, you still want to be professional in your wording and presentation. Always check the spelling of the person or place you are referring to, do not commit to gender pronouns that you are not sure of (“good morning” or “good afternoon” are great ways to start an e-mail if it’s unclear who you’re e-mailing) and write in complete sentences. Fully review every e-mail for grammar or spelling errors and check that you have asked all of the questions that you have at that time (one cohesive e-mail is better than three rapid-fire ones because you kept forgetting something you wanted to ask).

Organization is Key

Now that you have done your research and have a good idea of the schools you want to apply to, it is imperative to stay organized and keep track of the myriad deadlines, required materials, supplements, and other application procedures that may vary between applications. A good place to start is to bookmark all of the websites that you will be using often through this process, such as the Common Application, individual school websites, and the FAFSA website. You can also create folders in your e-mail inbox and on your computer to keep track of the information you are receiving from schools or the multiple drafts of your essays that you are working on. Lastly, if you want a quick way to represent all of your pertinent application information in one space, consider making a spreadsheet listing the details you want to keep track of for each school. This might include contact information, deadlines and required components for applications, average test scores or GPA of applicants, cost of attendance and financial aid resources, general notes about what draws you to that school, and so on. Decide what is most important to you and put it in a format that you can continuously check and update. Check out this spreadsheet template or this printable form for ideas for how to design your own.

There’s no worse feeling than knowing that a final deadline is tomorrow or that you blew past it days ago. You can never have too many “friendly” reminders along the way, particularly if you have it in a variety of forms. Start by plugging major deadlines into your phone or favorite electronic device. If you have a school planner or a calendar on your computer, you can record deadlines there too. You may even want to set these reminders for yourself a few days or a week before the actual date so that no amount of procrastination can affect your submission. If it helps, set intermediate deadlines for smaller tasks prior to the big submission date so that you’re keeping yourself accountable along the way.

Be Proactive

Speaking of needing to meet deadlines, remember that the people around you also have ones of their own to meet. During the school year, your counselors and teachers will be asked to write innumerable letters of recommendation for admission or scholarships, so do your best to reach out early and provide them with a complete list of instructions and deadlines for each school or organization. If there are specific accomplishments or honors that you want them to mention in their letter, make a list or write a short blurb for them so they can reference it when writing the letter. Here’s an example of a helpful questionnaire borrowed from a high school in Minnesota. Try to avoid asking for things over Thanksgiving break (would you want to work during that time?) and see if you can find out how much time on average your recommender needs to write a good letter. Do not forget to write a thank you note at the end to this person – it takes a lot of work to fully encapsulate how spectacular of an applicant you are!

Review, Review, Review

At this point, you have probably started filling out numerous parts of the application and you are beginning to tire of your personal essay, short-answer questions, seeing your name in type, etc. Do not let this aversion keep you from double-checking everything you write or asking someone else for their fresh perspective. Turn to the people who know you best and ask them if your writing samples address the prompt you were given (this is very important) and represent who you are as a person. The essays and short answers often stand out the most in an application because they are unique to each applicant and provide a view into the type of student and leader you might be in college. Also, fresh eyes will likely be able to catch the one spelling error you overlooked in the middle of your essay.

At the end of your application process, make time to celebrate yourself! This is a huge accomplishment and the culmination of many years of learning, sacrifice, exploration, and sheer effort. Eat your favorite meal, take a long nap, venture somewhere fun, re-introduce yourself to your family and friends – whatever you need to do, just make sure that you acknowledge what you have done and to reflect on the opportunities you have opened up for yourself through this process.

Hopefully this blog provided some tips and tricks to make you feel that you can take control of your college admission process. Please feel free to leave a comment if you have your own ideas that you want to share with this community!