Service to School Empowers Veterans to Enter Top U.S. Universities

For nearly 15 years, the brave men and women of the United States Armed Forces have given their blood and their lives in overseas missions from Iraq to Afghanistan.

An estimated 2.8 million Americans have voluntarily served in what has become the longest war in U.S. history, and more than 1 million have completed service and returned home during the same period of time. While many of their friends finished high school and went off to college, these men and women answered freedom’s call, and joined the armed forces to serve a cause much greater than themselves.

Imagine the challenges a soldier might face trying to re-integrate into a world so far removed from his own. One day, he’s a member of the world’s most elite fighting force. The next, he’s a talented, well-trained civilian in search of a job, or perhaps an education, with a background to which very few of his peers can even begin to relate.

When Tim Hsia and Augusto Giacoman first met 14 years ago, they were cadets at the United States Military Academy at West Point. Both men graduated and went on to serve in the same unit in Iraq. Over time, the two discovered their mutual desire for helping others, and according to Forbes, a bond formed as they began volunteering together whenever possible.

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Tim Hsia, left, and Augusto Giacoman | Photo: S2S

After completing his service, Giacoman returned home and pursued an MBA in financial systems and analytics at New York University’s Leonard N. Stern School of Business in 2009. Hsia returned the next year, earning an MBA and a law degree from Stanford. Thanks to the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2008, authored by U.S. Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) and signed into law by President George W. Bush, both officers were able to continue their education with very little added personal expense.

While they were both still in graduate school, true to their nature, Hsia and Giacoman separately saw the need to assist friends returning home from deployment with their own grad school applications. They often consulted and referred their friends to one another, and before long, the idea for “Service to School” (S2S) was borne. Together with fellow veteran Khalil Tawil and admissions expert Anna Ivey, the group formed an impressive 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that would begin providing application counseling for U.S. military veterans at no cost.

From the outset, Service to School sought not only to provide the tools veterans would need to get into any college, but to set their sights on admission to the nation’s top universities. The organization also assists veterans with navigating the benefits they are allowed under the Post 9/11 G.I. Bill. S2S, in fact, is the only organization that focuses on this specific goal, which provides “the application assistance, mentoring, and know-how to ensure that veterans can pursue higher education at quality schools, whether at the graduate or undergraduate level.”

So far, Service to School has helped more than 300 applicants gain admission to schools such as Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Northwestern, Penn, Columbia and Notre Dame. The group is building a network of “ambassadors” to help other veterans in need of assistance. Over 100 have done so.

One such ambassador made all the difference for Jared Smith, a former Army NCO who now attends Yale University.

“I knew that I wanted to try and transfer to my dream school after I learned what I was capable of in an academic setting,” Smith told Opportunity Lives. “The process of transferring to a top school for a veteran is anything but clear.” He says he’s glad he had a Service to School ambassador to “demystify the process” and help translate his life experiences in the military into something that a Yale admissions officer could relate to.

Service to School provides the application assistance, mentoring, and know-how to ensure that veterans can pursue higher education at quality schools

“If it weren’t for Service to School, I believe I would have not have had the admissions success that I did,” Smith said.

Service to School believes strongly in helping military veterans help themselves achieve the dreams and goals they’ve set for themselves when transitioning into civilian life. S2S offers services, including résumé-writing, application and essay reviews, test prep recommendations, interview coaching and networking that are key to the Ivy League admissions process.

The group works with other veteran-focused organizations such as the Pat Tillman foundation, the Warrior-Scholar Project, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America and the Graduate Management Admission Council. S2S also hosts “Admission Accomplished” conferences, with the next one scheduled for Oct. 24 at Georgetown University.

Army veteran Lance Lenzen, who now attends Columbia, at first didn’t think he could gain admission to an Ivy League school. “Service to School not only gave me the confidence to reach for a school I didn’t think I had the credentials for, but also allayed my fears that my military background might set me apart from the student body,” he said. “I am now going to a university I would have only dreamed of in the past, and feel more at home than I thought possible.”

Tami Nantz is a contributor for Opportunity Lives and editor-in-chief for Smart Girl Politics, an online community for conservative women. She lives in Linden, Virginia with her husband and daughter. You can follow Tami on Twitter @TamiNantz.