When Aaron J. Rosales ’26 was applying to college after serving in the military for over eight years, he didn’t think Harvard was even an option.
After spending a year in community college, he logged into a virtual college fair for a friend who couldn’t attend.
In the Zoom breakout room, Rosales met College admissions officer Roger Banks, who encouraged Rosales to apply to Harvard even though Rosales didn’t think he was eligible.
“He was so nice — one of the nicest people I’ve met when it comes to recruitment and admissions,” Rosales said. “He’s like, ‘Why don’t you send me your stuff, and I’ll take a look at it, or one of my colleagues, and I will get back to you, tell you whether you’d be wasting your time?’”
Two weeks later, Rosales received the green light to apply to the College.
Today, Rosales is one of fourteen veterans in the class of 2026. In the 2021-2022 school year, 59 former service members attended the College — less than 1 percent of enrolled students that year. Despite the low numbers, in recent years, the College has increased its efforts to recruit applicants currently serving in the military, more than doubling the number of veteran admits since 2019.
As part of its push to admit more veterans, in 2017 the College joined Service to School’s VetLink program, an initiative that guides veterans through the process of applying to the nation’s most selective universities.
Several veterans at the College said that they utilized these nonprofit organizations, including Service to School and the Warrior Scholar Project, during the application process.
Service to School provides free college counseling to U.S. military veterans by pairing prospective applicants with mentors, including veterans pursuing higher education and recent graduates. These mentors guide the applicants step-by-step through the application process.
Like Service to School, the Warrior Scholar Project offers college bootcamps on campuses across the country — week-long academic intensives in humanities, STEM, and business that aim to simulate the rigor of the undergraduate experience. Harvard is one of those campuses.
“It’s supposed to be like what a week at this school would feel like — except it’s actually a lot more work,” Conor R. Meyer ’26 said. “It goes from 8 a.m. in the morning to 8 p.m. at night. It’s supposed to up your confidence that you can make it as a student at a prestigious school when you’re still a veteran.”
While the Common Application asks applicants to describe their unique life stories in under 650 words, Service to School allows veterans to elaborate on their military experience and contextualize it for the admissions committee through a VetLink addendum.
“It serves as a translation for all those scary military words and puts it in a perspective that many people can understand,” Quinn H.J. Ewanchyna ’25 said.
“I would say that I would not be here at Harvard if it weren’t for Service To School,” Ewanchyna added. “I was so inspired by what they did for me, I’m now a Service to School ambassador, working with other transfer applicants.”
Service to School then sends the addendum — which includes a veteran’s awards, experience, military education, and additional essay — to the admissions committee.
Matthew S. Malkin ’26 said he was paired with a mentor who was familiar with higher education — a facet that Malkin said helped guide him through the application process.
“Everybody in my family went to the same college — University of Arizona. They expected me to do the same. And I decided to try something out,” Malkin said. “So he helped me understand higher-level education in a different light, in the sense that you need to really set yourself apart from both your peers and all other applicants.”
For Malkin, drafting the addendum was, at times, frustrating.
“That process was very difficult for me, solely because of my mentor, because every time I sent it — ‘Hey, do you have any suggestions?’ — it always came back red,” Malkin said.
In the end, however, Malkin said he felt he put his strongest foot forward during the application process.
“It’s not that I felt really confident. It’s just like, I felt like I presented myself in the best light,” he said.
On March 31, 2022, Rosales logged into his Harvard admissions portal to find confetti and “Congratulations!” flashing across his screen.
“Then the real thrill though, once the balloons and the happiness, the emotions finally settled down, was ‘Where do you want to land? Which school’s going to be the best for you?’” Rosales said.
When deciding where he should matriculate, Rosales reached out to a number of current undergraduate veterans to learn more about campus culture. In April 2022, he attended Visitas, a weekend when the College hosts admitted students on campus.
Meyer recalled his own Visitas, where he said he coincidentally came face-to-face with the admissions officer who read his application.
“This guy came up to me and was like, ‘Hey, are you Conor?’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, who are you?’” Meyer said. “And he’s like, ‘Hey, I’m Angel, I’m your admissions officer. I was your first read.’”
“So he’s like, ‘Yeah, I’ve been endorsing you forever. So you’re kind of like a celebrity to me,’” Meyer added.
Still, after receiving their acceptances, veterans face the hurdle of adjusting to social life on campus.
Malkin, whose last operations were in the intelligence community, described the transition as “going from a world that has a lot of violence associated with it” to a “very inspirational and hopeful academic setting.”
“I’m very happy to be here, but it’s definitely a challenge,” he said.
Ewanchyna, who applied to the College as a transfer student, said he and other veterans on campus have formed a “very tight-knit” and “very supportive” group.
“We will go out of our way to ensure success with each other,” Ewanchyna said. “Harvard’s a very competitive environment and community; however, I don’t feel that that competitiveness necessarily resides within the veteran community.”
“Military veterans are often regarded as the heroes in society,” he added. “But to me, the heroes in the world walk beside me at Harvard, and they’re other Harvard students.”
—Staff writer Michelle N. Amponsah can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @mnamponsah.
—Staff writer Emma H. Haidar can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @HaidarEmma.