Michael Liao — From USMC Air Support Operator to Princeton!

Each week we spotlight enlisted veterans who have successfully transitioned from the military into elite colleges around the nation.

Michael Liao, Princeton ‘17

Hometown: San Jose, CA.

Fun fact: l dabble in Olympic weightlifting and I love working with computers.

Major: Electrical Engineering

Why did you join the military? When I was in high school, I decided that I wanted to do something different. The main selling point from the recruiter was that “I could always go back to school.”

What did you do in USMC? I was a 7242 — air support operator and coordinated close air support requests.

What was your proudest accomplishment in the Marine Corps? Tie between becoming a black belt martial arts instructor for MCMAP and being meritoriously promoted to both Corporal and Sergeant. It was a huge honor and privilege to be trusted to train fellow Marines. Good leaders looked out for me when I was meritoriously promoted.

Why did you decide to pursue college? I reached a crossroads in my life and people were telling me to consider an enlisted commissioning program. I wanted to develop a different (civilian) perspective before I committed back to the Corps.

How was the transition from the military to the classroom? A lot of the transition was straight up perseverance and grit. The military ethos was vital to managing my time properly. Other than that, I spent a lot of time boning up on HS subjects, visiting professors during office hours and surrounding myself with other students while working on problem sets. You don’t have to be the smartest person in the world — just be ready to roll with the punches

What led you to choose Princeton? My brother got his PhD in Physics at Princeton. He encouraged me to apply to Princeton and see what happens.

What is your favorite part about Princeton? I really enjoy being in the small Electrical Engineering (EE) department. EE mimics the camaraderie of the Marine Corps — we are incredibly tight. I expected everyone to be hypercompetitive and only look out for themselves but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Everyone wants to see everyone else succeed and we all work together to help each other out. I

Can you describe your thesis paper? I’m developing a new quantitative framework for conceptualizing privacy to help people make better and more informed decisions. I was originally working on a computer architecture project but a course on information security really opened my eyes to how wide open a problem privacy is today. It reminded me of being back in the Corps and trying to solve the counterinsurgency problem. We tried to objectively quantify the problem and solve it systematically.

What advice would you give to future applicants? 1) Be proactive and cognizant of all the deadlines — scrambling towards the deadlines to write essays is a surefire way to fail. 2) Plan about a year ahead. 3) Don’t sell yourself short. Less than 1% of America has done what you have — there is no reason why you shouldn’t be in consideration for any elite school.

What are goals post-graduation? I’ll be working for General Dynamics Mission Systems focusing on cyber warfare.

Princeton University is an Ivy League research university in Princeton, NJ. It is consistently ranked one of the best colleges in the world.

For more information, please visit www.princeton.edu

Service to School is a 501c(3) non-profit committed to helping our nation’s veterans earn admission to highly selective colleges and universities. Our mission is to help every transitioning military veteran win admission to the best college or graduate school possible.

In 2015, Service to School launched VetLink, an initiative within our larger mentoring program, which partners our organization with some of the best colleges and universities in the U.S. including Amherst College, Cornell University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Notre Dame, Princeton University, Smith College, Williams College, and Yale University.

Are you a transitioning veteran thinking about applying to college to earn your undergraduate or bachelor’s degree? Sign up for help from Service to School.