The Ivy League Loadmaster — How’d this guy get into Yale?

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TRUE STORY: It’s late on a weeknight. I put my kids to bed a while ago and I’m working on my second G&T to unwind when the call comes. I see the number, note the time, and think “this can’t be good.”

Me: “Hello.”

I hear music (or what passes for it these days) loud happy voices and the slurred speech of one of my airmen shouting at me over a broken cell phone line.

GC: Dude! …. Uh …. Sir! I got in…. and I’m fu…. Psyched! Thanks so much!!

Me: “You’re broken. Say again. Who’s with you? Do I need to get you an Uber?”

GC: “No no no. I’m with a bunch of friends. We’re celebrating. I just got the call and it’s legit!”

Me: “WTF are you talking about? It’s kinda late & I’m supposed to fly tomorrow. You shouldn’t be calling me like this unless there’s something wrong.”

GC: “You’re not hearing me, Sir…. I got IN!”

Me: “Got in? ….. You mean, that letter helped? MY letter? YALE?”

GC: “Fu…in’ A, Sir!! And I owe it all to you!!”

Me: (Incredulous) “Well I’ll be damned. I was just bullsh….. (catching myself) …..uh …. That’s fantastic! I just told them what you were all about. No embellishments, and I knew you’d get it. Congratulations!!”

GC: “My Mom’s here and she says next time she sees you she’s gonna give you a big fat kiss.”

This is a quandary for me for three reasons, (1) his mom is only about 3 years older than me, (2) rumor has it she was a penthouse pet back in the day, and (3) my wife is next to me on the couch hearing every word of this conversation, and she’s aware of those rumors.

Me: (conflicted) “Uh …. You just tell her to save that for the day you graduate. Drop by my office Friday and lets’ talk about your plans.”

GC: “Awesome Sir! I couldn’t be happier.”


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I’m left racking my brain trying to remember what the three things were that I told him. This is great news but I’m a bit taken aback. Yale? Really? F-ing Yale? I couldn’t’ get into Yale. My Dad couldn’t either. Not even that straight-A valedictorian/quarterback/Eagle Scout TOOL from high school who stole my girlfriend could get in. So how the hell did this guy … uh … well …. Awesome kid I must admit; but Yale? Really?

Yeah, I wrote the letter of recommendation; said that he was poised, diligent, showed surprising judgement, and mature beyond his years. Said he had some great stories from Afghanistan. Even said he wasn’t afraid to speak up & tell truth to power. None of that was BS, but my attitude when I clicked send was “hope he’s not crushed.” After his overseas time, staying in with the military by transferring to the Guard while knocking out classes at the local JC showed commitment and energy. Still, I remember thinking the Yale application was a moon shot. Son of a bitch! That’s awesome!

Then it came to me. The three things. Pulled them out of my ‘you know what’ at the time, but perhaps there was something to them.

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  1. Do NOT be intimidated by a university’s academic standing or reputation. Just apply!

Top colleges and universities are pining for mature veterans to add diversity of perspective to their undergraduate cohorts. The schools WANT you. Just think of how your military experience and the perspective that comes from your time overseas will enhance class discussion. Really, most of their new admits have seen little competition outside of a spelling bee or a lacrosse field, little life experience outside of their elite prep school. Hey, here’s someone who agrees with me. In fact, Stanford, Brown, Yale and even Berkeley seem to be begging you to reach out.

2. Kick ass in your JC classes and PREPARE for those aptitude tests.

All they want to see is that you can handle the classwork. That doesn’t mean you have to outscore Muffy, Biff, Chadwick, or Spalding from Phillips Exeter Academy. But you still have to prove that you can put a sentence together, remember some history, have an informed opinion, explain the difference between a proton and a neutron, and (God forbid) solve for an unknown variable. So think of your brain is a muscle; condition it before you put it on display.

3. As a vet you’ve got a genuine story to tell. Be authentic and tell it in your personal statements on the application.

Don’t try to game the system by telling them what you think they want to hear. Anything you write is going to be more interesting to the admissions officer assigned to your case than the 20th essay he or she reads national spelling bee from Muffy, Biff, Chadwick, or Spalding from Phillips Exeter. For another perspective pay close attention to #5 of “5 Ways You Can Stand Out When Applying To Top Colleges.”

4. Seek out letters from people who can speak to your character, inquisitiveness, willingness to speak up.

Again, it’s not about how smart you may be. They can tell that from your scores and grades; and those just need to be good enough. Rather, when they look at a veteran they are looking at someone who’ll be a bit older and more mature than the other admits. They KNOW you’ll have something to say in class from your experiences. They hope you’ll speak up in the dorm to enhance everyone’s college experience. College administrators are well aware that their institutions are politically correct ivory towers, and they want YOU to mix things up (intellectually not physically) a tad. Find someone to recommend you who will attest to your penchant to offer informed opinions even in stressful situations. If you’re a vet, there’ll be plenty of material there.

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