Service To School: Helping Veterans Get Into Top Schools
By Thomas Ehrlich and Ernestine Fu
After serving in Iraq together, Tim Hsia and Augusto Giacoman returned home to pursue graduate degrees. Hsia enrolled in a joint law and business degree program at Stanford University in 2010, while Giacoman started business school at New York University in 2009. Both officers’ educations were mostly funded by the Post 9/11 GI Bill, a bill that provides up to 36 months of education benefits.
Motivated to help other veterans also study at top universities and maximize their education benefits, the two founded the nonprofit organization Service to School in June 2011. “As an organization and as a country, we believe that education is one of the best ways to help veterans who are transitioning out of the military,” stresses Hsia, “A great education can equip veterans with the skills, network, and experience to succeed in the modern economy.” He explains that if we want this generation of veterans to be the next Greatest Generation then the United States should ensure that the Post 9/11 GI Bill is as effective as the original GI Bill was for the World War II veterans. Service to School provides application assistance and mentoring for veterans to get into the best schools they can.
Hsia and Giacoman first met as cadets at West Point thirteen years ago. They went through infantry officer basic course and ranger school together, and then served in the same unit. They bonded over a passion for volunteering and helping others. When deployed in Tacoma, for example, they both found a way to tutor at a local juvenile detention center and teach sixteen year olds how to read.
While in graduate school, they started helping friends who were returning from deployments to apply for graduate schools. Giacoman referred veteran friends to Hsia, and Hsia did the same for him. They started reaching out to their classmates who were also veterans to see if they would help candidates as well. These efforts became the foundation for Service to School.
The group started on an entirely volunteer basis. Anna Ivey, former dean of admissions at University of Chicago law school and a professional admissions consultant, is one volunteer and a co-founder.* “What’s exciting to me about Service to School,” she shared, “is that while there are so many non-profits dedicated to serving veterans even just in the education space, nobody else is focusing specifically on helping them with the application process.” Other volunteers include veterans who have been helped. Through a pay-it-forward model, these veterans successfully go through the application process themselves and then counsel new applicants.
In addition to application counseling, Service to School has also arranged information webinars with top schools, negotiated discounts with test prep providers such as Veritas Prep, and managed relationship with testing companies such as GMAC, owner of the GMAT exam. The organization has also partnered with multiple veteran organizations such as Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, Student Veterans of America, and the Warrior-Scholar Program.
Today, Service to School has a proven track record with over a hundred veterans admitted to top schools like Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Northwestern, Wharton, Columbia, and Notre Dame. The group has also brought on board advisors including Marine General Jim Mattis, VeriFone Corporation Chairman Les Denend, and Stanford Professor Charles O’Reilly III.
* We initially wrote Anna Ivey is a volunteer of the organization. She is also a co-founder. Khalil Tawil, a veteran and current joint-degree student at Harvard Business School and Yale Law School, is another co-founder.