My question is actually 3-fold.

Situation: Currently I’m a high schooler, but I know for a fact that I’m going to enlist in the Air Force for a 4-year tenure. However, I want to get the best education after my service, and for my prospective major of EECS/Physics, Columbia, MIT, and the HYP schools are the best (and also let me network really well). I also click with the vibe of these schools, have visited, know people who have visited, and have talked to current students/alumni/AP’s (in other words, please don’t deviate from these 5 schools during this thread). Now I know that Columbia treats vets the best, but I also found out that a majority of these vets are navy veterans. So here comes question(s) 1:

Does me going into the Air Force hurt my chances into getting into Columbia as an EECS/Physics guy? What should I do during my AF career to really maximize my chances of getting in (other than taking a bunch of CC courses and getting a 4.0)?

My question(s) 2 is: How much do these colleges care about what you did in high school? I’m not a bad student, but I’m not exactly ‘MIT caliber’ either. Furthermore, how does becoming a veteran affect my chances of getting into non-Columbia schools that I mentioned (if at all)?

Finally: This is completely random, but can I take the Putnam exam even after Air Force Community College? On the Putnam website, it says the participant shouldn’t hold a college degree. I really wanted to participate in this because I love math, doing well in the Putnam opens a lot of doors, and doing well in the Putnam eases up the tuition, which is why this is relatively important to me.

Anyway, thanks for reading and, if you took your valuable time to answer, thanks for that as well!

By your post you are at best 4 years away from applying to any college, guessing more. The way the college landscape is changing and the way that you will be changing means that most of this is simply daydreaming.

To your specific questions, 1) no AF v Navy won’t penalize you at Columbia.; 2) your CC coursework will matter more than your HS record, and 3) Putnam is limited to people who are current undergraduates and do not hold a bachelors degree- AF CC is an AA/AS degree, not a BA/BS.

And completely ignoring your “please don’t deviate from these 5 schools” directive (b/c I can), I will point out that of that tier of school you left out UPenn, which treats military better even than Columbia, does not have the same Navy bent, and is strong for physics.

Thanks! That was really helpful, and I have some doubts cleared up. Regarding UPenn, I’ve visited a couple of times and most of the people that have gone there that I personally know (of course it isn’t true for a majority of UPenn undergrads) transferred out; however, they weren’t veterans, which is something to consider.

A follow up question: What exactly is a strong veteran applicant’s ‘resume’ (i.e. other than promotions and taking CC classes)? I’ve searched some possible ‘extracirriculars’, but I also want to see what people on this thread suggest.

If you’re aiming for the top colleges, they will also want to see high test scores. Especially in math/science. Due to the ongoing COVID crisis, many of the colleges will probably end up giving out waivers. But who knows how long that will last.

While you are in the military, you should probably plan on studying for standardized tests: SAT and/or ACT.

Think about applying directly to USAFA after your first year of enlisted service. I know that all engineering and pure science majors were very challenging at USNA. Likely the same at AFA. Could be a good route and puts you in a strong position for grad school after your service commitment is fulfilled. And only two years behind doing an enlisted tour and then four year undergraduate.

I did fairly well at a very competitive public school and got flat out rejected by two Ivies. If you’re joining the military to “boost” your resume, your command and eventually the schools you apply to would smell it. They already have enough “I wanted to serve my country, so thank me for my service” essays.

If you’re joining the military for some other reason, that’s what would enhance your so called “resume,” as that is what makes you interesting.

The military cannot make up for mediocre academic performance, but it can definitely blossom some hidden talents that you never used in high school (e.g. mentorship, courage, etc)

Please ask yourself why you want to join the Air Force and what you want to get out of the military before enlisting.

Also, my friends who got into Columbia were not able to attend as the YRP is ironically reserved for Columbia College and engineering, which are a lot more competitive to get into.

@FireBlock1 Thanks for your response! I’m definitely not going for a “resume booster”, because I’m undecided on whether I’ll even go to college. I was just checking some of my options for the future.

Would you happen to have any information on how the air force teaches theoretical physics? That’s really what I want to study if I decide to go to college after AF, and I was drawn to HYP/Columbia’s theoretical physics opportunities.

Thanks for your time!

@HazeGrey That was definitely one of the options I was considering (although I’m planning on going into service for more than 2 years).

@ollieolliewayne I am not in the Air Force, but based on my interactions with Airmen, the Community College of the Air Force is quite laughable if you’re actually serious about academia. There are a lot of great vocational programs offered by that “institution” (if you want to call it that), but if you’re looking to major in something serious, CCAF ain’t it, as you’d most likely get a general science associates degree with credits that most likely won’t transfer.

CCAF instruction for the most part is given through an online portal without a legitimate instructor. The portal is kind of like a leap pad. It’s just an interactive textbook. All the “knowledge” is flat out given to you, so it’s not intuitive whatsoever if you’re trying to use your brain. Most people just spam click the “skip” button until the modules are complete anyways.

Testing and accreditation is usually done at your base’s education center. As I said, the CCAF modules will give you the answers to the test, so if you have a photographic memory, you’d be straight. Because it’s so easy to pass these tests without firing a single neuron, most accredited institutions recognize CCAF credits as trash. Use your TA on a more legitimate community college while in.

I highly advise against joining the Air Force unless you have a specific career you want to pursue in mind. The Air Force is pretty much a structured corporation, and you won’t learn anything you couldn’t learn in a civilian job. If you want to learn something useful, try the other four branches.