“If I can break down how we assess our application, it’s going to be the 60-30-10 rule.” Admissions officer, Tuan Le, tells SocratesPost the inner workings of how to get into the U.S. Military Academy at West Point – one of the toughest universities in the world. Get your physical fitness and Congressional support ready — especially if you want to be in special ops or military intelligence.
Exclusive Insider Interview: Tuan Le, U.S. Military Academy West Point admissions officer
SocratesPost: Tuan, tell us about your experience.
Tuan at West Point: I started this May 2019, and I currently operate as the southeast outreach admissions officer. I cover eight states, including a DC. So that’s Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, Georgia and Alabama. I primarily work with students from underserved, underprivileged communities, targeting the diversity candidate. That includes Native American students, Spanish American students, as well as African American students specifically for West Point. Starting in May, up until now, I’m working with the class of 2024. It’s been a really great experience just because I myself had struggled trying to go through the admissions process as a student. The student population that I’m working with now comes from a similar background as me, so the mission really resonates with me as far as trying to help the students and learn more about the opportunities that West Point has to offer.
SocratesPost: What is a day in your life like?
Tuan at West Point: About 80% of my time is on the road, and the remaining 20% is more administrative. The 20%, I’m back at the office, I’m catching up on all the files, making sure that it’s getting pushed up to the admissions committee for review. But the 80% of the time is the most important and valuable time, because that’s where I’m actually on the road spending it with students. I’ll travel to different high schools talking to freshmen to juniors as well as seniors, talking to counselors, educators, even congressional representatives, because what’s unique about the service academies is that they need a congressional nomination to receive an appointment to the school. So the congressional representative plays a big part in the admissions process. I talk to them and update them with what’s changed or what we’re looking for, or really just help them narrow down which students would be a good fit as far as the academy goes. I also go to college fairs at universities to talk to advisors about the opportunities that West Point has. Last but not least, I do home visits. The students that are currently applying within my pool, I’ll often reach out to them, let them know when I’m in the area, and I’ll meet them either at their home with their parents, or I’ll just meet them at Starbucks and really just talk to them one-on-one, give them advice on what they can do moving forward with their application.
SocratesPost: During these home visits, are you vetting out the student and taking notes? Or are they more informational?
Tuan at West Point: I will do somewhat a mental note, as well as some remarks. But really my main intent is to inform and to educate. Every interaction is important. One of the hardest things, at least in this process for West Point to assess is going to be honor. We’re looking at character, we’re looking at their morals and ethics, and that’s really hard to demonstrate on paper. So each interaction, including the one in person, is a valuable data point for us to see how the person is and if it would be a good fit.
One of the hardest things… for West Point to assess is going to be honor. We’re looking at character, we’re looking at their morals and ethics, and that’s really hard to demonstrate on paper.
SocratesPost: Speaking of character and morals and ethics, what are examples of outstanding candidates who’ve shown moral strength?
Tuan at West Point: What we like to look at is a track record of success and leadership. We’re typically looking at what positions are they filling as far as extracurriculars go, and sports, and so if they happen to be just a general member or they’re just a participant on their sports team, that’s great, because it’s them participating. But if they take it to another level where they’re taking on a leadership position, whether it’s the captain, co-captain, president, vice president, and now they’re making decisions for more than just themselves and then continuing to demonstrate that over a period of time, they’re going to be experiencing some moments where they have to make critical decisions which require good character, good values. So that’s one aspect where we can see that demonstrated track record of success. The other side of it is letters of recommendation. Those that are closest to them will talk on behalf of their performance, their character, and how they are as a person, how they developed over a period of time. The last thing I’d say is going to be the personal statement. It’s how the student thinks about difficult topics such as working in diverse groups, overcoming a difficult obstacle, and what their reflection is on that.
SocratesPost: Having read so many recommendation letters, what exactly do you look for that makes it stand out from the rest?
Tuan at West Point: That’s a good question. Definitely a sign of maturity, as far as being able to reflect and understand what had happened in the past. This is just an example. I’m thinking specifically about overcoming a difficult obstacle and if they can think through what happened and what they’re able to learn from it. Maturity is just being able to see what went wrong and then what they could have done better and how they can apply it for future applications. Another one is just really being personal and authentic. Because we can see some students write very generic essays, and that’s not as memorable. But if they can share something that’s very unique to them, that’s going to make them stand out apart from the rest of the applicants.
SocratesPost: Lately, more students have been hiring out help, whether it’s an essay coach or consultant. Is that something you look out for in the application?
Tuan at West Point: At least with the students that I specifically work with, they’re typically from more of the underserved region; they typically don’t have access to that. But a good way to see if they’re getting assistance is actually comparing their SAT and ACT essays to their actual personal statements. There, they can’t get any help. And so you see if there’s any alignment in that. And if that’s the case, you can read between the lines on that there.
SocratesPost: As for the SAT, many schools have or are seriously considering eliminating that requirement. Where’s West Point on that?
SocratesPost: In terms of order of importance, we talked about the personal statement, letters of rec, and test scores. But you also require tests that most schools don’t have, like the physical. How do you rank the importance of each one?
SocratesPost: What about the 30%?
SocratesPost: And then the 10%?
SocratesPost: You talked about the rigor of classes when evaluating academics. What tools do you use to understand the meaning of an A at one school versus the next? Sometimes, one school’s AP Calc teacher just refuses to give out As whereas the neighboring school’s teacher happily hands out As.
SocratesPost: You were talking about visiting schools, since 80% of your time is spent on the road. How do you choose which specific high school to target?
SocratesPost: That makes sense. Speaking of the administrative 20% of your work, what is the path of an application? Does it go to you, then a second reader, then a committee — or how does it work?
SocratesPost: Does ongoing mean rolling admission?
SocratesPost: Is it like a conditional acceptance with a likely letter?
SocratesPost: And then when you say “checking the file,” are you just ensuring every requirement is attached or does that also include rejecting the ones that you feel like don’t have a shot?
SocratesPost: If the student’s application is missing something, do you alert them and give them an opportunity to submit it?
SocratesPost: It seems like your position is guiding them, as opposed to hoping that they forget some things so you don’t have to read their application.
SocratesPost: I read a statistic that West Point accepts under 10% of its applicants. Is that still true?
Tuan at West Point: Each year we get about 17-18,000 applications. So we have to narrow it down to about 1200. That’s the rate there. Another unique statistic is that by the end of four years, less than 1000 students graduate. It’s an interesting attrition rate but it demonstrates the difficulty.
SocratesPost: When you say “difficulty,” do you mean academic, social, physical, or other?