Q and A with
Leadership Scholar Program
Deborah Marconda began serving as the program manager of the Leadership Scholar Program (LSP) for the U.S. Marine Corps in August 2015. She is a strong advocate for Marines furthering their educational pursuits after separation. In the following interview, Ms. Marconda discusses LSP's unique role within the field of secondary education and the U.S. Armed Forces.
Q: What exactly is the Leadership Scholar Program?
A: LSP was formed to provide qualified Marine applicants with assistance in the university admission process. Through a partnership with four-year, not-for-profit colleges and universities across the nation, we provide Marines with the tools they need to attain their educational goals as they transition from Active Duty to the private sector. We have achieved a high success rate due to our collaborative process and our partner schools vested interest in ensuring veteran Marines achieve their educational goals.
Q: How does the LSP work?
A: Marines participating in LSP choose up to three of our partner schools and we act as a facilitator between the Marine and the schools. We present the Marine's documentation to the schools, which consists of all appropriate transcripts, testing scores, and character references; in return, the schools provide us with a realistic assessment of the Marine’s competitiveness as a candidate for that institution. Our partner schools will often go beyond simply assessing a Marine’s academic readiness and provide us with detailed guidance and suggestions as to how we can help the Marine become more academically competitive in the admission process.
The best part of LSP is that all of this happens before the Marine spends hours preparing applications that may never get past the initial admissions screening. LSP helps Marines determine exactly where they stand with an institution, so they can make an informed decision whether or not to apply.
Alternatively, if a partner school suggests that a Marine has what it takes to be competitive, we will help the Marine prepare a quality application package. Once the Marine submits the application, we then reconnect with our partner school and provide appropriate highlights of the Marine’s career. This second touch point allows us to explain how the Marine’s experience translates into the type of candidate desired by our partner school.
Q: Do other service branches have similar programs?
A: LSP is unique to the Marine Corps. It grew out of partnerships between the Marine Corps and the California and North Carolina State University systems. These initial partnerships were so successful that the Marine Corps decided to expand the program to every state. Currently, we have 240 partner schools with at least one school in every state and the District of Columbia.
Q: Do you find it to be more beneficial for those veteran Marines who are entering college as freshmen or as transfer students?
A: LSP supports Marines at every stage of the educational journey, but there are times that Marines may have more success applying as transfer students. It depends on the institution’s criteria, and the Marine’s academic and extracurricular record. The bigger challenge Marines face is that admission processes are geared toward the traditionally-aged high school applicant. These students have no gap in their education time, moving directly from high school into college, and have superior grades, SAT and ACT scores, and extracurricular activities. Marines, on the other hand, will have a gap in their education time and may not have had a successful high school or college experience prior to enlisting. There is no way to adequately compare the experiences of a veteran Marine to those of an average high school senior. As such, it is quite understandable that admissions committees struggle to evaluate how Marine candidates will fit into the traditional, rigorous academic setting.
Despite some of the barriers in the admissions process, Marines tackle the challenge head-on because they understand they must earn their place in an institution. Although there have been some recent articles suggesting that top-tier institutions are not focused on recruiting veterans, I have not found that to be true. Our partner schools, some of the most competitive institutions in the country, are dedicated to creating diverse academic environments and regard veteran Marines as an essential element. They are eager to assist us by offering encouragement and advice on topics such as acquiring the right kind of letter of recommendation, writing a standout essay, and creating a winning application. Also, if they deem a Marine needs academic ‘seasoning’ at the community college level, they will even provide us with a list of recommended classes to prepare them for a future transfer.
Q: How do colleges and universities sign up for the LSP?
A: To become an official partner of LSP, a representative of a college or university should contact us by visiting our website www.leadershipscholarprogram.com. We welcome all public and private not-for-profit, four-year institutions. We also encourage those considering participation, to speak with our current partner schools about the process.
Q: How does a Marine apply for the LSP?
A: Marines can apply online by visiting www.leadershipscholarprogram.com. Marines are eligible to apply to LSP if they are (or will be) an Honorably Discharged Marine who is planning to attend a school as a freshman or a transfer student. They must have a recommendation from a commanding officer or someone for whom they have worked, a minimal Armed Forces Qualification Test (AFQT) score of 70 or higher and a General Technical (GT) score of 115 or higher from the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB). Marines can apply while on Active Duty and must be within 18 months of their End of Active Service (EAS) and no more than six months past the EAS date.
Q: What sort of documents should a Marine have ready when beginning the LSP application process?
A: Marines must be nominated by their Command and submit copies of their Basic Individual Record (BIR), Basic Training Record (BTR), Joint Services Transcript (JST), high school and college transcripts, SAT or ACT scores, military awards and recommendation letters.
There are other criteria to be considered in addition to their AFQT and GT scores, and their discharge status. Proficiency and conduct marks are reviewed, as well. LSP seeks candidates that represent what it means to be a Marine in body, mind, and spirit.
Q: Who should a Marine turn to for the principal advising needs to use the LSP services? The school admissions officers? The Marine Corps Education Office? You?
A: All three are appropriate resources and through LSP we work collectively as a team. Regardless of whether or not a Marine applies to LSP, I recommend the first step for any Marine interested in higher
education is to talk to a Marine Corps Education Services Officer (ESO) or Education Services Specialist (ESS), as these individuals are incredibly knowledgeable about all aspects of secondary education. Marines are always welcome to contact me through the website for more information.
Q: What are the most common misconceptions regarding the LSP, especially about its services for Marines in the application for university admission process?
A: I believe the three biggest misconceptions are: 1) all past questionable academic performance is forgiven through LSP; 2) school admission standards are lowered for LSP participants; and, 3) participation in LSP is guaranteed admission to any school. This is simply not the case in any of these instances.
Academic performance, whether in high school or college, is always at the forefront of the admission decision. Participation in LSP can lead to assistance in preparing to meet the academic standards required for acceptance into a specific college or university.
Additionally, universities discussing their admission standards and qualifications often use language that is intentionally vague. A school's admission standards might include a minimum GPA of 2.0. The confusion occurs when a Marine confuses minimum with competitive. LSP focuses on working with our partners to help Marines become competitive applicants.
Q: So, the school point of contact can help the qualified LSP Marine get every fair consideration for admission into the school, without watering down the school’s academic standards, even if the Marine has not quite piled up the type of resume that the exceptional high school senior might have?
A: Yes, that is correct. We have strong relationships with our partner schools, who make it clear that there are no shortcuts. The admission requirements must be met. We believe that our partner schools respect the fact that when we put forward a Marine for candidacy, that Marine is academically and emotionally prepared for the rigors of a college education, as well as able to sustain the high academic standards of the institution, if not raise them higher.
Q: Is there anything else you would like to tell us about this unique program?
A: Well, of course, the success stories are always gratifying. When you work with these ambitious and inspiring Marines over a period of time with the sole intent to help them further their education and contributions to our communities, it’s hard not to get personally invested in their successes. One instance, in particular, concerns a Marine who applied for admission and was accepted into Georgetown University in Washington, DC. He is the first member of his family to attend college, much less a school that carries the academic reputation and rigors of Georgetown. He offered a deep, heartfelt, personal thank you to all who helped him within the LSP and throughout the application process.
Much like the lesson learned in boot camp—the right to attend an institution is earned, not given. Thank you for the opportunity to speak on behalf of the Leadership Scholar Program.
This interview was conducted by Heather Hagan, Public Affairs Officer, MFP Division, USMC HQ–MCB Quantico; and Bart MacMillan, Public Affairs Officer and Education Specialist, P&PD, H&S Bn–Henderson Hall, Arlington Va.
- Issue: 12
- Volume: 3