Eric Watson ’91 wasn’t envisioning himself as a U.S. Marine Corps aviator when he first came to Syracuse University. The Washington D.C., native originally intended on studying computer science, but as is the case with many college students, Watson realized…
2023 Tillman Scholarship Deadline Approaching; Application Advice From 2022 Scholars
Time is running out for potential applicants looking to become one of Syracuse University’s next Tillman Scholars. The scholarship, made available by the Pat Tillman Foundation, is held in high regard as one of the premier academic scholarships for the military-connected community within higher education. The foundation will close the application window this year on Feb. 28 and announce this year’s selected scholars near the end of the spring semester.
The Pat Tillman Foundation is named after the professional National Football League (NFL) football player Patrick Tillman, who played defensive back for the Arizona Cardinals prior to Sept. 11, 2001. Tillman later turned down a multimillion-dollar football contract to enlist in the U.S. Army, ultimately becoming a U.S. Army Ranger who deployed to both Iraq and Afghanistan.
Tillman was killed in action while on a mission in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in 2004, but months after his death it was discovered that the incident was the result of friendly fire. Tillman’s friends and family picked up his mantle to continue honoring those committed to service beyond self and launched the Patrick Tillman Foundation.
Syracuse is one of 16 colleges and universities recognized as a University Partner by the Tillman Foundation, and the University typically has at least one Tillman Scholar each year. In 2022, Syracuse had its largest cohort of Tillman Scholars to date, with four military-connected students honored.
“Syracuse University takes a lot of pride in its Tillman Scholars, as they often go on to be some of our most accomplished military-connected alumni. We want to see everyone who is interested in becoming a Tillman Scholar submit an application. It really does come down to showing passion for service beyond self,” says Ron Novack, executive director of the Office of Veteran and Military Affairs (OVMA).
From the University’s first Tillman Scholar in 2017, to the four most recent additions to the University’s cohort, a common suggestion for those interested in applying is to start early and take advantage of the available resources at Syracuse, like the Center for Fellowship and Scholarship Advising (CFSA).
“The first step for any scholarship application is to understand the scholarship’s selection criteria and be prepared to demonstrate how you meet those criteria. The Tillman Scholars Program selects scholars based on service, scholarship, humble leadership and potential for impact,” says Jolynn Parker, director of CFSA. “In the application, you have two short essays—one focused on your past experiences and the other on your future goals—to demonstrate your fit with their criteria. Make sure you craft a coherent narrative that connects those two essays, and make sure you articulate clear and compelling future goals.”
When asked what challenges they faced, and what recommendations they have for this year’s potential applicants, the 2022 Tillman Scholars from Syracuse University provided the following advice.
U.S. Navy Veteran
College of Law, JDinteractive (JDi) program (2L)
“You have to do the legwork and you have to be organized about it. Use the checklists that are built into the application system to keep you on track. Definitely do not wait until the last minute because it will be overwhelming and not something you can just throw together.”
U.S. Air Force Veteran
College of Arts and Sciences, Creative Writing Fellow
“One of the biggest challenges when applying for the Tillman scholarship was, I had to get into a conversation with myself about how much information I wanted to put out there. I questioned if my story was worth telling. I had to overcome those feelings of insecurity.”
U.S. Army Veteran
College of Law, JDi program (3L)
“For anyone who is considering applying, it takes a lot of time to prepare a competitive application. It takes a lot of iterations and really refining your application package. I found it to be an opportunity to learn more about myself, I knew what I wanted to do, but the Tillman process helped me refine that and really sharpen it.”
U.S. Marine Corps Veteran
College of Law, JDi program (1L)
“I think the biggest challenge for me was the imposter syndrome of having to write a letter about things that I have accomplished. I know that I’ve accomplished a lot, but it’s hard for me to write about those things. I was obviously able to do it, but that was a mental challenge for me.”
The Tillman Scholarship program is open to veterans and active-duty service members, including the National Guard, who have served in both pre-and post-9/11 eras. Spouses of veteran or active-duty service members are also eligible. Applicants must be enrolled as a full-time student pursuing an undergraduate, graduate or professional degree at a private or public, U.S.-based, accredited institution for the upcoming academic year. To see other criteria and apply to be a 2023 Tillman Scholar, visit the OVMA’s Tillman Scholars webpage.
The application window opened in October 2022 and will close the evening of Feb. 28. Those military-connected students who are interested in applying are highly encouraged to contact the Center for Fellowship and Scholarship. For more information on resources available, and other scholarship opportunities for military-connected students, visit the Office of Veteran and Military Affairs.