There are some countries in the world that require mandatory military service: Singapore, South Korea, Israel, to name a few. If you happen to be from one of them and want to attend the University of Illinois, have no fear! The University of Illinois is incredibly flexible in working with students who need the academic leave at any point in your college career!
If you are at the stage of looking to apply to the University of Illinois, be aware that the University will NOT hold delay admission for the military service. Simply put, if you apply and are offered enrollment to the University of Illinois, you will not be allowed to serve in the military before coming to the University of Illinois. If you plan to go to the military straight after high school, you must apply once you are finished with the military service in the appropriate year that follows completion of the service.
With that said, if you plan to attend the University of Illinois for at least one year before completing the service, you have various options. The University of Illinois will allow you to finish the service any time after that initial year of enrollment, meaning you are free to go after your freshman year, sophomore year, junior year, or even after you graduate.
The process of leaving the University of Illinois is very simple:
1. Meet with your academic advisor to explain you will be leaving for the service.
2. You will go to the ISSS office to cancel your F-1 student visa. You will then have 30 days after the cancellation date to leave the country.
Just a tip, make sure to keep all of your immigration documents, even if you are cancelling your F-1 visa! You may need it when applying for a new visa in the future.
Coming back from the military requires a little bit more attention and diligence. Notify the ISSS at least a couple of months in advance of your return so they can send you the I-20 Form with ample time for you to come back. You must also notify your specific college that you will be coming back and intending to resume your studies. After that, the school will re-activate your student Enterprise account, where you will be able to find your time ticket to register for classes. Another reason to make sure you let the University know early on is that registration for classes often happens at least two or three months ahead of the next semester, so it’s necessary to inform the ISSS as soon as possible to make sure you can register on time. Once you receive your new I-20, you are back to where you were before you left!
This is all considering you are an international student. If you happen to have United States permanent residency or citizenship, you can forego the ISSS and just stay in contact with your college and academic advisor.
I served in the South Korean military for 21 months. I chose to leave for the service after my freshman year of college, a decision made for several reasons. One, I had not chosen my major yet nor had I taken any courses relevant to my major. Two years is a long time to be gone, and I figured many of the things I learned from freshman year would have be forgotten by the time I came back. Two, I wanted to complete the military service as early as possible so I could focus just on my academics and my career goals once I came back. I remain satisfied with that decision, and recommend others to either go after their freshman or sophomore year.
The military has been an incredible experience, to say the least. I served as part of the Third Republic of Korea Army Band, playing the saxophone while performing my military duties. Although there were many ups and downs, the military experience is something that sets me apart today and is something not many students have done. I learned the importance of work ethic and discipline, skills I don’t think I would have been able to develop nearly as much if I didn’t serve in the military. I also learned the importance of positive thinking, as sometimes when the going got tough it was the mentality that needed to be strong to persevere. Living on base with the same young soldiers for almost 365 days a year certainly had its struggles as well. Under constant pressure and being in the same space all the time, I sometimes yearned to be alone and have a place to call my own. However, through all that, I developed soft skills and interpersonal skills in dealing with conflict that have been invaluable in my college career and I’m sure will help me wherever I go in life.
If you have to go serve, I encourage you to look at the situation with a positive mind. Although it may not be ideal to take that long of a break as students, it’s a life experience that not many students our age have the opportunity to pursue. Be open, stay strong, and good luck.