SAC Student Elliot Watt Accepted at Princeton University

June 13, 2024

Office of Marketing & Strategic Communications

After a year at San Antonio College, Elliot Watt, 25, will start at Princeton University as a sophomore this fall with an all-expenses-paid scholarship to study neuroscience.

Watt wasn’t sure he could make it to an Ivy League university following a series of setbacks, including an unsuccessful first attempt at college, having to abandon his dream career, and the death of his mother.

Elliot Watt Princeton web 2.jpgWhile his journey to Princeton had a few detours along the way, he spent his year at SAC working steadily toward his goal.

Originally from Mississippi, Watt had planned to join the military after high school. After visiting his brother, a fraternity member at the University of Mississippi, he changed his mind.

“I was just there to socialize. After about a year and a half, I realized, ‘What am I doing with my time?’” he said. “I was just immature, I had bad grades, and I was undisciplined.”

He dropped out to join the Navy, pursuing his dream of becoming a Navy Seal. That plan changed after he sustained serious injuries during training. He completed his military service in February 2023 after three years and contemplated his next steps.

He decided to get serious about his education, with a goal of going to the University of Texas at Austin. He chose to start at SAC for two reasons: the college’s large veteran community and to be near his best friend from high school, who lived in San Antonio.

He was determined to make the most of his time and applied for the Honors Academy and Phi Theta Kappa, an honor society at SAC, as soon as he could.

“I could tell when he came to meet with me about joining the (Honors) program that he wanted to get the most out of his experience at SAC,” said Honors Academy Director Laurie Coleman.

Watt agrees.

“I was looking for the best possible places I could be to spend my time that would help me get into these institutions,” he said.

While studying, Watt also worked on campus at the Victory Center, a one-stop service center for veterans and military-affiliated students. During this time, he discovered two nonprofit organizations for veterans that changed his ideas about his future: Service to School and the Warrior-Scholar Project.

“They were really the ones that pushed me to strive for Princeton,” Watt said.

Service to School provides free college and grad school application counseling to military veterans and service members.

The program connected Watt with a peer mentor who was a Princeton student and fellow Navy veteran. He introduced Watt to other Princeton students, helped him with his admission essay, and talked to him about student life.

Through the Warrior-Scholar Project, Watt participated in an academic boot camp in which professors from Ivy League institutions, including Harvard and Yale, taught a rigorous, condensed one-week online program.

The program was an eye-opener for Watt. He realized that he was capable of a high level of academic work.

“I thought, ‘Wow, I can do this,’” he said. “I realized I could put my head down, do the work and do what everyone else was doing.”

His passion for neuroscience stemmed from his struggle with grief following the death of his mother in 2022. On the advice of his boss, he started going to the gym regularly and soon began to feel better. The brain-body connection triggered his interest: why did exercise work so well for feeling better mentally? He began researching the topic.

“I went down this rabbit hole. It was an instant passion,” he said.

When the time came to write his application essay, Watt enlisted help from Coleman at the Honors Academy. With a lackluster academic history prior to SAC, and not reaching his Navy Seal dreams, he wasn’t sure he would be a good candidate.

“Elliot had a lot of self-doubt regarding his admissions,” Coleman said. “I remember telling him they want to know where you’ve struggled, the challenges you’ve had. Own up to those things. If you felt you didn’t do your best, it’s okay to admit that. It’s okay to be a well-rounded, flawed applicant.”

Elliot Watt Princeton web 1.jpgWatt learned that Princeton and other top-tier colleges actively recruit non-traditional students, military veterans, community college transfer students and first-generation college students. Princeton offered to cover all of Watt’s expenses, including tuition, housing and food.

The head of transfer admissions at Princeton reached out to Watt and invited him to get in touch with any questions. Watt spoke with him multiple times to ask questions and learn more about the university.

“They really made themselves available for veterans and transfer students,” Watt said.

When Watt got his acceptance letter, he knew he’d made the right choice, especially when he received an outpouring of congratulations from people on campus.

“I had five or six students text me immediately saying congratulations, give me a call if you need anything,” he said.

SAC played a pivotal role in realizing his academic goals, Watt said.  

“SAC was a great stepping stone,” Watt said. “I don’t know where else I would have gone that I would have gotten as much help, being a veteran, or to be around as many veterans as well.” 

Watt has advice for other SAC students planning their next steps: “Don’t sell yourself short,” he said.

“You have something to give to the world. You just have to figure out what it is. Put yourself in situations that are going to help you achieve your goals and don’t get discouraged. You always have people who will help.”