Bea Holzbach’s hard work as a homeschooled high school student has yielded a good deal of certainty regarding her future. She’s completing a college degree at Carnegie Mellon University and already knows who she’ll be working for once she graduates—the US Air Force (USAF).

The big question on her mind after landing a full training scholarship with the USAF is which job to pursue—because they all sound so good.

As a cadet in the USAF Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC), Bea has committed to serve in the Air Force and undergo military training in college in exchange for a full tuition scholarship.

She also qualified for entry into the USAF Academy—which only accepts 12 percent of applicants—but she chose to join ROTC because it provides more flexibility to make friends and delve into topics especially interesting to her.

Bea credits her homeschool experience with teaching her the value of these opportunities. “It was very personalized,” she said.

Finding What Works Best

Though she began her education in traditional school, her father started homeschooling her and her three younger sisters when she was in 3rd grade, and he put a lot of effort into researching which curriculum would work best for each daughter. For example, she quickly took to her Saxon Math textbooks and developed a passion for the subject. But when one of her sisters failed to show the same enthusiasm, he chose different learning materials for her.

When she was in 8th grade, Bea’s family moved across the pond to get to know family in Lisbon, Portugal, and returned to a traditional school. She developed fluency in Portuguese, and continued to hone a skill that homeschooling had already engendered: “I learned how to socialize better,” she said.

The Sky’s the Limit

When she returned to the Boston area a year later, she resumed homeschooling.

Academically, she focused on math and science, and supplemented her studies with Harvard University extension courses in chemistry, physics, computing, probability, and public speaking. Her final grade point average totaled two-hundredths of a point short of straight A’s—an achievement matched by scoring in the top one percent of the ACT college entrance exam.

She attributes her high marks to her father’s constant encouragement.

“I wasn’t thinking about grades at all,” she said of her high school years. “The message I got from homeschooling was that the most important thing was to try your hardest.”

Learning to Lead

“When I was almost 12,” Bea recalled, “I thought I had to decide what I wanted to do.” So she researched occupations online and found a job description for pilots. “I thought: ‘They’re pretty cool,’” she said.

The advertisements she later saw for serving in the Air Force added to the allure.

She also participated in extracurriculars that helped prove her value as a potential military officer. In 9th grade, she joined the Civil Air Patrol (CAP), which is the civilian auxiliary to the Air Force and features a well-developed cadet program.

“I loved the opportunity to test out the military environment,” she said.

Bea earned the Billy Mitchell Award, which ranks among CAP’s higher honors. She also served as cadet commander, which involved representing her local unit to adults, as well as drilling cadets, planning meetings, and delegating tasks. All of these roles strengthened her ability to connect with other people.

She especially enjoyed participating in CAP summer boot camp, both as a participant and a trainer.

“I wanted the leadership experience,” she said. “Learning to organize anything at age sixteen can be a challenge.”

She also enrolled in weeklong training sessions during the summers, and honed her physical fitness. She attended a science and technology program at the US Naval Academy and studied cyber defense at Fort Meade, Maryland. She also earned a black belt in Tae Kwon Do, in addition to competing in cross country and track for a local public high school.

Making a Good Impression

When it was time to apply for ROTC, Bea’s high school credentials were certainly enough to make the recruiters take notice. But she also leveraged her people skills.

“You have to perform well in an interview that really matters,” she said. At one point in her admission discussion with an ROTC officer, her parents were asked to leave the room. “They really want to make sure that this is what you want to do, and that you aren’t being forced into the military,” she said.

Nearly two years in, her enthusiasm for the Air Force hasn’t waned. If anything, the difficulty lies in choosing from among the many possibilities that intrigue her.

She switched her major from physics to civil engineering, “mostly because it makes me happy,” but also because she wants to prepare for possible jobs in the military. Civil engineers are prized by the Air Force. But she’s also interested in cyber intelligence and air traffic control—and hasn’t given up on her dream of becoming a pilot.

If she does end up working in the Air Force as a civil engineer, there’s the possibility of qualifying for an elite cadre known as RED HORSE. “Red Horse squadrons are capable of being dropped somewhere and building an entire base with housing, hangars, and runways for planes,” she said.

Ultimately, she knows she’ll find her place. “The reason I was okay going into the military is that, if I don’t know what to do, they’ll tell me,” she joked.

In the meantime, she’ll continue enjoying her college experience. As spring break approached, Bea said she’d decided to stay on campus to take part in designing improvements to the school hockey rink and safety gear for the players.

Bea said she and other students will have access to Carnegie Mellon’s fabrication lab, where they will use various tools and materials to fashion and test hockey-related equipment. Students will be awarded a stipend if any of their ideas are adopted by company sponsors, including the Pittsburgh Penguins professional hockey team and German manufacturer Covestro.

Not only does the project promise interesting work experience, but it also holds another prospect that excites Bea. “Maybe I’ll make a new friend,” she said.