14 May 1965 – Across the U.S., more than 400,000 college students took the draft deferment examination, given at 1,200 colleges and universities, in order to be exempted from being drafted into the United States military during the war, while anti-war demonstrations took place outside many of the testing centers. (1)
In the early days of the Vietnam War, students were safe from the draft. “College undergraduate and graduate students were automatically awarded draft status 2-S–deferment for postsecondary education–and could not be forced to serve. For those opposed to the war, it was a get-out-of-jail-free card.
In 1965, that changed.
The war in Vietnam was escalating, and the U.S. Army found itself in need of more recruits. In fact, by the fall of 1965, the U.S. Defense Department would order the highest enlistment quotas since the pinnacle of the Korean War: 27,400 men in September, and 33,600 in October.
To meet these demands, the U.S. military began to draw from a new pool: college men. The policy, Director of Selective Service System Lewis B. Hershey announced, would affect only a small percentage of the 1.8 million college students in the country—“only a thousand or two a month.”
These thousands weren’t selected at random. Instead, the Selective Service System (SSS) instituted a system of academic evaluation under which local draft boards would defer students based on intellectual ability. This ability was determined by two factors: class rank, and score on a national aptitude test known as the Selective Service Qualification Test. Undergraduates with a high-class rank, or a test score above a certain cutoff, were draft-exempt. Everyone else could be sent to the front.
Students were allowed three hours to answer 150 questions in order to see whether they could retain their 2-S draft classification…”(2)
Many students were reclassified as A-1 prompting the Selective Service to issue a statement that they had not made any policy changes.