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Service Academies – Not Just A “Free” Education – A True Commitment

Updated: Sep 28, 2020

Some students choose an alternative route to their university education through the U.S. military academies. There are four federal military service academies the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, and the  U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in King’s Point, NY. (As a side note, the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London Connecticut is no longer part of the defense department but rather part of Homeland Security and they have regular admission, not political appointments.  They are really very different from the others.  They also have no ROTC.) The process of applying and attending one of the federal military academies is both rigorous and challenging. 

There are differences between a university and a military academy.  The academies have always been primarily engineering schools, and today with the very technology-driven military, this is even truer.  For example, a minimum of 60% of an entering class at the Naval Academy must be in the engineering or a technology-related field.  The core curriculum of all of the academies, whatever the major, is heavy in math and the physical sciences. To be competitive, students must start making “smart” academic choices in the 8th grade … leading to AP Calculus by 11th grade and AP Physics by 11th grade.

Also, the mission of the academies is very different from that of a civilian university.  A university’s goal is to broadly educate its students.  The academies’ mission is to train those who will be expected to become officers and to lead others in what could be a perilous environment.  Choosing an academy means choosing a 24-7 military environment, one that is both rigorous and disciplined.

The application process is also very different.  It is a two-step process.  All candidates must receive a political nomination from their U.S. Congressperson or Senator ( there is a very small number who are eligible for a Vice Presidential or Presidential nomination) as well as complete the application to an individual academy.  The nomination process involves both a written application and a personal interview.  There are several times as many nominations as there are appointments.  The individual academy admissions departments make the appointment decision.  There can be no appointment without a nomination.

What qualifications are required for a nomination?

  1. Superior academic ability. The academies are among the most selective institutions in the country.  They generally take about 10% of their applicants.  Because they are so technically oriented, strength in math and the physical sciences are a must.

  2. Physical strength and athletic ability. The academies are physically challenging.  There is physical training every day and cadets/midshipmen are expected to play a varsity or intramural sport each season. A candidate must pass a rigorous physical fitness test before being considered for a nomination.

  3. Commitment to service. The active service requirement is 5 years after graduation.  Any subsequent training time ( flight school, ranger school, etc) does not count toward the five-year commitment.  A candidate should at least be considering a lifetime military career.

Obviously, this choice is not for everyone.  It demands discipline and commitment.  Sometimes it is presented to students as a possible “free” education.  Yes, it is true there is no tuition and most of your expenses are met, but it is hardly “free.”  A candidate is choosing a physically rigorous, emotionally and intellectually demanding four years followed by years of service.

There is certainly something special and unique about the academies.  Absolutely.  There is a special mystique and a sense of pride that pervades those campuses.  It comes from the collective mission and commitment of all who attend there.  There is nothing else like it in this country.  And part of that uniqueness is that it is not for everyone.  But if you are one of the qualified, and you can truly make the commitment, then go for it!

If you would like to discuss further, please schedule a no-obligation chat.


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