A Guide to American Service Academies, Military Colleges | Best Colleges


Hearing the war stories of heroic soldiers who risked their lives for the good of their country, rescued comrades on the battlefield, or received awards for their bravery can be inspiring. If you have heard such stories and believe you have the intelligence, fitness, and courage to fight for the United States and lead a military unit, you may want to apply to enroll in one of the four military academies.

Or you can apply to join the US Merchant Marine Academy, a federal service academy that trains men and women sailors to protect ships to and from the United States and ensure the safe transport of goods and passengers.

The five major service academies in the United States offer highly selective and prestigious bachelor’s degree programs. Academy students – usually called cadets or midshipmen – pay no tuition, but in return for their government-subsidized education, they usually promise to complete a minimum of five years of work in the national interest after graduating. their degree.

Each academy had an acceptance rate of less than 17% for fall 2020 applicants, according to data submitted for the US News Best Colleges ranking. Experts say students who want to attend should start preparing no later than their sophomore year of high school.

An Overview of Service Academies

The five federal undergraduate service academies do not charge students for tuition, textbooks, uniforms, or room and board. Each academy offers extensive training in fitness and leadership, which is combined with a rigorous curriculum that includes coursework in the humanities and sciences. Academy graduates typically receive a military commission for a junior officer position immediately upon graduation, although Merchant Marine Academy alumni frequently find leadership roles in non-state federal agencies. military.

Here are some key data points for each of the five schools.

Location: Air Force Academy, Colorado
Acceptance rate (Fall 2020): 13%
Affiliation to a federal agency: US Air Force and Space Force

Location: New London, Connecticut
Acceptance rate (Fall 2020): 13%
Affiliation with a federal agency: US Coast Guard

Location: King’s Point, New York
Acceptance rate (Fall 2020): 16%
Federal agency affiliation: US Merchant Marine, US Armed Forces, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Corps. and US Public Health Service Corps

Location: West Point, New York
Acceptance Rate (Fall 2020): 9%
Affiliation with a federal agency: US Army

Location: Annapolis, Maryland
Acceptance Rate (Fall 2020): 9%
Federal Agency Affiliation: US Navy and US Marine Corps

All but the Merchant Navy Academy offer stipends to students. Each academy requires incoming US students to complete a minimum of five years of public service after graduation.

What a Service Academy looks like and how to determine its suitability

A federal service academy differs from a conventional undergraduate institution because it fulfills a broader mission and is designed to cultivate strength of body and character as well as intellect. Academy students are trained to take on demanding and dangerous leadership roles that require a combination of athleticism, wit, courage, and integrity.

The core curriculum required at service academies is more comprehensive than at other colleges, including a wide range of subjects particularly relevant to the stressful and technical careers students are likely to pursue after graduation. Academy students are generally expected to study Chemistry, Engineering, History, Law, Mathematics, Physics, Philosophy, and Psychology regardless of major. Playing sports throughout college is often mandatory.

“The main difference you’ll find at the Naval Academy and other service academies is that you’re being developed as a leader, not just being trained academically,” says Jeff Webb, a former Navy officer. SEAL who is now Chairman and CEO. from the US Naval Academy Alumni Association and Foundation.

According to alumni, one of the best ways for prospective students to assess whether they would excel at an academy is to tour the campus or, better yet, take part in an immersive summer program that provides insight into the academy experience. Summer programs, which also require applications, are available at air force academythe Coast Guard Academythe naval academy and West Point.

Become Competitive for a Service Academy Nomination

To be eligible for admission into a US Federal Service Academy undergraduate program, prospective students generally must:

  • Earn solid grades in rigorous college-prep courses.
  • Earn good results on standardized tests.
  • Demonstrate leadership through work experience or extracurricular activities.
  • Pass the Candidate Fitness Assessment, which includes a series of physical challenges.
  • Meet medical and weight standards or receive an official waiver.
  • Impress an interviewer.
  • Submit a quality essay and resume.
  • Have compelling letters of recommendation written on their behalf.
  • Possess US citizenship (although there are some exceptions).
  • Demonstrate good character.
  • Not be under 17 and not over 25 at the time of registration.
  • Be single, with no dependents they are legally required to support, and not be pregnant.

All academies except the Coast Guard Academy require applicants to obtain a nomination from an official source, such as a U.S. Representative, U.S. Senator, or the Vice President.

In some cases, applicants may obtain an appointment from the Navy or Marine Corps (if a member already enlisted), the Reserve Officers Training Corps, or the President. Children of military personnel and children of Medal of Honor recipients may also receive special appointments.

To obtain such a nomination, candidates must generally submit a formal application to the approving entity. They do not need to know these sources personally to receive a nomination.

Although it is possible to gain admission to an academy without playing sports at an elite level, most academy students are accomplished on the athletic field. Regardless of a person’s level of fitness upon entering a service academy, there is a good chance that such a person will graduate from the academy with a high level of endurance because programs rigorous exercises are integrated into an academic training.

“It’s not for the soft and gentle at heart,” says retired Lt. Gen. Mike Gould, CEO of the US Air Force Academy Association of Graduates and the Air Force Academy Foundation. “You have to be a competitor, and developing in (a) competitive sense is going to prepare you for all kinds of challenges throughout your life and career.”

Gould, who was a Division 1 soccer player, says service academies set high standards for fitness. “We are playing at Division 1 level,” he said. “You want to compete against the best with the best. We bring in a lot of high quality athletes, but in a sense every caddy is an athlete, and they have a physical education and a four-year program, with testing conditions. “

According to Gould, a common misconception is that a person must be “aggressive” and “tough-riding” to be selected for a military academy. “Believe it or not, you’ll find non-Type A personalities,” he says.

Lt. Col. Thomas Tolman, associate director of admissions at West Point, says one of the key qualities sought by admissions officers at the academy is leadership potential. “We pride ourselves on being a premier leadership institution.”

Alumni say the academy’s admissions process is so intense and thorough that prospective students should start thinking about applying as early as possible in high school. Significant planning is often required to ensure that all criteria for a service academy are met.

“It’s a journey,” says retired Col. Michael B. Black, an Air Force Academy graduate and vice president for defense of AFCEA International, a nonprofit that promotes solutions to problems national and international security. “If you’re seriously interested in the academy, you need to start early. Don’t wait until your senior year of high school has already started. … You’ll be behind the power curve and certainly behind others people who are in competition.”


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