Getting Accepted to a U.S. Service Academy

November 11, 2009

by Sal Allen

America has over 12,000 students in attendance at one of the three regular U.S. service academies at any one time. These students (called midshipmen at the U.S. Naval Academy and cadets at both the U.S. Military Academy and the U.S. Air Force Academy), receive some of the toughest academic, mental, physical, and leadership training of any category of college and, are in a class of their own. The service academies attract and train some of America’s best young men and women to be professional officers and leaders in the U.S. military, as well as prepare them to be diligent and effective leaders and managers in government, corporate, and private enterprises worldwide. The service academies have produced several U.S. Presidents, numerous members of Congress, major industry leaders, military heroes, a host of Rhodes Scholars and even a Nobel Prize winner in science. The U.S. service academies also produce more astronauts than any group of schools anywhere. The service academies are often ranked amongst the best, if not the most difficult, colleges in the United States.

It has been estimated that it costs between $250,000.00 and $350,000.00 to graduate one student, which makes the U.S. service academies the most expensive colleges in the country. Each student’s tuition, books, labs, and other fees are completely covered. Each student receives full room and board. In fact, these students enjoy some of the best dining of any college. All uniforms are custom fit to each student and everyone is given several sets of athletic gear, to make sure each student is equipped to handle the more rigorous physical fitness expectations placed on them. Health care is not a problem either. Every student receives full medical care without any insurance premiums or co-payments, and any student needing immediate care is often seen within an hour of signing in for treatment. There are facilities and clergy to lead each student’s religious faith, with an emphasis on religious diversity. There is even a basic salary that each student receives to give them some flexibility, when it is time to relax.

The Expected Family Contribution (EFC) for each student to attend one of the U.S. service academies, for the four years it will take to graduate, is a whopping zero dollars! That’s right, zero. It does not matter how little or how much your family has saved for Johnny or Jane to attend college. The United States government has agreed to pay the entire bill. For the parents (and any student trying to figure out how to get a great college education), this fact is a huge relief. At graduation, each student receives a salaried, full time job, and an opportunity to grow. For most families, it is a great honour to be accepted and to graduate from one of the service academies.

So, how do you get into a U.S. service academy? What are the steps? Do you have to know somebody? What are the admissions offices looking for in a student? Do I have to be a sports superstar? Do I have to be a genius? When do I begin to apply? What are my chances?

During your junior year of high school, there are a bunch of things you must be doing to make yourself competitive. Each service academy evaluates an applicant on something called a “Whole Man (or Woman) Score.” The U.S. government is looking for the best overall students out of each high school class and it is willing to pay for it. There are nine general categories that are evaluated and scored: academic performance and difficulty in grades 9-12 (3.0 GPA or better), SAT/ACT scores, organized team sports participation, displays of leadership (JROTC, Civil Air Patrol, Boy or Girl Scouts, high school class president, etc), outside activities that benefit the community (church voluntary work, 4H Club, community parade involvement, nursing home volunteer, etc), employment that shows good time management skills (farmers, part time job), medical fitness, physical fitness, character, and your ATTITUDE. Your academic performance is a major measurement in nearly every college application. However, it is imperative that an applicant, hoping to be accepted to a service academy, be involved in as many different activities as possible, during their high school years. How many sports did you play? Did you letter? Did you have a part-time job that limited your participation in other activities? Are you in JROTC, Civil Air Patrol, or Sea Cadets? I once heard an Admissions Officer say that he would rather have a student that can get 70 percent done in 10 minutes, than someone who can get 90 percent done in an hour.

Begin your application process by contacting the service academy of your choice and completing a Pre-Candidate questionnaire online. You must be a U.S. Citizen to gain admittance, except for those applying as international students. You cannot have children, nor be responsible for any children. This questionnaire gets you on the map. You will be sent a bunch of forms to fill out and return, and ultimately scheduled for a series of appointments. Arrive early for all of you appointments and be ready to go!

Medical fitness and physical fitness are two measurements that are not normally evaluated in most colleges, but they are evaluated here. All applicants will be sent to a local military medical facility to have a “service academy candidate physical completed. Having a broken bone that did not heal correctly, major dental issues, bad vision, diabetes, allergies since 12, flat feet, bad personal hygiene, etc are all limiting criteria and will halt your application. Being too tall or not tall enough can also eliminate you from competition. Additionally, you will be required to complete a Candidate Fitness assessment, or CFA, that will measure your agility, upper body strength, aerobic strength and endurance. One such test involves throwing a basketball, while kneeling!

During the spring of your junior year, each applicant must request a nomination to attend a particular academy (see and ). You do not need to know them personally. If you are selected to attend and receive a nomination, you will have been “appointed” by your designated nomination source. By federal law, these appointments are strictly limited in number by the governmental position that the nominating source holds. If you can qualify for more than one nomination source, you will increase your chances. The nomination sources are: The U.S. President, U.S. Vice President, U.S. Senator, U.S. Congressmen, Secretary of that service (ie, Secretary of the Navy for the U.S. Naval Academy), children of POWs/MIAs and Medal of Honor winners.

One of the most important things you should be doing is getting yourself known to the Candidates Admissions Office. If you can visit the campus, do so! Talk with the students and breathe in the spirit and atmosphere of the school. It may be your home for awhile! Ask the admissions office to match you with a freshman student for a weekend, so that you can experience the routine. Keep taking the SAT’s/ACTs to improve your score AND keep in front of the Admissions Officers!

Eventually, you will be assigned and receive a visit from a school representative. They will also want to meet your parents. At Annapolis, this representative is called the “Blue and Gold Officer.” His/her main job is to talk candidly with you to assess your attitude and motivation to attend. They also want to know what you want to do once you graduate. You may look good on paper, but how you fit and function as a team player is equally important.

Each service academy receives between 12,000 and 15,000 applications per year. Of those, approximately 2,000 applicants are found fully qualified. Only about 1,300 will be admitted or about 10 percent. Of the fully qualified students, some will be eliminated because there were other more qualified applicants for the nominating source that they applied. Again, apply for as many nominations as possible. For example, if you can get a Presidential and a Congressional nomination, you have two categories by which to be considered.

For further information, please contact the Candidates Admissions Offices listed below. Also see and . Good luck! ---Sal Allen, USNA'86

USAF Academy,

HQ USAF/RRS, 2304 Cadet Drive, Suite 2300 CO 80840 (719) 333-2520

United States Military Academy

646 Swift Road West Point, NY 10996 (845) 938-4014

United States Naval Academy

121 Blake Road Annapolis, MD 21402 (410)293-1000

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