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College Admissions

Applying to West Point and Other Service Academies

While the beautiful grounds and views of the Hudson River make for an idyllic campus, the U.S. Military Academy isn’t like any traditional college. The 4,000 students, who are called cadets, don’t spend their afternoons tossing Frisbees or enjoying naps, and you won’t find them eating pizza in the dorm at midnight.

A recent graduate who has been working as a recruiter said he would recommend West Point because it requires you to do things you wouldn’t do anywhere else. The rigorous, tension-filled experiences help you unlock your potential.

Freshmen, known as plebes, start in August with six weeks of Cadet Basic Training. Reveille is at 6am, and all cadets come out for formation and inspection. Belt buckles and shoes must be polished. It is a jarring transition to go from civilian to military life, and students need to be very sure that they want this kind of experience. Last year, seven cadets dropped out the first day. There is no family contact the first four weeks, and it is a challenging time, so it shouldn’t be surprising that 45 to 50 cadets typically drop out in the summer, before the academic year begins.

Even when summer basic training ends, life is quite regimented. Where most college students spend about 15 hours a week in class, cadets can spend twice that much time in class, and they are required to participate in sports. Meal breaks are brief, study time dominates the evening, and lights are out at midnight.

Cadets take on increasing responsibility each year. Plebes have few weekend passes, but seniors have more freedom, and can have cars and leave campus on the weekend. 

The core curriculum is extensive and there are no electives during the first two years. All students take three engineering sequences, as well as eight courses in military science, and a good number of courses in humanities, social sciences, math, basic sciences and information technology. Every student graduates with a B.S. degree, but can choose from 45 majors, including history, psychology, sociology, and even art, philosophy and literature, as well as many science and engineering majors.

No class has more than 18 students, and professors are very accessible, giving their home and office phone numbers. About 80 percent of the professors are military and live on campus. There is a strong support system designed to help Cadets succeed, and the graduation rate is 81 percent.

All cadets are involved in sports. Males take boxing class and females take self-defense, which help cadets learn how to overcome fears and develop a warrior ethos. Cadets somehow find time to squeeze in many extracurricular activities, and there are 100 clubs at West Point.

You must want to be an Army officer to go through this kind of training. Each graduate of West Point is a commissioned second lieutenant in the U.S. Army, committed to the values of duty, honor and country, and prepared for a career of service. Up to two percent of each graduating class can attend medical school after graduation, with expenses paid by the U.S. Government in exchange for additional service time. West Point graduates who decide to transition to civilian life are in demand in the corporate world for their leadership skills.

The cost of attending the U.S. Military Academy or any of the service academies is paid by the taxpayers. Not only do cadets not contribute any money to the cost of their education, they are actually paid more than $10,000 a year to cover the cost of uniforms, books, computer and other expenses. That doesn’t mean anyone is getting off free, since graduates are obligated to serve for five of active duty and three years of reserve duty.

Candidates for admission to any of the service academies except the Coast Guard Academy must be nominated. In addition to having a strong academic record, they need to have demonstrated leadership potential, and must be in excellent physical condition, with no medical problems. Start doing those push-ups early.

Leadership potential is crucial, and a student who shows promise may be admitted even if the academic record is not stellar. Like most colleges, the service academies would rather see applicants with sustained involvement and leadership experience in a few activities than superficial participation in a lot of activities.

Admission to West Point is extremely competitive. Last year, 12,500 students applied for 1,300 slots. If you want to be considered, you need to get a nomination from your congressperson, senator or the vice president. That means you have four chances to be nominated, and you should use all of them to maximize your prospects for getting a nomination. You have the best chance of getting an appointment to West Point if you apply early.

High school juniors who are interested in one of the service academies can apply for a summer seminar, a one week program where you get a taste of life at the academy and learn about the admissions process.

In addition to going to the website of each service academy, students who want to know more can get a lot of information at www.serviceacademyforums.com

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