The summer before senior year is usually quiet for high school students. Not so for those seeking to attend our Nation’s military service academies. This is because of the importance of seeking – and obtaining – a nomination for an appointment.
An appointment is the equivalent of a college acceptance. A nomination is a request by a designated person or institution that an applicant receive an appointment.
If this looks complicated, it is. However, rest assured that the service academies will walk you through the process (the Coast Guard Academy does not require nominations, but is listed below for reference):
Army (West Point, NY): https://www.usma.edu/admissions/SitePages/Apply_Nominations.aspx
Navy (Annapolis, MD): https://www.usna.edu/Admissions/Apply/index.php#fndtn-panel1-Steps-for
Air Force (Colorado Springs, CO): https://www.academyadmissions.com/#
U.S. Coast Guard (New London, CT): https://www.uscga.edu/admissions/
U.S. Merchant Marine (Kings Point, NY): https://www.usmma.edu/admissions
Most students seeking nominations apply to their local Representatives and Senators. The Vice-President and President also nominate candidates.
Applicants are encouraged to ask each of their local Representatives and Senators for nominations because each of these office-holders can make only a limited number of nominations. As the Air Force puts it:
We recommend attaining a nomination from as many sources as you are eligible for, President, Vice-president, Senators and Representatives. This will improve your chances for success if one source does not nominate you.
Certain military officials, JROTC units (discussed below), and even some private military academies can also nominate applicants. Consult service academy websites for more information on those options.
The nomination is only part of the application, but it is the one with which most students are least familiar. Applicants who have military connections (e.g., JROTC, relatives in the services) should reach out to each and every one of them for help.
Planning further ahead
For those with the luxury of time – students about to enter their sophomore or junior years – now is the time to lay the groundwork for your application and request for nomination. This is because the service academies have some unique requirements for admission that require sustained effort.
First and foremost is fitness for duty. Before you get your hopes up, determine as best you can whether you have any medical problems which could pose a barrier to admission. A medical examination, the DoDMERB, is required for admission.
The Air Force is particularly stringent (see https://www.academyadmissions.com/admissions/the-application-process/medical-evaluation/#medicalstandards), but all of the academies have medical criteria. Waivers may be obtained for certain conditions.
The academies also require evidence of physical fitness. The Army includes a guide for aspiring cadets: https://www.usma.edu/dpe/SitePages/Cadet%20Candidates.aspx.
It also requires students to complete a fitness test before applying:
You will schedule your CFA with your physical education (PE) teacher. The Candidate Kit has the test form and instructions you can forward in PDF format. Your performance in six events will be judged:
- Basketball throw (from a kneeling position)
- Cadence pull-ups or flexed-arm hang (women’s option)
- 40-yard shuttle run (for time)
- Abdominal crunches (number completed in 2 minutes)
- Push-ups (number completed in 2 minutes)
- 1-mile run (for time)
Colleges proclaim that they seek students who have demonstrated leadership. The service academies “walk the walk.”
Consider this advice from the Air Force:
So how do you prepare for a future at the Academy?
- Study hard. Get the best grades you can in all subjects — especially English, math and science.
- Join a sports team. If your school does not have an after-school sports program, you can usually find one at your local community park or recreation center.
- Become a leader. Join a scouting program like Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts or Civil Air Patrol. Or join another school or local club and go for a leadership position like club president or secretary.
- Demonstrate character. Consider activities that help others. Get involved with church groups or other organizations that may be helping members of your community.
Commitment to military life
Service academies are looking for leaders who will take well to military discipline. One good way to demonstrate that quality is to join a local JROTC unit and, if possible, attend a summer program at a service academy.
Wikipedia offers a general (if lengthy) overview of the JROTC and a similar program, the NDCC: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Junior_Reserve_Officers%27_Training_Corps
These programs are intensive preparation for military life; evaluations and recommendations (and even nominations for appointment) from commanders are key. The downside is that the commitment required to join such a unit may extend to attending very early morning sessions at a different location from the student’s high school. Some parents even home-school their students as a way of accommodating the conflicting demands.
Another way of demonstrating a commitment to the academies is to attend one of their summer programs:
Air Force: https://www.academyadmissions.com/admissions/outreach-programs/summer-seminar/
Coast Guard: https://www.uscga.edu/aim/ (prospective merchant mariners also attend this program – the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy does not offer its own).
These camps are a pathway to an appointment. As the Navy puts it: “Summer Seminar gives you a taste of life at the Academy and kick-starts your application journey for an appointment to the Academy.”
Finally, the Academies have the same way to demonstrate interest as do many colleges – sign up for their mailing lists. For example, prospective applicants to the Air Force Academy should sign up to be “Future Falcons” https://www.cvent.com/events/new-future-falcon/registration-c93c8b84f6ef4435995663d7f90b7174.aspx?fqp=true).
Just because the services look for fitness and leadership potential, do not assume that academics are at the bottom of their list of priorities. Academic performance makes up 50% of the assessment for admission to the Air Force academy. The Naval Academy emphasizes STEM coursework, with many cadets graduating from the Academy with engineering degrees. Standardized testing is also important. For example, the published mean SAT score for the Air Force academy is in the mid-1200s, with a mean ACT of 30.
Work on Plan B
Our nation’s service academies are competitive; admission is the exception, not the rule. Therefore, students also need to apply to colleges in case they do not win an appointment. The good news is that academic and leadership ability, along with extracurricular activities, make for a winning application to both service academies and colleges. As you might expect, I can assist students with both endeavors.