Military service academies have an arduous and competitive application process. They are the most difficult colleges to “get into” because the requirements are more than just academics.
It takes a specific type of student.
Military service academies only admit students that proactively seek out the opportunity and surpass their peers. They have to be this strict because the tuition is “free”. Your student pays for it with effort and agrees to serve their country upon graduation.
The military service academy application process is more complex and time-consuming than medical school, law school, or any competitive program by a landslide.
With a process this competitive, what exactly will it take for your student to get in? In this blog, learn the general requirements to apply and digest my 10 insider tips for applying to military service academies.
What Do Military Service Academy Applications Require?
Military service academies don’t just look at your academics. They evaluate the following:
- Leadership skills
- Medical status
- Physical fitness
- Congressional recommendations
More specifically, they require a pre-candidate questionnaire, physical fitness test, nomination letter, the actual application, and the medical physical exam.
The pre-candidate questionnaire is what gets your student on the academy’s radar. It shows that you’re demonstrating interest for that path. Starting sophomore year, your student should fill out the pre-candidate questionnaire. This is really their first look at the complete timeline. Because the application process is complex, they’ll need to approach it with a structured timeline and strategy.
Physical Fitness Test
The physical fitness test is usually administered the fall of senior year by the high school coach that your student designates. Your student can find the fitness specific requirements on the academy’s website. The goal is to exceed the requirements, not simply meet them.
Academics and Tests
There are 3 areas your students need to exceed in:
- SAT / ACT
In October of junior year, students must take the PSAT. This test is important to see if their standardized score fits the cadet profile.
Students must score above a 1200 on the SAT and above a 30 on the ACT. They also must rank in the top quarter of their graduating class.
Additionally, students need to maintain their A’s throughout their senior year.
Just like most competitive things in life, academy admissions uses a “point system” to objectively evaluate a candidate’s admissibility. Your student can receive points for activities like:
- Attending a selective academy summer program where they will experience a week in the life of a cadet. Applications open December of junior year, and they will need their SAT or PSAT scores to apply.
- Attending Boys/Girls State – a mock government and leadership summer camp held in all 50 states hosted by The American Legion and American Legion Auxiliary. School counselors normally nominate juniors for these programs based on academic merit.
- Earning a Girl Scout Gold Award or Boy Scout Eagle Scout Award is a great way to display your student’s leadership skills.
- Attending a sports camp at the academies. Your student will get a better feeling for their sport and to get a competitive edge to the application process.
A Nomination Letter
Unlike colleges and other academic programs, military service academies have a nomination process where you have to get nomination from elected officials like:
- Vice President
Academies require at least 1 nomination. Have your student apply for a nomination from all the sources they can! Each elected official has a staffer that handles academic nominations. You can look up who that person is on their websites – congress.gov and senate.gov.
Each elected official determines what they’re looking for – future leaders; they then score your student based on a point system. To provide a nomination to a prospective student, these leaders usually require the following:
- Written essays
- Recommendation letters
- ACT/SAT/PSAT scores
Your student should start working on their application in the spring semester of their junior year. Interviews are held between October and November of senior year.
Since the nomination is not required for admission to any other institution of higher education, this added requirement often trips a lot of students up.
Need help? Bright Futures can work with your student to guide them through the process.
Simultaneously with applying for a nomination, your student will start the actual application to the academy over the summer between their junior and senior year. They complete their application online. The application includes 2 essay questions: one regarding leadership and another addresses why your student wants to attend a service academy.
Their responses to each question must be concise, under 250 words. We highly recommend completing this application over the summer after junior year.
After the academies evaluate a candidate application, they send your student paperwork for their medical physical. The independent government agency that oversees and processes physicals is called DODMERB. This medical physical typically happens in the winter of senior year.
10 Insider Tips for Applying to Military Service Academies
The military service academy application process is a multi-step and complex process, so here are 10 insider tips for applying to military service academies. These tips will make the real difference and help your student excel in the application process.
1. Discern If They Are the Right Fit
First, discern if your student is the right fit for military academies. If a student has…
- Gotten a feel for the timeline and application requirements
- Filled out the pre-candidate questionnaire
- Never-ending motivation
… Then they are likely the right stuff.
However, there are a few other things that are important to consider.
Hard Work and Personal Sacrifices
Attending a military service academy is expensive. If they are only going to an academy because it’s “free”, then they need to understand the cost for that “free” education.
- Your college-bound teenager has to raise their hand and swear to serve their country
- It requires being away from you – their family for extended periods of time
- It’s a highly selective process that takes effort and commitment to complete
- Once accepted, your student will spend four years with other highly motivated cadets (and there is no early graduation)
- After their freshman year, cadets are paid a monthly amount; it’s not just an education anymore. It’s a complete and demanding career
Perfect health is a big requirement for the military service academies. If your teen has medical issues, then they may not be eligible. There are waivers that they can apply for, but they’re not guaranteed.
Chronic illnesses like diabetes result in disqualification. Acne or ADHD medications are not allowed. Corrective lenses are okay; oftentimes, the Air Force will even pay for their corrective surgery – especially if they are in their intensive aviation programs
A Passion to Serve
A huge part of being a good fit for military academies is having a passion to serve our country.
It benefits a student to have exposure to what it’s like to be in the military. If you or your spouse is military, they’ll be very familiar.
However if no one in your family is military, it may be worth seeking out a mentor.
2. Don’t Just Meet Requirements – Beat Them
Each service academy posts their application timeline on their website.
Plug the application timeline into a time management system – whether that’s your phone reminders or calendar events. The goal is to beat the timelines – not scramble madly to barely meet the timelines. Unfortunately, if they are late and miss a step, then they will not get in.
3. Connect with an ALO
An Admissions Liaison Officer (ALO) is someone who volunteers for the Academy admissions office and lives in your geographic region. More importantly, they are passionate about helping guide teenagers like yours through the military service academy application process. Connect your student with an ALO so they can receive guidance and encouragement as they navigate the candidacy phase.
4. Start Fitness Training Well in Advance
It’s often the case that students are overconfident in the fitness portion of the application process. This can easily set them up for failure. Your student needs to prepare well in advance for the fitness requirements. Their sports coaches can monitor the training and execution of these requirements.
Be aware, this is a little different than typical sports training.
There are no rest breaks between each exercise. It’s back to back to back.
Because of the extent of the exercises, have your teenager start preparing their sophomore year of high school. Whether they work on it independently or get a buddy to work on it with them, they need to own their fitness program. Like with the other requirements, students must exceed the requirements – not merely meet them.
5. Visit the Academies In Person
While we’ve been advising students to go on virtual college tours during travel advisories lately, that advice does not apply to military service academies. Your student needs to put boots on the ground and visit the academy.
Current cadets guide the tours and will tell it to you and your student straight. During their tour, your student will get a better understanding of what campus life is really about since cadets will share personal stories about their journeys.
If your student is seeking to become a NCAA recruited athlete, then they should contact the coach for their sport or the athletic director at the academy.
6. Let Your Student Take The Lead
You as the parent cannot show up and tell the interviewer how much your teenager wants to get in. Truth is, that’s going to be a big mark against your teenager. Let your student’s own motivation, actions, and words speak for themselves.
(Listen the podcast version of the 10 Insider Tips on Applying to Military Service Academies.)
7. Highlight Motivation in Nomination Application Essays
The essay for a nomination is a window into a student’s motivation for applying to attend a service academy. Some essay buzzwords and phrases include the following:
- Loves challenges
- Honor code
- Commitment to ethics
- Longstanding interest in attending academies
- Examples of leadership and desire to serve America
If your student needs help with their essays, our team can help your student. We hold essay boot camps throughout the year that are both fun and productive.
8. Apply for ROTC Scholarships
While your teenager is applying for these academies, do not discount ROTC! It is a military leadership training program run by active duty military on college campuses. ROTC involvement occurs alongside one’s college education. Think of it as a professional or career organization that requires at least one, one-hour class each semester and a leadership lab. Upon successfully graduating from college and the ROTC program, a student is commissioned into a branch of military service.
Why apply for ROTC scholarships? Your student may not get into one of the academies. Plus, if academies see that your student is invested in serving no matter what, they will get points.
9. Consider Attending a Prep School
There are several reasons why a student would consider attending a prep school before a military service academy. They…
- Don’t quite have the academic merit, grades, or test scores to qualify for admissions
- Found out they wanted to attend an academy late during senior year
- Need more information, maturity, tutoring, and preparation before diving all-in
- Are a new citizen
- Injured themselves and needed time to heal
10. Your Student May Cross-Commission into a Sister Branch
Being admitted to a service academy, with a nomination, is called an “appointment.” Typically, students get their appointment by April of their senior year. What many students don’t realize is that their appointment does not necessarily have to become their future career. They can request to be cross-commissioned into a sister branch upon graduation.
However, to be competitive for the most desirable jobs, such as pilot or astronaut, students will need to be among the highest ranking graduates. Cadets must keep their grades up. Their future job depends on it.
With these insider tips for applying to military service academies, your student will be on their way to getting accepted. If you need help with the application process, then click here to learn about our different packages.
We streamline the college planning and application process (and have a little fun along the way)!