Service Academies Application Process

Many of you out there are probably past the usefulness of this article as it is geared more towards prospective Cadets. Applying to attend a Service Academy can be daunting, but we've done the homework for you and consolidated everything you need to know right here.

So when should you start thinking about or actually applying for the service academies? You really need to start as soon as you get into high school, but if you're behind the power curve a bit, don't worry. I didn't even know what West Point was until halfway through my Junior year and then I only made the application timelines because my mother would ground me for periods of time until  I finished whatever needed to be submitted next. Needless to say, if I managed to make it into West Point, more than likely you are at a point in your high school timeline where you can still make the timelines.

We'll start this post with a link to each service academies' admissions checklist. This will give you an upfront reference of all the requirements so you can understand the discussion points that follow. Most of this article is advice based off experience rather than official processes.

Here are each of the service academies admission checklists:

USMA Checklist

USNA Checklist

USAFA Checklist

USCGA (Coast Guard) - CGA doesn't have an actual checklist, this link goes to the admissions page.

USMMA (Merchant Marine) - Same as Coast Guard.

Now that you have a general idea of what service academies require, here is a general, layman's breakdown of the application process, starting by year of high school and what you should be doing or thinking about.

I'm a Freshman/Sophomore and I want to go to one of the service academies:

First:

- Make sure that a service academy is what you want. There are a lot of options for the road to officership and a service academy may honestly not be the best choice. Other options are discussed at the end of the post. Do some homework though and learn all you can about West Point (Army), Annapolis (Navy), USAFA (Air Force), Kings Point (Merchant Marine), and Coast Guard Academy.
- Do this by reading books, watching videos (youtube has a lot of great stuff) and series/movies about the different service academies.

- Talk to grads and your Military Academy Liaison Officer (MALO) or Field Force Representative (FFR). If you don't know grads directly, you can find a lot of good information and answers from grads on serviceacademyforums.com.

After that:

- Go to the various service academies; admission sites (i.e. West Points site is http://admissions.usma.edu/). Devour these sites. There are tons of resources and really everything you need to know. They also have some great special features. For example on USMA's site, click on the 'Start Young' tab to the left. You can sign up to be on the mailing list off of this page and receive regular admissions information.
- Make a day visit to the service academies you are interested in. Most of the academies have  instructions on how to schedule a day visit on their admissions sites. This step is definitely not necessary though (I didn't see West Point until R-Day when they shaved my head and started screaming at me).
- Keep your grades up. Class rank is important, even more important than your GPA!
- Here is the profile of the Class of 2016 (West Point). It will give you a good idea of the scores of that class and what you need to be aiming for. These are the stats of those that West Point accepted for 2016.
- Take the hardest classes you can take and make an A or B in. Remember, class rank is important. If you are taking tons of hard classes and your GPA suffers, it is probably not worth it.
- Make sure that during High School, you take 4 years of Math (including Trig and Pre-Cal), 4 years of English, 4 years of Science (including 2 years of lab science), 1 year of US history, and 2 years of a foreign language (not latin). Geography, economics, government and a basic computing class are recommended as well.
- You will need recommendations from your Math, English and Chemistry or Physics teachers, so get to know these teachers!
- Excel in your sport(s). Strive towards being Captain of team sports. Contact team sports are rated higher than individual sports. For those of you that are not athletic, it's time to get athletic. Run cross country, play tennis or something. If you do not do any sports in High School, you will have a tough time making it to and in a service academy.
- Stay involved in extracurriculars.
- Don't join every club in your school because you think it will look good on your application. It won't. Find clubs/causes that you enjoy and are passionate about and assume leadership positions in those clubs/causes.
- Start working on your resume. Keep an accounting of everything that you have earned or done. When you are a Senior, you may have forgetten about an award you got or an activity that you were involved with while in the 9th grade.
- Call your Representative's office and find out when they are having their All-Academy Day. This is a very informational meeting where all of the academies will have representatives for you to talk to and answer your questions. Usually, the Representative will speak about the nomination process.

If you are a Junior:

All of the above plus:

- Plan on taking ACT/SAT at least twice - at the end of your Junior year and the beginning of your Senior year. Study for them with an emphasis on Math and English. Service academies superscores test scores meaning they take the highest score on each segment of the exam each time you take it, so there is no penalty to taking the tests as many times as possible.
- Apply to Summer Leadership Seminar (SLS) in December of your Junior year. Watch the service academy's website for the latest information about exactly when the application will open. Applying to SLS will automatically open a file for you with Admissions.
- Make a 'Plan B' on what you will do if not offered admission. Look into ROTC at colleges that you are interested in AND plan on applying to those schools and the ROTC scholarships. A good reference is www.goarmy.com.
- Consider applying to Boys/Girls State.
- Start looking at your Senators' and Representative's web sites. Prepare yourself by determining what is their deadline for the nomination and what kind of information they require on the application.
- You can open a file on-line in December of your Junior year.
- Breathe! The application process is a long one.

The Process:

This is based heavily on West Point's process but the other service academies steps are nearly identical.

- Open a file - by either on-line candidate questionnaire, athletic candidate questionnaire or SLS application.
- Initial evaluation is made by your Regional Commander (RC) once you have at a minimum a test score (either PSAT/ACT/SAT) AND class rank.
- SSK (Second Step Kit) opens via candidate's portal for those who pass this first evaluation. SSK is the on-line application for West Point.
- When the SSK is opened, West Point will then request the medical test through DoDMERB for the candidate as well as the Candidate Fitness Assessment (CFA).
- If you are NOT found to be a competitive candidate, you will be sent a letter telling you that your file is closed until your file improves. This letter will tell you which areas need improvement. Leaves the door open to re-apply if file improves.
- Complete your file ASAP!
- Once your file is complete (all icons are green on your candidate portal), it will reviewed for qualification by 3 sets of eyes: your RC, another RC and and a member of the Admissions committee.
- When your file has gone through this qualifying process, you will receive a letter telling you of your status.
- Once the nominations come in, fully qualified candidates (academically, medically and physically) with a nomination can be offered appointments or placed on the National Waiting List (NWL).
- Fully qualified candidates with a MOC nomination but are not a MOC vacancy winner will go on the NWL.
- The Admissions committee meets every Tuesday

The next section discusses some of the key steps in the application process and what they really entail: 

SLS - Summer Leaders Seminar:

- Two 1-week sessions held in the summer.
- Program consists of: daily morning physical training, academic classes, afternoon sports, a day of military training, CFA test, a West Point tour and social functions. You will be housed in the cadet barracks and meals are in the Cadet Mess.
- Only rising Seniors attend.
- Application opens in December of Junior year.
- Very competitive.
- Participants are selected based on high school academics and leadership potential as well as class composition goals ( athletes, minorities, leaders, etc.)
- Applying to SLS will automatically open an admissions file.
- Service academies try to admit 1 candidate from each Congressional District to SLS.
- Being accepted to SLS does not mean that you will be offered an appointment.
- Being rejected to SLS does not mean that you will not be offered an appointment.

CFA - Candidate Fitness Assessment:

- The purpose is to make sure that the candidate has the ability to complete the rigorous physical and military training at the service academy.
- There are minimum requirements for each event as well as an overall passing score.
- This test comprises 10% of your Whole Candidate Score.
- You should without a doubt practice before taking the actual test.
- Don't think you can sail through this just because you are a superstar athlete. It is taken in sequential order and is specifically designed to test your strength, endurance, speed, agility and coordination. It tests skills that the normal athlete doesn't routinely do. How many of you regularly do a kneeling basketball throw?
- Do not go over max score. You do not get bonus points for going over the max. All you are doing is tiring your self out. Save the energy for the next test (unless you are a monster).
- ONLY submit your test if you have at least met the average scores on each event. If you score average on all events, then you will pass.
- If you fail one event, you fail the whole test even if you maxed the other five events.
- Failing the CFA = NO appointment.
- CFA scores from the service academies' summer programs count if they are passed.

LOA - Letter of Assurance:

- Definition: a contingent offer of admission.
- Ensures that an outstanding candidate will be admitted if qualified.
- LOAs can be based solely on 6th semester transcript and SAT/ACT scores.
- Contingent on completing your file (within 45-60 days) + medical qualification (by April 15) + obtaining a Nomination (by January 31) + passing the CFA.
- Very few candidates receive these.
- A LOA letter will have the words, 'letter of assurance' in the body of the letter. You will know if it is a LOA letter.
- LOAs can be used to identify candidates early on that will help the service academies meet their composition goals (scholors, athletes, minorities, leaders etc).
- The LOA line is adjusted up or down throughout the admissions cycle depending on the progress of the admissions process. The LOA line usually gets higher over time, which is why it is to your advantage to get your file completed as soon as possible.
- Getting a LOA is more competitive as time goes on due to more applicants and higher LOA line.
- If you receive a LOA, continue to update your file.
- An overnight visit is offered to those who have a LOA. It is highly recommended that anyone offered an overnight visit take advantage of it, even if they have participated in a daily visit. 

Interviews- MALO/FFR and Member of Congress (MOC):

By your MALO/FFR:

- Dress nicely. Like it or not, the interviewer will take note. You need not wear a tie, but a young man should know that a collared shirt speaks volumes. Young ladies, whatever finery you wear, make sure it's pleasantly conservative. Plunging necklines and academy interviews do not mix.
- Be early (5 minutes early is on-time). Don't cut it close and be two minutes late, or even 30 seconds late, especially if an officer is interviewing you.
- Relax as much as you can but don't think that being nervous will turn the interviewer against you in any way. Nerves tell mean that you take this seriously.
- Firm handshake. That's for young ladies and young men.
- Smile and be happy. The job of the MALO/FFR  is NOT to root out the reasons why Candidate X should not get in. It's to make sure the board has a nice, well-rounded idea of who the person behind your admissions packet is.
- Write your questions down and bring them to the interview. Your liaison will be able to answer pretty much any questions to can conceive regarding the service academy you are applying for.
- Be absolutely honest. If you want to go to USAFA or USNA really badly, don't tell your liaison that USMA is number one. Be honest. It's your life, and they want to help you get to the right place.

By your MOC:

The MOC interview will include the congress member as well as a panel of other distinguished leaders. It can be intimidating but prepare and relax and you will do well.
A smart applicant will talk to the particular congressional offices first:
-When and where is the interview?
-What is the interview room like (very small; mid-size; large) anything that's unique about the room or furniture that you should know about?
-How many folks are on the panel that will interview me?
-Does your office have any general interview guidelines that pertain to that specific congressional panel?
-Is there anything else I should know about the interview to set myself up for success? To which, dress for success. If you do not know what that means, ask your parents and/or the staffer that is setting up your interview.
-Know why you wish to attend a service academy. Don't give them the answers you think they want to hear. They'll see through that immediately. Therefore, think long and hard about it in the days and weeks preceding the interview.
-Look each questioner directly in the eye when responding to them. Respond in a voice that all in the room will hear your answer.

Nominations:

This is probably the most stressful part of the whole service academies application process, earning the nomination from your MOC. A lot of the stress comes from simply not knowing how the process works, this section should help your understanding (this is mostly based on USMA so others may vary slightly).

- A nomination is the legal authority to consider a candidate for admission.
- Apply to every single nomination source that you are qualified for. Seriously,  ALL of them. Competitiveness amongst the different sources can vary drastically.
- There are two types of nominations: Congressional and Service Connected
- Everyone is qualified for at least 4 nominations: the 2 Senators from your state, your District's U.S. Representative and the Vice-President.
- The least competitive MOC nomination is usually from your District Representative.
- If you are qualified for a Presidential nomination, apply for that as early as you can and then complete your file ASAP. If fully qualified, you have the possibility of receiving an appointment before the MOC deadlines. This will obviously save you a lot of time and stress.
- Each MOC has 5 cadetships and can submit a slate of 10 names to fill each vacant cadetship. That means that some years a MOC will be able to submit 2 slates of 10 names thereby nominating 20 candidates.
- The VP also has 5 cadetships. Each VP vacant slot will be filled with a candidate chosen from those that have applied for the VP nomination.
- Make sure you keep up with your MOC's deadlines for the nomination application.
- If you are on a MOC's slate of 10, then you have a nomination.
- Getting a MOC nomination does not necessarily mean you are qualified.

Reader's Digest version of the 3 ways that a MOC can nominate candidates to service academies:
1) Principal with Numbered Alternates:
- Candidates are listed in order of preference with a Principal nominee and then alternates numbered 1-9.
- The Principal is offered admission if they are fully qualified.
- If Principal is disqualified, then the 1st alternate is evaluated and offered the appointment if found qualified and so on down the list until the highest numbered alternate who is qualified is offered admission.
2) Principal with Competing Alternates:
- Principal is listed with alternates 1-9 not numbered.
- The Principal is offered admission if fully qualified
- If Principal is disqualified then the next fully qualified alternate with the highest WCS (Whole Candidate Score, is discussed later on) is offered admission
3) Competitive:
- Ten unranked names are submitted.
- Service academy then rank orders those names according to the WCS.
- The candidate who is fully qualified with the highest WCS is offered admission.
- This is the most common method MOCs use.

This last section discusses some of the smaller parts of service academies application process:

GPA v Class Rank:

- Class rank is weighted heavier than GPA.
- If your school doesn't rank, the service academy will take your ACT/SAT scores and compare them to the National scores to get an idea on how you stack up next to your peers.
- Even if your school says they don't rank, sometimes they will give the service academy a rank.

ACT/SAT - Standardized Tests:

- Academies will accept either the ACT or SAT. They are weighted the same.
- Must take the ACT with writing test.
- Math SAT is the biggest indicator of success (graduation rate) at West Point. Math scores are very important!
- Take both tests - you may do better on one than the other (I personally did not, I just took the SAT twice).
- At a minimum - take both tests twice (at the end of Junior year and again in the Fall of Senior year)
- Service academies superstore, which means they take the best subscore from each test. Therefore, there is no penalty in taking these tests more than once.

WCS - Whole Candidate Score:

- Scoring system that service academies use to rank order candidates by overall merit.
- 60% academic - ACT/SAT scores, transcript, class rank.
- 30% leadership - Extracurricular activities, athletic participation, teacher appraisals.
- 10% physical - CFA test.

NWL - National Waiting List:

- Title X of the US Code mandates that service academies must admit 150 candidates from the NWL in order of WCS.
- Fully qualified (which includes being medically qualified) non-vacancy winners of MOC nominations will go on the NWL.
- If you are on the NWL, then you are fully qualified (scholastically, physically{CFA} and medically{DoDMERB}) and have a MOC nomination.
- About 450 slots of the class will come from the NWL.
- The NWL helps a service academy achieve their class composition goals thereby making sure the class has a balance of athletes, minorities, leaders, scholars, etc.
- Continue to update your file (even if you have a LOA). The more points you can add to your WCS, the higher you move up on the NWL. Update your file anytime you receive an award, honor, named Captain of a team, lettered in a sport, improved ACT/SAT scores, leadership activities etc.

We hope this article can serve as a one-stop-shop for your application process. We realize it more closely parallels the West Point process than the other service academies and we hope that if you notice some missing information you will let us know. We will occasionally revisit this article to ensure it still has the most up to date information.

Thank you for reading and best of luck in applying to your favorite service academies.


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