Considering a military academy?
There’s an infinite number of choices to make when it comes to life after high school. Deciding whether you can get scholarship money for a college, if a community college might fit your style or if you should even pursue higher education are hard decisions to make. However, what if there was a way to go to a four-year university for free, have a steady career and be able to serve your country while doing it? This is the path of a student studying at a military academy.
There are five military academies available to qualified students who are U.S. citizens:
• United States Military Academy (West Point) (www.usma.edu) in New York.
• United States Naval Academy (www.usna.edu) in Annapolis, Md.
• The United States Air Force Academy (www.usafa.af.mil) in Colorado Springs, Colo.
• The United States Coast Guard Academy (www.cga.edu) in New London, Conn.
• The United States Merchant Marine Academy (www.usmma.edu) in King’s Point, N.Y.
For all the academies, there are prerequisites you must meet upon application: you have to be a U.S. citizen between the ages of 17 and 22 (17 to 24 for the Merchant Marine Academy), unmarried and with no legal dependents.
You may be thinking, “What could a military academy possibly offer to me?” There are more than 30 majors to choose from at every military academy. You should start off by deciding what branch of the military interests you the most; after all, you will work for that branch for a minimum of five years after graduation, so it’s in your best interest that you find the group you will enjoy working for. After that, it’s time to look at degrees offered. For instance, at the Naval Academy, you have your choice of 32 majors and two minors. They range from an aeronautical engineering degree to a foreign area studies degree. Keep in mind that when you choose your degree, you’re also choosing your military career. A foreign area studies major will certainly not be flying airplanes; he or she will most likely be a liaison for the Navy overseas.
Every academy has a Division I athletic program, with a D-1 schedule along with it. It’s known to be easier to participate in a sport through a military academy than through a regular civilian university, so if you are serious about playing a sport and want to play Division 1 college athletics, then consider becoming a student-athlete at a military academy. Whatever degree field or sport you choose, be ready for four years of hard work at your academy.
“Academy life was extremely regimented, with 30 hours of work crammed into a 24 hour day,” says Kevin Freund, an Air Force Academy graduate. Basically, be prepared to work like you’ve never worked before in your life. There’s so much to consider: academics, physical training and military education. Almost every minute of your day will be taken up by work, and it can be easy to get burned out.
The military aspect of things
Yes, you will have zero student debt after graduating from a military academy; however, you will pay back the education received through military service: every academy grad must serve at least five years as an officer in the military branch the school is affiliated with.
After graduation you become a 2nd lieutenant, with an O-1 pay grade of about $3,000 per month. Do the math: you will be making about $36,000 per year at the beginning of your career.
Here’s the upside: you get to serve your country and also be a leader among the fellow enlisted members of your squadron. You will receive housing (or a housing allowance), free healthcare, opportunities for advanced education and training and the ability to retire after 20 years of military service. However, you may have to move every three or four years while in the military, and sometimes thousands of miles away to another country.
Applying to Military School
The application process to get into an academy is extensive and requires a congressional nomination, and a lengthy application along with a personal interview before an academy selection committee. As Colonel William Carpenter states, “The competition for an appointment is extremely high. You must have a proven record of achievements in high school.” With that said, you should begin applying to an academy when you’re a junior in high school. If you continue the application process, you’ll receive a physical exam and information on getting a congressional nomination. Your interview is the last step of your application. It’s a long process before you are accepted by the academy, and as with most things in life, it is best to start the application process early.
It’s your future
The academies have many things to offer, and they may be your best choice if you desire to fly airplanes, pilot ships or become a computer technician; civilian universities can charge upwards of a hundred thousand dollars to get those degrees.
However, there are many other ways to get into the military, such as an ROTC program through a civilian college, Officer Candidate School for enlisted personnel, or just enlisting right into the military branch of your choice to serve a few tours for the U.S.
Whatever your desires, keep in mind the academy path when deciphering what the future has in store for you.
Sam Surgalski (NotecardsTC.com) is a writer and photographer in Traverse City, Mich. He is a member of the Civil Air Patrol Air Force Auxiliary Unit.