Crossing T’s and Dotting I’s: The Application
1. Start early. You’ll need a congressional nomination to be considered for a military college. In other words, a senator or congressman must present your name as a worthy candidate. Congressional offices set deadlines for bids as early as October and ask for a hefty list of documents. It is important to visit each office’s website and print their academy requirements so you can start assembling documents as soon as your fall term begins.
2. Build a spreadsheet. In addition to assembling a congressional package, you’ll be working through your academy application. Without a way to organize yourself, you’ll risk losing details and missing deadlines. You may be asked to submit a 200 word essay for one office and a two-page essay for another. One might have online forms for references from teachers and coaches while another prefers hand-written letters from community leaders and school administrators. Consider building a spreadsheet. Include each task, reference, office and pertinent due date.
3. Use your liaison. You’ll be assigned an academy liaison to help you through your application process. Your liaison will be valuable in helping you set a “mark on the wall” or the standards you need to reach, says Lt. Col. Amy M. Meeks, U.S. Army associate director of admissions at the U.S. Military Academy (www.usma.edu). As a candidate, you are responsible for keeping yourself on track, but liaisons are there to clarify confusions and identify gaps in your application. Often, they’ll be able to share from their own experiences as applicants and cadets.
4. Get to know your congressional representatives. Ashley Collier, constituent liaison and academy coordinator for Congressman Roscoe G. Bartlett, 6th District, Maryland, says that her office has an open door policy and encourages applicants to visit or at least call. The better the office knows you and the more comfortable you feel talking about your accomplishments can only help when it comes time for your interview.
Well Said: The Interview
Once you’ve submitted your bid for a congressional nomination and the college and congressional offices have notified you of your “competitive” status (you’ve met the academic, physical and extracurricular requirements), you’ll want to prepare for your interviews.
Collier emphasizes the importance of interview preparation. “I see the most amazing kids, but when we talk, they’re scared and shaky and their personality doesn’t come through. A nervous interview can make the difference.” She suggests these steps to help you prepare:
5. Know what you want and why. Interviewers will be looking for your passion, not your parents’ passion. You’ll need to articulate why and how the military college will help you meet your life goals. They might ask: Why the military and not a civilian institution? When did you first decide to pursue this and why is it important to you? How have military values affected your life?
6. Think about your service. You’ll need to prove you’ve thought beyond your education, to your future as an officer. The panel will want assurance and examples that prove your adaptability within a regimented or authoritative system. Also, develop your thoughts about the military in general. Brush up on military history. Consider: Who do you think is the greatest military figure ever? How do you see the role of the U.S. Military in ten years?
7. Give examples. Follow every question with evidence. If they ask how your peers see you, you might say, “I’m not chatty or super outgoing but I find my peers elect me into leadership roles. For instance, my French Club nominated me to be president because they know I am fair and level-headed.” Your examples demonstrate that you can think and articulate beyond “yes” and “no.”
8. Practice, practice, practice. Take every opportunity to speak up in stressful environments. Volunteer for school speeches or ask five adults to sit as a panel and interview you. Have your mom grill you on the way to sports practice. “Get used to being on your toes,” says Collier. Your interview is your last opportunity to give life and personality to your application. Be ready to give your best.
Applying to a military college will challenge you, but your efforts and your journey toward this goal will hone your skills for life, no matter what the outcome.