What to expect at a military college

Military colleges build leadership, character and knowledge

What to expect at a military college

Federal military colleges, such as the United States Military Academy at West Point, the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis and similar academies for the Air Force, Coast Guard and Merchant Marine, are widely known. Perhaps somewhat less well known, but also offering outstanding opportunities for personal development, intellectual achievement, and leadership experiences are a range of other military colleges and universities, some private, others state sponsored.


Students in military colleges typically have access to the normal full range of collegiate activities—academics, sports, social programs and other extracurricular programs. But in addition, they have a valuable opportunity to learn and practice leadership. They do so in what is probably the most difficult environment of all: leading peers. Those who succeed at this have gained useful—and salable—skills applicable in virtually all fields.


Leadership training begins, of course, with learning to be a good follower. That can involve some stressful testing of your motivation, physical fitness and skills such as time management. All this takes time and extra effort, meaning that students in military colleges probably have somewhat less disposable time than their counterparts in other types of colleges. But the rewards for those who succeed are significant, typically increased self-confidence, self-reliance and ambition result from working in the military environment. While those who choose to do so can look forward to a commission in the military services, by no means all who choose a military college have that as their goal. The range of studies offered and leadership development prepare students to do well in almost any profession.

Being your best self

For many years, the United States Army used as its recruiting slogan “Be all you can be.” Military colleges take much the same approach in seeking to develop their students. They challenge you not to compete primarily with your peers (although there is plenty of good competition in everything from drill and marksmanship teams to orienteering and military stakes), but rather to compete with your own best potential self. In such a competition, everybody wins.

Today’s military colleges offer many attractive choices in location, size of student body, course offerings, ROTC enrollment and service orientation. Two schools, Massachusetts Maritime Academy and New York Maritime College, offer military programs oriented to the sea services. Massachusetts Maritime offers commissioning programs in the Navy, Coast Guard, Marine Corps and Army and also in the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Its program includes a popular semester at sea.

History of military colleges

Norwich University in Northfield, Vt., was founded in 1819 as the first private military college in America. Virginia Military Institute in Lexington is the oldest state-sponsored military college in the United States. All students are enrolled in an ROTC program of one of the services, and some 45 percent accept commissions upon graduation.

The Citadel is the military college of South Carolina. Nearby is North Georgia College and State University. Two schools that include corps of cadets within their larger student bodies are Virginia Tech and Texas A&M University, both of which offer a wide range of educational opportunities combined with the benefits of the military collegiate lifestyle.

A unique program is the Virginia Women’s Institute for Leadership at Mary Baldwin College. This women-only program constitutes the only all-female cadet corps in the world. Students in the corps participate in leadership laboratories, minor in leadership studies and maintain high levels of physical fitness as part of their collegiate life. About 40 percent of graduates achieve a commission in one of the military services.

Wentworth Military Academy and Junior College in Missouri, the oldest military academy west of the Mississippi, is one of a number of two-year military schools. This is an excellent way for you to get a taste of military schooling and, if you find it agreeable, prepare to continue at a four-year college.

New Mexico Military Institute, another junior college, also serves as a preparatory school for the federal service academies. Other excellent institutions in this category include Marion Military Institute in Alabama and Valley Forge Military Academy and College in Pennsylvania.

Dr. Sorley is executive director of the Association of Military Colleges and Schools of the United States.


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