So, you’ve taken the pleas of good old Uncle Sam to heart, and you’re thinking about joining the military. More specifically, you’re thinking about attending one of five US Service Academies: The United States Naval Academy, The United States Military Academy at West Point, The United States Air Force Academy, The United States Coast Guard Academy, or The United States Merchant Marine Academy. These schools are well-known for a lot of factors: their academic and physical rigor, their intense school spirit, their government-funded tuition and board, and their required military service following graduation.
Another thing they’re known for is an absurdly long, complicated admissions process. The process of applying to service academies is a bit different than that of your standard US university or liberal arts college. While the exact processes vary from academy to academy, the general steps are the same.
First, you must ensure that you meet the academy’s eligibility requirements. Again, there are variations among requirements for each academy, but the most common are:
- You must have a social security number
- You must be a United States citizen
- You must have “good moral character” (I’m not exactly sure what this comprises, but I think it boils down to “delete those Instagrams of you taking Jello shots after the Enrique Iglesias concert, or better yet, don’t take them in the first place”)
- You must be unmarried and have no past marriages (read: under no circumstances put a ring on it)
- For the ladies: you must not be pregnant and have never given birth to a child in the past
- For the gentlemen: you must not have fathered any children (the US military is clearly uninterested in any and all baby mama drama)
- You must not be responsible for a dependent
Second, you’ll need to submit a preliminary application. Basically, you have to apply to be eligible for the full application.
Before you let the application inception get to your head, rest assured that the preliminary app is basically like a pared-down Common Application. It’s usually full of the basics: name, age, test scores, etc. Don’t sweat it, but make sure you complete it and send it in early.
According to the US Naval Academy, you should apply for admission between April of your junior year and January of your senior year- the earlier, the better. Keep in mind that this is a MUCH more fast-paced timeline than for admission to other colleges and universities. It’s also around this time that you should apply for your academy nomination.
You’ll need to apply for nomination from “an official source.” You are encouraged to apply to all available official sources: US Representatives, US Senators, and the Vice President. Before you start begrudging the fact that you and Biden have yet to become BFFs, rest assured: you do not need to have a personal relationship with the person to whom you are applying for a nomination- you just have to send a formal letter (the Merchant Marine Academy has an example here).
If the academy views your Preliminary application as exceptional, you will be granted official candidacy! Huzzah! Take a moment to celebrate (sparkling cider only, peeps— remember that “good moral character” clause?), and get ready to get physical.
The fourth part of your application consists of a medical examination. Here’s how it works: the department of admissions will hand your name over to the Department of Defense Medical Examination Review Board (DoDMERB), who will then let you know where you can schedule your medical evaluation. You’ll be examined, and the DoDMERB will decide whether you meet the academy’s medical standards for admission. Then, the DoDMERB will mail you your status report.
You can be disqualified from admission for a plethora of physical conditions listed (allegedly “briefly”) here. A few important highlights include:
- Vision not correctable to 20/20
- Color blindness
- Height below 58 inches or above 80 inches
- A body fat percentage of over 25 percent for men or 35 percent for women
- Skin conditions such as eczema and severe acne
- Body alterations (e.g. tattoos and/or piercings) that are visible while in uniform or deemed to be obscene
If you find that you have a disqualifying condition, all is not lost! If you receive a Conditional Offer of Appointment, you’ll be automatically considered for a medical waiver. If the DoDMERB decides that your capacity for success in the academy outweighs the risks brought on by your condition, you’ll receive a waiver, be requalified for acceptance, and the hallelujah chorus will sing.
Beth gets really serious for a moment: Don’t ever lie during your medical examination. Just… just don’t do it. Lying in order to get into the military is never, ever a good idea. Even if it’s about something as minor as having asthma. Do. Not. Do. It.
With that behind us, we now reach the fifth part of your application— the part that, frankly, leaves me shaking in my Nikes: the Candidate Fitness Assessment. This physical test (which can be administered by a PE teacher) consists of the following events, completed consecutively:
- Basketball throw (2 minutes)
- Pull-ups (2 minutes)
- Shuttle Run (2 minutes)
- Crunches (2 minutes)
- Push-ups (2 minutes)
- 1-Mile Run (10 minutes)
Specific guidelines for the test and maximum performance scores can be found here. Keep in mind that those scores are MAXIMUMS. Gentlemen out there, the 5:20 mile is not a requirement, and ladies, same goes for the 50 push-ups. You can start breathing again.
Once you’re done with with your pull-ups and crunches and you’re feeling kind of sweaty and queasy, it’ll be time for you to prep for the sixth part of your application: the interview. Interviews are largely informative; they’re there for you to ask questions about the academy or military life in general (but it can’t hurt to do some prior research!).
Now, all you have to do is wait. You’ll be notified your admission status sometime in spring, and if you receive an offer of admission, you must accept or decline it by May 1st, just like for any other college. Should you receive acceptance, you’ll enter the academy in the early summer for summer training. Heads up: an unflattering haircut will most probably be involved. An inside view of the US Naval Academy’s “Plebe Summer” looks something like this.
And you’re off! Remember your “sirs” and “ma’ams”, keep your uniforms clean and salutes straight, and be careful on that shooting range, okay?
Just a reminder: this article is a simplified approach to the admissions processes of the US Service Academies. For more specific academy-by-academy guidelines, you can visit their respective admissions pages, listed below:
- Naval Academy Admissions
- West Point Admissions
- Air Force Academy Admissions
- Coast Guard Academy Admissions
- Merchant Marine Academy Admissions
If you’re still unsure which academy is the right fit for you, you can compare them here.