West Point, Annapolis, Colorado, New London, Kings Point.
For those who feel pulled toward a life of military service at a young age, these names represent where they want to be. Attending one of the five military academies means they are ready to defend their country as part of the United States Military. It also means they have to go through an intense and stressful application process to make sure they are prepared for the commitment ahead of them.
The application process for military academies is composed of many different parts. One of the first steps is to get recommendations from a counselor. While this may not be the hardest step, it is a vital one, according to academic advisor Tony Affatato.
“As counselors, our role is pretty important to the military academy because there are letters that have to be sent to the congressmen, letters sent to a senator, letters sent to the academy and then processing the application piece and making sure the kiddo that’s applying has all of it sent to all of the different people,” Affatato said.
The next step is the congressional nomination. In order for an applicant to be considered by a military academy they must have a nomination from either their congressman, one of their senators or the Vice President of the United States. Each has a separate nomination application and interview process.
Elizabeth Troy, a Mason graduate of 2015, is currently attending Mercersburg Academy in Pennsylvania to prepare to become a freshman, or plebe, at the Naval Academy next year. According to Troy, the interview was stressful, but not without good reason.
“It was just very intense: a lot of questions and they just want to make sure not only are you qualified academically and physically, but also that you have very good people skills because that’s important, especially in the military,” Troy said.
If the congressional nomination goes well, candidates then move on to the physical and medical exams. The physical exam consists of activities such as a five minute twenty second mile run, eighteen pull ups, seventy-five push ups, ninety-five crunches, and an eight second shuttle run. The medical exam is one of the most time consuming parts of the application because candidates can have almost nothing wrong with them to pass- no previously broken bones, no asthma, and perfect vision are a few of the requirements.
On top of the intense process an individual has to go through, there is also an increased pressure because of how strong other applicants are.
“About 80% of the students at the Naval Academy were class presidents at their high school,” Troy said. “About 80% were also varsity athletes and 65% of them were captains of their varsity sport. It’s a lot of high, intense leadership positions.”
Mason High School Corp of Cadets commanding officer Andy Braun said the high standards are what led him away from applying to a military academy.
“I had gone through a lot of research, I had looked at their website, I had talked with recruiters, I had spoken with just about everyone and in the end I decided not to go through with it just because of the really high standards that they require,” Braun said.
If candidates do make it through all of the stages of the application and beat out the competition, they are accepted into their respective academy, but there is still a chance they may not go directly there.
2014 alumni Matt Allgor attended prep school for West Point before stepping foot on campus this year as a cadet and Black Knight. Troy, a swimmer, and Allgor, a football player, were both placed in prep school because of their sports and physicality, but according to Allgor, many candidates are placed in prep school to give them more time to get ready for the military lifestyle.
“I went to prep school because I broke my ankle and I was not physically ready for cadet basic training,” Allgor explained. “Most kids go there because West Point deems that they’re not academically ready yet. They are given an extra year to really prepare.”
Once applicants finally make it to an academy they have the next four years of school to look forward to, plus a commitment to one of the military branches post-graduation. All five academies are free of tuition, but they expect service for the country in return.
The Naval Academy has a rule called the “Two for Seven.” After spending two years at the academy, all midshipmen have to sign this document at the end of their sophomore year. The purpose of the document is to “lock in” students for the next seven years. At this point, if a midshipman has signed the document and wants to leave the Naval Academy, they have to pay the government $250,000 since they won’t be paying for their schooling with service.
“If you go to the Naval Academy and they pay for your tuition, you have to pay them back by doing five years of service. You are required to serve for at least five years,” said Troy. “That’s the minimum.”
According to Allgor, the Army also has a similar rule.
“You swear an oath at the beginning of junior year,” Allgor said. “The rule is you can leave up until then and owe West Point and the Army nothing, but if you swear in then you try to leave you owe whatever West Point deems their education worth, which is like $300,000.”
Many wonder why young adults, with so much ahead of them, would be willing to go through such a stressful process and make a huge life commitment.
Troy uses her commitment to reflect back on how fortunate she has been in life.
“I love giving back to my community and that’s pretty much what motivated me more than anything,” Troy said. “I really wanted to give back to my country for all that I’ve had.”