Ask Test Masters: Apply to a Military Academy

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Ask Test Masters is a very popular service offered by the college admission and test experts at Test Masters. If you have a question about the college admission process, or about any of the myriad tests you’ll have to take as you navigate the process, ask the experts at Test Masters! This week, reader Matthew asks about applying to U.S. military academies. He asks,

“Military Academies. One of the hardest schools to get into and one of the most physically and mentally demanding application processes, including a congressional appointment among other things. Tips on getting a good start/upper hand? Thanks.”

Surprisingly, or perhaps not, the steps you should take to make yourself a viable candidate to a military academy are very similar to those you would take for any other top-tier university or Ivy League school. As far as the initial and basic application process is concerned, applying for one is nearly identical to applying for the other. To make yourself a competitive applicant, you should:

Have a good GPA & Class Rank.

This is particularly challenging if you attend a competitive high school where a good GPA doesn’t necessarily translate into an extremely high class rank. If you’re not in the top ten percent, get there. If you need advice on how to study and prepare, this article might help.

Take ALL the standardized tests.

The military is very fond of standardized tests. Though many tests will not be required for you to be considered for admission, by submitting a variety of exams you will separate yourself from other competitive applicants by showing forethought and initiative (two things the military values … in potential officer candidates, at least). You should consider preparing for and taking all of the following tests:

  • SAT
  • ACT
  • SAT II – Math
  • SAT II – Physics
  • SAT II – ??? (whichever Subject Test you feel you will do well on and best rounds out your application)

A note on SAT Subject Tests – most students make the mistake of waiting until their junior or senior year to take SAT Subject Tests; our recommendation is take the SAT Subject Test immediately after completing the corresponding high school class for that subject. For example, many students will wait until senior year to take the SAT II Chemistry test; this doesn’t make sense as most students take chemistry their sophomore year of high school. Take SAT Subject Tests while the material is still fresh! Also, by taking the SAT Subject Tests early, you ensure that these scores will be on your application.

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Be involved in extracurricular organizations, particularly athletics and leadership.

Military Leadership
Leadership is obviously a highly prized commodity in the military.

Did you know that every cadet (or midshipman, or whatever) at a military institute is required to participate in a varsity sport at that institution? This means that it’s not enough to be athletic, but you should also be a demonstrably good team member or leader. The best way to provide evidence of this is to secure a leadership role with one of your school’s sports teams, preferably the same sport you intend to play at the collegiate level. If you’re unable to secure the title of Captain on your sports team, consider joining clubs or organizations that practically translate to a career in the military: Math Club, Engineering Society, JROTC, etc. These sorts of clubs will look good on your application, and it should be less difficult to obtain a leadership role in one or more of them. As mentioned in other posts about extracurricular activities, remember to value quality over quantity; try not to spread yourself too thin when deciding what clubs to join.

Congressional Seal
Click here to find out who your Representative is!

Obtaining a Congressional Recommendation may pose a bit of a challenge. The problem is that you can only seek a Congressional Recommendation from one of two sources, either a Senator or Representative (to be clear, the Representative must be whoever represents your district). This is a difficult and competitive part of the process; Senators and Representatives can only recommend a limited number of applicants per year, and they obviously only want to recommend individuals with a good chance of being accepted. Our best advice here is to write a convincing essay or statement and be sure to apply for a recommendation from both state Senators and your district Representative. Also, so you are aware, though you should put your best effort into any request for a Congressional Recommendation, you are more likely to receive one from your Representative than Senator. Fewer people are eligible to apply for a recommendation from your district rep than your Senator, therefore it is less competitive.

Pararescue Training Exercise
Click this picture to be linked to a great article about passing military academy fitness tests.

As this is not an appropriate forum for strength and conditioning tips, we will limit our advice to passing your Physical Aptitude Test to two-parts. First, you should be able to ask any of your physical education instructors to proctor your test, so ask one that likes you! If you have a two-going-on-three year grudge against the high school gym class teacher (for whatever inane reason teachers and students sometimes don’t get along), then don’t put your college hopes in his or her hands! If you are applying to a military academy, you are probably involved in some kind of sport. Ask your coach, or whoever else you are sure will test you fairly, to proctor your physical aptitude test. Second, be able to do push-ups, a lot of them, very quickly.

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JFK also said, “Democracy and defense are not substitutes for one another. Either alone will fail.”

Our last significant piece of advice has to do with your Interview and Personal Statement. Be cognizant of exactly what you are asking for and the larger implications of attending a service academy. What I really want to convey here is that West Point, Annapolis, Air Force and the Citadel are not looking for people who feel like spending a few years in the military after graduation is a fair trade for a free education. These institutions are looking for career soldiers; they are looking for the leaders of tomorrow’s military. You need to understand the commitment you are endeavoring to take on. If you don’t, you won’t be accepted. It’s as simple as that. This may a bit heavy handed, but consider the famous words of JFK, who said, “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.” I’m not saying you should wrap yourself in an American flag for your interview, just bear in mind that the military professionals who will ultimately review your application need to be firmly convinced that, if accepted, you are going to be fully committed.

That’s it for this week! If you have any more questions about this or other parts of the college admission process, please feel free to comment, or just Ask Test Masters!

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