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Graduating from the Academy

The Top Ten Questions about Graduating from a US Service Academy

The Top Ten Questions about Graduating from a US Service Academy

Every year, I have the honor of working out with more than 2000 high school students seeking acceptance into the Naval Academy during the Summer Seminar program. Hundreds of emails each year concerning all of the Service Academy programs have prompted me to write the most frequently asked questions I receive. These emails are from many of the young men and women seeking to serve their country as an officer in any of the services.

Here they are:

1. Do all of the services have their own academy?  If so how do you get into them?

This is a monster of a question so I recommend thorough research on the websites of the Service Academies below. All services have their own academy however the US Naval Academy has around 15% of its class to join the Marine Corps.

Naval Academy - Annapolis MD - USNA
Air Force Academy - Colorado Springs CO - USAFA
Military Academy - West Point NY - USMA
Coast Guard Academy - New London CO - USCGA
Merchant Marine Academy - Kings Point NY - USMMA

2. What are the Physical Fitness Tests at the Academy?

They are all similar and some identical but here are the actual tests they take before and during the Academy:

USNA - USAFA - USMA - All take the CFA (Candidate Fitness Assessment):
Basketball throw, pushups, situps, pullups, 1 mile run

USCGA - USMMA - pushups, situps, 1.5 mile run

All academies take a pushups, situps, 1.5 mile run every six months while attending the 4 year school. However West Point - (Army) does a 2 mile run.

3. What is up with the basketball throw - where did they get this test?

Ha - good one. It is actually part of an older exam called the PAE - Physical Aptitude Exam which basically measures one's potential to be a strong candidate / athlete. The test does demonstrate athletic ability to a degree and shoulder girdle and torso rotational power as well. I agree it is a bit different from ALL test out there, but the Army, Navy, AF use it so who am I to argue?

4. Can you fail the CFA?

Well, since the academies are very competitive, it helps to have good to great scores in EVERYTHING you can to set yourself apart from the other 10-12,000 or so applicants most academies receive. Notice - there are no minimum standards!  I love this personally as striving for a minimum standard CANNOT be a part of your work ethic IF you want to get into and especially if you want to graduate.

5. On average what are the numbers who apply / get accepted / graduate?

Using the Naval Academy as an example, in recent years around 10,000 -12,000 people apply, about 4,000 get nominations, and around 1,200-1,300 get accepted each year. Usually, graduating classes drop to under 1000 after four years. My class was 1350 and we graduated a little over 900.

6. How do you become a Marine at the Naval Academy?

As with any service selection opportunity, you will be given a course to follow through your four years there that can take you directly to the graduating ranks of the USMC. Usually, it requires a few summer training periods with Marine units, attending a summer program for midshipmen seeking USMC officer slots at Quantico, VA, taking the USMC PFT - pullups, situps, 3 mile run and of course keeping up with your academics and leadership experience positions as it is competitive to become a Marine officer.

7. How do you become a SEAL from the USNA?

Very similar to the way you become a Marine. You should attend the Navy SEAL PTs, spend assigned duty at a SEAL team (internships) during leave time, score extremely well on your BUDS PST:

500yd swim - sub 8 min (recommended competitive scores)
pushups 100
situps 100
pullups  25
1.5 mile run in boots / pants - sub 9 min

Also you will have to endure a 24-36 hour event called BUDS screening which is run by the SEAL instructors at USNA - basically it is all the bad events that occur during the six months training at BUDS compounded into a 24 -36 hour period - pretty tough. That helps weed out the competition a bit and then the final event is a SEAL interview with a board of SEALs in charge of selecting all officers going to SEAL training. Very intimidating but relax, be yourself, show confidence, not arrogance and you will be fine.

8. Can you join the military even if you go to the Merchant Marine Academy?

YES - I know of several who have gone onto serve in the military, in fact a few have become Navy SEALs too.

9. Are the Service Academies "real" college?

Depends how you define real!  The answer is yes - they are accredited universities and actually very competitive with Ivy League schools with challenging curricula. Now - will you have a "real" college experience?  Up to you, you get to leave on weekends and relax and have fun, but during the week, it is work - workout, go to school, do a sport, eat, study, sleep!

10. Why did you choose the Naval Academy - why a service academy?

I knew I wanted to be in the military at about age 16. I just did not know what I wanted to do. I figured if I can be in the military AND go to college that was even better so I looked into ROTC and Service Academies. After some research (before internet) I noticed the Navy bases always were near a beach. Being from Florida, that seemed nice. After pondering pilot or Navy SEAL, I eventually came to the Navy SEAL decision after meeting several of them on campus. Also five guys on my rugby team all became SEALs too. So we were all workout buddies. It just seemed to fit.

For best results, visit the Service Academy websites and read their frequently asked questions pages. That will be your best source of information for the specifics of all the academies.

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Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as  a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National  Strength and Conditioning Association. If you are interested in  starting a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle - check out  the Military.com Fitness eBook store and the Stew Smith article archive at Military.com. To contact Stew with your comments and questions, e-mail him at stew@stewsmith.com

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