Ask Stew: How to Prepare for Summer Seminar, Attending a Service Academy

Students in the U.S. Naval Academy’s annual Summer Seminar program participate in a damage control workshop.
Students in the U.S. Naval Academy’s annual Summer Seminar program participate in a damage control workshop in Annapolis, Md., June 20, 2011. The weeklong program introduces high school seniors to life at the U.S. Naval Academy through a regimen of academics, physical training, sailing and seamanship, and leadership training. (Petty Officer 2nd Class Chadwick Runge/U.S. Navy photo)

The summer before your senior year in high school is as exciting as it is stressful for the young person considering life after the last 12 years of education. Every year, thousands of Americans consider serving with hopes for service academy or ROTC scholarships to help pay for college.

Here is a question from a young man set on serving in the Navy after college and will get his first taste of military training at the Naval Academy Summer Seminar:

Mr. Smith, I am writing to ask you for advice on preparing for Summer Seminar (and beyond). I hope to be accepted into one of the Service Academies and get to attend USNA and USAFA this summer. Do you recommend still working on the Candidate Fitness Assessment (CFA) now or focus more on the specific Academy test? I think we do both. Then, how does it work to get to Special Ops training after you graduate? I am also applying to ROTC -- any difference with that preparation? Thanks for your time. Tyler


The Summer Seminar programs you were accepted to are weeklong events full of exposure to life at the service academies. These are run by the admission departments so you will be fully briefed on the continued application process throughout the week by the actual officers in those departments and midshipmen/cadets who will be your peer leaders.

Here are my recommendations to your questions:

1. Candidate Fitness Assessment -- You will take the assessment, which consists of the kneeling basketball throw, pull-ups, 120-foot shuttle run (4 x 30 feet), push-ups, sit-ups and a one-mile timed run. Keep getting good at this test and take a few practice tests before you arrive. If you do well, this will count for your admissions package and eliminate one hurdle you do not have to do later in the school year with a local coach. But if you do not do well, you can get tips from the coaches and take it again later. All service academies use this test except the Coast Guard Academy (cadence push-ups, sit-ups and a 1.5-mile run).

2. Training Specifically for the Service Fitness Test -- You will likely also be exposed to the fitness tests that the midshipmen and cadets take during the school year. They are different from the CFA. However, until you are accepted into the Academies, I would not worry about preparing for that test during your pre-Summer Seminar time, as it will differ depending upon what officer training program you select. The Army-West Point Cadet Fitness, Naval Academy Fitness Test, Air Force Academy Fitness Test (pull-ups, standing long jump, sit-ups, push-ups, 300-meter sprint, 1.5-mile run), Coast Guard Academy Fitness Test and ROTC programs have their standard branch fitness test.

3. The Special Ops process from the Naval Academy can be found here if you want to attend Navy SEAL training after graduation. The Army has a process of training you as an infantry officer, attending Ranger School, and after a few years as an infantry officer, you can attend Special Forces Selection Training. The Air Force has a direct pipeline to Air Force Special Warfare for qualified cadets as well as preparation and selection programs similar to what the Naval Academy has for officers seeking special ops programs.

So in a nutshell, enjoy your summer experience and work hard on becoming an above-average candidate, because these programs are very competitive. Have fun your senior year and continue to grow and push your academics, athletic and leadership skills to new levels; you will be expected to level up when you take your first steps into any of these officer training programs. Good luck. I am excited for you.

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. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you're looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to

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