If you want to talk about competitive college applications, I wouldn’t hesitate to say that the Military Academies have the most competitive process in the country.
The military service academies are an often overlooked college option and they’re enrolling more young women today than ever before. These are some of the most prestigious academies in the U.S. and if you’re accepted, you can attend and graduate FOR FREE***. Of course, there’s a big asterisk there because you’re going to school for free by agreeing to pay back the government with your time in service after you graduate. But if the military is for you, this is a really sweet deal. I mean, you can go all the way through medical school financially debt-free… it doesn’t really get better than that.
Now money is definitely not the only thing to consider when thinking about going to a military academy. These are not like your typical four-year universities, but they could be perfect for you if you’re up for the challenge.
By committing to a service academy, you’re committing to serving your country, which is an incredibly brave and hard thing to do. While going through basic training programs and military exercises may not be your idea of fun now (or ever) you’ll definitely come out the other side even more of a badass than you were before.
The requirements for all five academies are pretty much the same. The application process for these schools typically starts junior year, partially because the application process is very lengthy. You’ll need:
- A nomination from one of your state’s Senators or Representatives or the Vice President (each member can only nominate 10 candidates each year, so you should be proactive!)
- SAT/ACT test scores
- Teacher evaluations
- Pass the Candidate Fitness Assessment (CFA)
- An extracurricular activities record
- A writing sample
- A personal interview
- A medical evaluation
- Must be a U.S. Citizen, not married or pregnant, no dependents (children)
If you’re an athlete, you may be recruited by one of the academies, but that doesn’t mean you get to bypass all of the steps. Everyone is a midshipman or cadet first!
Oh, and back to money for one second. Since attending an academy will take up your time you can’t hold a job. But don’t worry! By enrolling you’re considered active duty, so you do get some income that pays for your expenses. Cadets are paid $1,087.80/month in accordance with military pay tables, with some of that money withheld each month for cadet fees to cover the cost of things like books, a computer, uniforms, laundry and dry cleaning, haircuts, shoe repairs, and activities. So the amount that ends up in your personal account is usually much less but your expenses are also minimized.
And let’s not forget, being a woman in the military is remarkable! Every branch could benefit from intelligent, brave women in their ranks and are taking drastic steps towards equality in enrollment. Going to one of these academies grooms you into an officer, setting you up to begin your military career in a position of power.
United States Air Force Academy
Colorado Springs, CO
The Air Force Academy is built into the mountains outside of Colorado Springs and sits on a vast amount of land. Cadets have access to state of the art training facilities, labs, classrooms, and open-air to explore.
If you’re interested in flying, space, or anything STEM, this is definitely a great place for you. Here you can train to be a pilot or learn how to direct a mission to Mars.
Students are placed into squadrons after basic training, which are not unlike Harry Potter Houses. You live and eat with your squadron, as well as share duties. They can become your closest friends and by the end of four years, they’ll feel more like family.
The Academy also has some amazing architecture, including one of their biggest tourist attractions, the cadet chapel. This breath-taking building is the most visited man-made tourist attraction in Colorado. The all-faith center of worship has services for all cadets and includes Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, and Buddhist chapels, an All-Faiths Room, and a Falcon circle. This is a place for cadets to unwind and recenter amidst the stresses of academic and military life. Also – many graduates from all five of the service academies get married in the chapel. Ring by spring, anyone?
Busy Bee quick facts:
% of women: 22.9% (class of 2017)
Five Faves – what students love about the USAFA videos
Brochure for women
United States Naval Academy
If you’d rather spend your days at sea and in the air, the Naval Academy is the place for you. No, the academy is not on an actual ship, but it does prepare you to become a leader in the Navy. Midshipmen are put through rigorous military and academic training to ensure they are ready to take on full military life after graduation at sea, on land or in the air.
There are also a variety of clubs you can join in your downtime between classes from Yoga Club and Women’s Glee Club to Silent Drill Team and Scuba Club. There are more than 70 extracurricular activities at the academy to branch out and explore your interests during your four years.
For academics, you can choose from a variety of majors, but “the needs of the Naval Science take precedence.” Over half of graduates focus their studies in science, technology, engineering or mathematics, but there are also degree programs in English, History, and Political Science.
United States Military Academy
West Point, NY
West Point, while similar in some regards to the other academies, has a lot of history, which dates back to the Revolutionary War. After the war, the founding fathers turned this military headquarters into an institution devoted to the arts, sciences, and warfare. It was officially established by President Thomas Jefferson in 1802.
In its more than 200 years of operation, the academy has changed and grown with the times. Most recently it has focused its academic structure to major in a variety of fields from science to the humanities while still keeping their core values of “duty, honor, and country.”
At the academy, you’ll focus on academic excellence, military values, and physical achievement. Those goals are accomplished in small class sizes. The student-to-teacher ratio is just 12:1.
And everything isn’t always serious at the academy, you can cheer on your fellow cadets who play NCAA sports, check out Constitution Island for some OG U.S. history, or join a variety of clubs to explore other interests.
Busy Bee quick facts:
Fun fact: 20 astronauts graduated from West Point
% women = approx 24%
Lingo: students = candidates
West point admissions blog – Aspire
How to get into West Point
West point social media tips
United States Coast Guard Academy
New London, CT
The waterfront Coast Guard Academy offers a small-college environment with a 7:1 student-to-faculty and just over 1000 cadets enrolled in the academy.
The campus sits right on the Thames River that leads out into the Atlantic Ocean which is perfect for young Coast Guard cadets to get out on the water and train.
The Academy takes a liberal-arts approach to their curriculum, but degree programs are limited to a variety of engineering programs, Operations Research and Computer Analysis, Government, Management, and Manie and Environmental Sciences. All cadets study mathematics, science, nautical science, engineering, and liberal arts. There are also opportunities to take elective courses next door at Connecticut College, a highly-selective private liberal arts college.
Outside of the rigorous academic, physical, and military training, cadets can join in different academic and professional societies, honor societies, music and drama clubs, pride club, and club sports.
Busy Bee quick facts:
% Women- approx 36%
United States Merchant Marine Academy
Kings Point, NY
The Merchant Marine Academy is a little different than the other four academies because graduates get a Coast Guard license and an officer’s commission in the U.S. Armed Forces. This differs from say, the Air Force Academy, where you just become an officer in that branch.
This Academy is located right outside of New York City and prides itself on requiring more credit hours for a bachelor’s degree than any other service academy.
If you were hoping to study abroad, you’re in luck! All students spend a “Sea Year” working on commercial vessels and sailing to ports around the world, averaging stops in 18 different countries on their routes. Students are paid $1,000/month during this year while they train in marine transportation while learning about the security and economic needs of the United States.
Another unique factor is upon graduation, you have a choice to work in the maritime industry while being in any reserve unit of the armed forces for eight years, or serve for five years active duty in a branch of your choice.
After a long day of rigor, there are also more than 35 clubs and organizations to take part in including student-run media, sports clubs, religious organizations, and professional organizations.
Busy Bee quick facts:
% women (class of 2022) – 22.9%
Tuition: FREE (+ room and board, uniforms, textbooks)
Billed expenses: $1,080 Midshipman fees
Additional expenses: Computer package, educational kits, TWIC, health insurance
*USMMA Midshipmen do NOT receive a monthly stipend but do get paid approx. $1,000/month for their Sea Year
Which college on this list makes you want to enlist? Would you rather go sailing with the Naval Academy or jump out of airplanes with the Air Force Academy? Let us know in the comments below!
Our virtual college tours are not objective and they’re usually constructed around a single data point (location, programs, or even criteria as arbitrary as the “campus vibe”). These lists are designed to be informative and encourage you to explore colleges you may have never considered, but you should always choose to apply to schools that serve you holistically.