The ‘N*ot College’ Option: Five Things to Know About Service Academies

So…your kid wants to be a Mid. What does that even mean? (In this case, it means a Midshipman at the United States Naval Academy). No, this is not the same as enlisting in the military (which can also be a great option).

Of course, many paths can be taken after high school graduation, but a lesser-taken path is to choose a service academy. As the parent of a service academy kid, I often find myself in conversation explaining, even to close friends and family, exactly what that means.

In short, the service academies are four-year college degree programs that end with a diploma and a commission in the military (a job as an officer). They are not for everyone. The admission process itself is long and intense, making the traditional college application seem like a breeze.

Service academies (image via Lee Kriel)
There are considerable benefits to attending a service academy. Plus, your teen is choosing to serve. The bonds they build are beyond deep.  (Image via Lee Kriel)

5 things you need to know about the service academies

1. Each academy is different

Each service academy offers a very different experience in everything from geographic location to intensity of training. Do the homework. There is a wealth of information out there. Take a deep dive into the websites as well as blogs and forums. At the end of the day, for my daughter, it was about the options she would have after four years of school. She also had a clear idea of the “culture” she most aligned with after visiting her academy choices.

2. Start the application process early

Start the process early — as in the second semester of junior year. There are so many hoops to jump through that include a physical fitness test, a medical exam, interviews, and congressional/senatorial nominations, in addition to the actual application. The nomination process can have early deadlines and, in many states, is extremely competitive and involves a huge application packet. Also, know that the earlier you can get your applications in, the better — think late summer/early fall of senior year.

3. Know what the academies are looking for

Know what the academies are looking for. At an information session early in the process, I asked if they would rather have a B in an AP class or an A in an honors class. The Officer looked at me and said, “I would rather have an A in an AP class.”

The academies are academically competitive (think Ivy League) but also want to see strong athleticism and leadership. They want strong SAT/ACT scores. Yes, they want the full package.

4. Plan a visit

Look at options to visit. There are STEM and athletic camps earlier in high school and a Summer Seminar experience after their junior year. There are Candidate Visit weekends (financial aid is available for many of these experiences). Pay attention to the application dates for these summer programs. In the case of the Naval Academy, the Summer Seminar (NASS) application opens in January of junior year and is also considered the initial candidate application. Attending NASS does not guarantee acceptance, but it can be a great way to determine if academy life is the right choice.

5. This is N*ot college

Know that this is N*ot college (as Navy likes to say). Yes, they will receive a degree that is second to none, but they will arrive the June after their senior year for Plebe Summer (something similar to boot camp where the only contact you will have with them will be three phone calls.) They will have training every summer after that as well. Traditional school breaks are limited and never guaranteed.

They will be up at 6 a.m. and work until late. They will have weekend military obligations. They will have rules and rules and rules. There is no such thing as skipping class or not signing in to your room every night. There’s mandatory exercise, lots of it, and there are Physical Readiness Tests (PRTs). And while all schools have an honor code, this one goes deeper. You hold your shipmates to a higher standard.

It’s funny when my younger daughter went to a traditional college, she was floored at everything she was “allowed” to do… because she had only seen the experience of her older sister going through USNA. 

If your teen has an interest in service academies, help them figure it out

Here’s the thing. If your teen shows interest in this path, the road less taken, help them figure this out because as difficult as it all is (and I am talking a constant four-year crazy roller coaster ride for both student and parent), it is also one of the greatest rides one can take. Trust me, they (and you) will miss it when it is over. By going this route, your kid chooses something bigger and beyond themselves. 

They will be rewarded with a first-class education, zero college loans, a well-paying job that starts the day they graduate/commission, and the most amazing experiences one could imagine that happen throughout their four years. The leadership skills they will have by the age of 21 are unparalleled. They are choosing to serve. The bonds they build are beyond deep. 

I am the proud parent of a Class of ’23 Mid from the United States Naval Academy. It was a roller coaster. It was hard. But, it was also the most amazing journey one could ever imagine, and when the Blue Angels roared overhead, and those hats went into the air last May, all of that hard work and sacrifice was actualized. Sometimes, the difficult path is just the path your child is looking for.

All of the views in the above article are my own (those of a Mid Mom) and do not represent those of the United States Naval Academy or the US Navy.

Go Navy. Beat Army. (That is the view of the United States Naval Academy and the US Navy.)

Additional facts

After your 4-year education, there is a 5-year service commitment. It is longer for pilots and some other assignments.

You can apply to the academies until the age of 23. 

There are options for enlisted to apply. 

There are great options for athletes.

There is a Naval Academy Prep School.

Websites to explore

United States Naval Academy (Navy/Marine Corps-Annapolis, MD)

United States Military Academy (Army-West Point, NY)

United States Air Force Academy (Air Force-Colorado Springs, CO)

United States Coast Guard Academy (Coast Guard-New London, CT)

United States Merchant Marine Academy (Merchant Marines-Kings Point, NY)

More Great Reading:

What Makes Military Moms the Very Best Kind of Moms

About Kristina Kiracofe Harwood

Kristina Kiracofe Harwood lives in Baltimore, MD with her marina-manager
husband. Her day job is working as an editor of non-fiction/technical
writing and her night-job is to continue to support (from afar) her two young adult daughters as they navigate their worlds. She loves to travel and plan trips. A former theatre major, she still enjoys a little drama...but at this point in her life... not too much.

Read more posts by Kristina

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