A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Ship
by Heart Cross Ranch
I have a daughter who flies helicopters. Big helicopters. The ones that make you think of Blackhawk Down. The Navy calls them Knighthawks or the MH-60S. They are BIG helicopters.
The Knighthawk is a multi-purpose platform, capable of search & rescue, Special Forces support, anti-submarine operations, and even recovering space capsules.
How did my girl ever end up doing that?
It started with a chance encounter on the 4th of July in Paris under the Eiffel Tower. My daughter was overseas with Hillsdale College studying, “Their Finest Hour: Churchill and WWII.” She saw several elderly gentlemen in WWII Army uniforms and recognized them as Sgt. Malarkey and Lt. Compton of “Band of Brothers” fame. She introduced herself and they had a lovely visit. A few weeks later, Malarkey mentioned on NPR how touched he was that high school students were excited to meet them. Little did he know that he had profoundly touched my daughter. She came home determined to live up to the “Greatest Generation.” And thus began our journey down the military academy path.
Warning: the academy application process is not one for faint hearts. It’s time consuming, nit-picking, and headache-producing. But when they raise their hands and swear to “defend the Constitution from all enemies, foreign and domestic,” and your heart swells with pride, it’s all worth it.
A general overview of a typical academy prep for homeschoolers can be found here: Academy Admissions Advice for Homeschoolers.
I’ll address the rest of this article to the student/candidate as they should be the ones who complete the majority of the application process.
The process begins at Christmas time of the junior year with Summer Seminar applications. There are five service academies: United States Air Force Academy, United States Merchant Marine Academy, United States Military Academy (West Point), United States Naval Academy (Annapolis), and the United States Coast Guard Academy. Of those five, four offer rising seniors a chance to spend a week in the summer, getting a taste of academy life. Since USMMA is on a trimester system, they don’t have such a program. Enrollment in all four Summer Seminars (called different things for each academy) is very competitive, and most students apply for more than one. Who gets chosen to attend? All four are looking for similar things: high ACT/SATs, high GPA, involvement in sports, community service, and leadership, leadership, leadership. Since the process begins so early, it behooves the aspiring candidate to take the SAT and ACT early, in order to have those scores available. The academies are also looking to ensure geographic diversity, so they are eager to bring in prospects from every state. While not getting into Summer Seminar doesn’t mean you won’t get an Appointment, attending Summer Seminar does show interest and can help in the process later. Each academy’s summer program has a different flavor, but all involve an introduction to military life and some really cool classes. You might find yourself lined up on the bulkhead being “counseled” right before working on glider design. You’ll be making your “rack” correctly, memorizing page after page of “knowledge,” marching in formation and keeping your “eyes in the boat.” You might find yourself trying to take over the world in a political science scenario and then participating in team-building exercises. Each seminar runs about $400, plus airfare. You’ll come home with enough t-shirts for the rest of your life!
Some of the academies use the Summer Seminar process as a preliminary application for the academies themselves; others do not. But once your SS application is in, it’s time to start thinking nominations! All but the Coast Guard Academy require a Congressional, Vice-Presidential, or Presidential nomination. That process requires attention to detail and a lot of stamina. The best advice we were given was to buy a good scanning copier. You’ll need it. Another piece of good advice is to create a separate email address, (one that you will check many times a day) specifically for academy admissions. Time to dump the “partyheartygirl at springbreak.com” address. Clean up your Facebook page; it WILL be perused. You’ll need to have letters of recommendation lined up, and most Members of Congress will want them submitted online.
This is where it gets tricky for homeschoolers and is something to consider as the high school years are planned out. Many Members want to see recommendations from science, English, and math teachers, as well as from outside sources.. We’ve had good success with using college professors from dual enrollment classes. A consistent question comes up: “As a homeschooler, how will you function as a member of a group? How will you handle classroom learning?” Another constant is the class rank requirement, which a homeschooler obviously won’t have. Most MOC will be content with extrapolating class rank from the student’s ACT/SAT national percentile. Many MOC will close their nomination applications in early fall, some as early as September 15th—don’t be caught napping! Give yourself time to get those letters in and all transcripts sent. Most MOCs have a spot for course descriptions, school profile, guidance counselor letter, and resume. You’ll be doing separate interviews with your representative and two senators’ boards.
While the nomination process is well underway, it’s time to think about the physical tests. You may have already done a CFA (Candidate Fitness Assessment) at Summer Seminar, but be aware that some academies will allow you to update them, and some will not. They each have running, pull-ups, pushups, and a weird kneeling basketball throw. You need to be in good shape, along with just practicing the skills. Run and then run some more. However, don’t run within 24 hours of your medical exam as it could skew the urine test results!
Next up—the DODMERB, Department of Defense Medical Exam Review Board! If you haven’t figured it out yet, you’re going to learn to speak in acronyms. There are twenty-four pages listed as disqualifications here: Disqualification Codes. You should read through these and see if you fall under any of the concerns. There are SOME waivers granted, but as the process becomes more and more competitive, those waivers are harder to obtain. Give yourself enough time to work through a remedial or waiver process; it takes time.
Once you are found qualified, you’ll be notified of your interview. Each academy does them a bit differently. Navy calls your interviewer a Blue & Gold Officer; West Point calls him a MALO; and the Air Force Academy, an ALO. They all want to get to know your motivation, your knowledge of the academies, and your confidence level. Now is not the time to show up in the t-shirt and flip-flops. If the interview is held at your house, a button-down shirt and khakis are in order. If at the officer’s office, it’s time to break out the blazer. Be early—15 minutes early is “on time” in the military.
I could write a whole book here, but someone else already has: The Naval Academy Candidate Book
There are books for AFA and West Point too. Aspiring Midshipmen will also find these useful: Brief Points and Building a Midshipman.
Throughout this process, it’s important to have a strong Plan B in place. The majority of military officers go through ROTC, not the academies. The process for those scholarships is outlined here: How to Win ROTC Scholarships.
So, you’ve read the books, earned your Eagle, lettered in Varsity sports, interviewed, taken the SAT numerous times, been poked and prodded, produced voluminous paperwork, and now you wait. You may be blessed with an LOA (Letter of Assurance) or Early Action, or you may still be waiting in April. Or, you may take a different route, if you’re offered a prep year. Four of the five academies offer prep school years. Some are offered by the academies themselves, and some from alumni organizations. You’ll take a typical year of freshman courses and you’ll learn how to march and how to make your bed. At the end of that year, if you keep your grades up, and you secure another nomination, you’ll be raising your hand in the Oath that next summer.
The big day comes. You’ve said goodbye to Mom, Dad, and the dog. You’ll survive Plebe Summer, Doolie Summer, Beast Barracks, or Swab Summer. You’ll be tired and sore and wondering WHY you ever wanted to do this. The next four years will go by in a flash, and you’ll be tossing your cover in the air! And then the adventure REALLY begins!
Heart Cross Ranch–Heart Cross Ranch is the mom of five children, three of whom have graduated. She is in her 26th year of homeschooling, with just three left to go! She lives high up in the Colorado mountains, in the nation’s icebox, on a cattle and sheep ranch. She enjoys being heavily involved with Boy Scouts, taking sports photos for the local paper, and anything chocolate. She confesses that much of her “homeschooling” consists of throwing interesting books at her children.