Learn About the Armed Forces Service Academies

U.S. Naval Academy graduation ceremony Annapolis, Md.
Graduating midshipmen toss their caps at the conclusion of the U.S. Naval Academy graduation and commissioning ceremony, May 29, 2012, in Annapolis, Maryland. (Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley/Defense Department)

The service academies annually award the biggest scholarships in the country. Each scholarship consists of a four-year education, room and board, pay, exclusive benefits and training. But remember it can be quite grueling and will require you to be very disciplined and dedicated.

Here are 10 tips to give you an edge in getting into one of these elite institutions:

1. Get the grades. Face it, you have to be among the best to be a cadet. Ninety percent of cadets were in the top 20% of their class, but the academies want well-rounded people. Good grades are a starting point, not the finish line.

2. Practice testing. The ACT and SAT are critical. Find out what scores you need at the websites below. Keep testing until you score high enough to be above the average.

3. Be an athlete. Not everyone is an intercollegiate athlete, but most cadets play intramural sports, face fitness tests and undergo strenuous physical training.

4. Be a leader. The academies are looking for leaders. Participation in clubs and extracurriculars is not enough. Become a club officer or class officer. Work hard to earn school, athletic and community awards. Awards separate you from the pack.

5. Be involved in the community. Leaders care. Show you care by routinely volunteering or working in community programs.

6. Ace the interview. Your interview with the academy liaison officer is a big deal. You will be asked about citizenship, your reasons for attending and even about current events. Read the newspaper before your interview. Practice with your family. Answer in clear, thoughtful sentences.

7. Know your representative. You need an official nomination to get into the academies (except the Coast Guard Academy). These come from senators, congressional representatives, the vice president and the president. Apply to all the sources, but get to know the ones you can personally. Volunteer in their office. Write them letters. Make appointments to see them.

8. Go for more than one. Congressional representatives and senators have a limited number of nominations for each academy. By considering all four academies, you increase your chances of getting in.

9. Attend summer programs. Each academy offers programs for exceptional students during the summer before their senior year. These programs provide an up-close look at the academies and what cadet life is like. Your counselor can help you apply.

10. Start now. While the academies don't start official applications until your junior year in high school, you should start early. Write and get the pre-candidate questionnaires and candidate kits. Talk to your high school counselor. Talk to your congressional representative. Meet the academy liaison officer for your area. Let everyone know you have a dream and a plan to make it real.

The U.S. Air Force Academy

The U.S. Coast Guard Academy

The U.S. Military Academy

The U.S. Naval Academy

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