Attending a Service Academy or Senior Military College
Attending a Service Academy or Senior Military College
John Hoffman /

Students who are looking to earn their bachelor’s degree in an immersive, militaristic environment may benefit from attending a service academy or senior military college. At these schools, students have two main goals: earning a degree and preparing for a career in the military. Students who graduate from a service academy must accept a commission as an officer. Those who attend senior military colleges can choose whether to accept a commission. All students who commission as officers will owe a service commitment to their branch.

Service Academies

There are five service academies: the U.S. Air Force Academy, the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, U.S. Military Academy, and the U.S. Naval Academy. Each serves a different branch of the military. Contrary to its name, the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy falls under the jurisdiction of the Navy during times of war but commands civilian ships during times of peace. The U.S. Military Academy is associated with the Army, and the U.S. Naval Academy trains both sailors and Marines.

The U.S. Air Force Academy, the U.S. Military Academy, and the U.S. Naval Academy

Not all service academies are created equal. The U.S. Air Force Academy, the U.S. Military Academy, and the U.S. Naval Academy are all very similar. They are federally funded undergraduate institutions that provide students with a free bachelor’s degree (and additional monetary benefits) while training them to be commissioned officers. Upon graduation, cadets commission as second lieutenants or ensigns. They are then required to serve at least eight years, five of which must be on active duty. Students whose selected jobs require more training, such as doctors and pilots, will end up owing more time on active duty.

Students considering applying for one of these service academies must be unmarried U.S. citizens between the ages of 17 and 22, with no dependents. Applicants cannot be pregnant. You must have a high school diploma (or complete your diploma before you begin training at an academy) to be considered for admission. The application process is rigorous, involving, among other things, a Congressional, Vice Presidential, or Presidential nomination. Without a nomination, students cannot legally be offered admission.

Each Congressional member, including the Vice President, can sponsor up to five cadets attending military service academies at a single time. Each time there is an open position, the member can nominate up to 10 more students for consideration. The number of students attending service academies and the number of open positions depends on where you live; each state has two senators but differs in the number of state representatives. The President can nominate an unlimited number of individuals for placement at a service academy, but there are only 100 spots open at a time. To be eligible for a Presidential nomination, you must be the child of a service member.

To request a Congressional nomination, you must contact your senators or representatives directly, provide relevant academic information, including your transcripts, and explain why you want to attend a service academy. You are not required to know your congressperson personally. To apply for a Vice Presidential or Presidential nomination, contact your prospective school directly. Most nominations are based on your performance in academics, athletics, extracurriculars, and an in-person interview. It is important to remember that service academies are extremely competitive and nominations do not guarantee admission.

Students hoping to attend the Air Force, Military, and Naval Academies must also submit their SAT and/or ACT scores. While there are no hard and fast numbers that will completely disqualify you from consideration, accepted students typically have high standardized test scores and graduate in the top 25% of their high school classes.

  • The U.S. Air Force Academy states that students who score below a 24 in English/reading and below a 25 in math/science on the ACT will not be competitive applicants; the average score on all sections of the ACT is 30. Likewise, students who score below 580 verbal and 560 math on the SAT are unlikely to be competitive. The average SAT score for each section is in the mid to high 600s.
  • The U.S. Military Academy does not set minimum SAT or ACT scores, but accepted students in the class of 2020 scored an average of 29 on the ACT and 1880 on the old version of the SAT. This converts to a score of 1340 on the current version of the SAT.
  • The middle 50% of the U.S. Naval Academy class of 2021 scored between 26 and 32 on the ACT’s English section and between 27 and 31 on the ACT’s math section. Similarly, the middle 50% of accepted students’ SAT scores ranged from 610–740 for verbal and 620–730 for math.

Besides academics, service academies also look for students of high moral character who participate in extracurricular activities, particularly those with leadership positions. All students will be subjected to a fitness test and a medical examination.

For further information on the application process, click on the relevant service academy below.

The Coast Guard Academy

The Coast Guard Academy is similar to the above academies in that all tuition and room and board are paid for by the federal government and cadets will receive pay while they are in school. The service commitment, too, is the same. Upon graduation and receipt of their commission, ensigns (formerly cadets) will owe a five-year active duty service commitment.

The requirements to apply are similar as well. Students must be unmarried U.S. citizens between the ages of 17 and 22, with no dependents or debt. At the time of entry into the Coast Guard Academy, students must have received their high school diplomas. Unlike the other service academies, though, students who apply to the Coast Guard Academy do not need to obtain a Congressional, Vice Presidential, or Presidential nomination. Instead, applicants are required to submit letters of recommendation from a math teacher, an English teacher, and a guidance counselor.

Applicants are also required to submit either SAT or ACT scores, but there are no minimum score requirements. Average scores for previously admitted students are 24 overall on the ACT and 1120 on the old version of the SAT (math and critical reading).

For further information on the application process, click on the link below.

The Merchant Marine Academy

The Merchant Marine Academy is unique among service academies in that graduates are not commissioned into only one branch of the Armed Forces. While students must fulfill a service commitment after graduation, they have a range of choices of how to do so. A service commitment may be eight years of service with a Reserve unit, five years on active duty in the Armed Forces, five years of service with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, five years of service as a merchant marine officer, or five years of service in a maritime-related profession. The majority of students are commissioned as ensigns in the Merchant Marine Reserve (which is part of the Navy Reserve), but all branches of the military are possibilities.

To be eligible to apply, students must be unmarried U.S. citizens between the ages of 17 and 24. Students must obtain a Congressional nomination from a representative in their home state but are not eligible to receive a Vice Presidential or Presidential nomination. Additionally, applicants must submit three letters of recommendation and their scores on the SAT or the ACT. The Merchant Marine Academy requires that students score at least a 23 on the ACT (minimum scores of 23 in English and 24 in math) and at least a 530 in reading and 580 in math on the current version of the SAT.

While the Merchant Marine Academy doesn’t charge for tuition or room and board, it does charge mandatory fees, called “billed expenses” that each student must pay prior to enrollment. These expenses include “laundry service, tailor/seamstress, and barber/hairdresser.” Students in the class of 2021 will be billed $1,020.00. Other fees, including a laptop, transportation, supplies, insurance, etc., are not uniform for each student at the Merchant Marine Academy but are estimated to cost between $7,000 and $11,000 each year. Federal financial aid may be applied to these costs. Unlike at other academies, students will not be paid while they are enrolled, the exception being when they are at sea.

For further information on the application process, click on the link below.

Senior Military Colleges

Senior military colleges offer ROTC programs, but they differ from the ROTC programs offered at other institutions. While traditional ROTC programs function as more of an extracurricular activity, senior military colleges are most similar to service academies. Students are part of a Corps of Cadets and live and study in an immersive military environment. Students wear uniforms at all times, receive military training, and participate in physical training and conditioning. They are also subject to military discipline and a cadet code of conduct.

These colleges still are four-year, degree-granting institutions. Not all students attending them will be participating in ROTC or a part of the Corps of Cadets. Students who are participating in ROTC can choose whether to accept commission as an officer in a branch of the U.S. military. Typically those accepting commission will need to take extra courses; check with your prospective institution to learn about their requirements. While there are no Coast Guard ROTC programs, student may be able to directly commission into the Coast Guard upon graduation. Merit-based scholarships are available at all of these institutions.

There are only six senior military colleges:

  • The Citadel (Charleston, South Carolina): Each cadet must complete a course in one of the ROTC branches (Army, Air Force, Marine Corps, or Navy) each semester. They can decide whether to accept a commission after graduation. The Citadel offers direct commissions for students interested in commissioning with the Coast Guard.
  • Norwich University (Northfield, Vermont): Norwich prides itself on being the birthplace of the ROTC program. Students must participate in an ROTC program and complete six semesters of ROTC coursework to maintain their membership in the Corp of Cadets. All ROTC branches are offered but commissioning post-graduation is not required. If a cadet does elect to commission, they must take a fourth year of ROTC courses in their selected branch. Norwich University offers direct commissions for students interested in commissioning with the Coast Guard.
  • Texas A&M University (College Station, Texas): This is a senior military college and a traditional institution. In order to join approximately 2,500 other students in the Corps of Cadets, students must first be accepted to Texas A&M University (current enrollment is over 65,000). Then they must contact the Corps staff. Once admitted, cadets must select an ROTC branch (Army, Air Force, Marine Corps, or Navy) and enroll in ROTC courses for the first two years of their postsecondary education. There is no obligation to accept a commission. Texas A&M University offers direct commissions for students interested in commissioning with the Coast Guard.
  • University of North Georgia (Dahlonega, Georgia): UNG has multiple campuses and does accept students who don’t want to participate in the Corps of Cadets or ROTC programs. This is the only senior military institute that solely offers the Army ROTC program. Students interested in joining the Corps of Cadets must be based at the Dahlonega campus (UNG has multiple campuses). Commissioning is not required, but if chosen, students must commission into the Army. Students cannot commission into the Coast Guard after attending this school.
  • Virginia Military Institute (Lexington, Virginia): If students elect not to commission, they will be enrolled in Army ROTC. Otherwise, they can choose between the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force. Virginia Military Institute offers direct commissions for students interested in commissioning with the Coast Guard.
  • Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Blacksburg, Virginia): The Corps of Cadets at Virginia Tech consists of over 1,000 students, amounting to only 4% of total enrollment. Cadets can choose to participate in an ROTC program (Army, Air Force, Marine Corps or Navy) or the Citizen-Leader Track. The ROTC track requires commissioning with a cadet’s respective branch, while the Citizen-Leader Track requires no commission. Virginia Tech offers direct commissions for students interested in commissioning with the Coast Guard.

Page last updated: 08/2018