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 their 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.
There are five service academies, each of which serves a different branch of the military. Service academies 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 a service academy must be unmarried U.S. citizens between the ages of 17 and 23, with no dependents. The application process is rigorous, involving, among other things, a Congressional, Vice Presidential, or Presidential nomination (except for the Coast Guard Academy) and a fitness test. Students must also achieve minimum scores on the SAT (500 math and 500 verbal) and ACT (21 English, 19 Social Studies, 24 Math, and 24 Science). Accepted students typically have higher than minimum scores and graduate in the top 25% of their high school class. Besides academics, service academies also look for students of high moral character who participate in extracurricular activities, particularly those with leadership positions.
Each Congressional member 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 depends on where you live. Each state has two senators but differs in the number of state representatives.
To request a 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 congress member personally. 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.
For further information on the application process, click on the relevant service academy below.
- U.S. Military Academy (West Point, NY)
- U.S. Air Force Academy (Colorado Springs, CO)
- U.S. Coast Guard Academy (New London, CT)
- U.S. Merchant Marine Academy (Kings Point, NY)
- U.S. Naval Academy (Annapolis, MD)
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 58,000). 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: 02/2017