Is Military School the Perfect University?

Noon formation outside Bancroft Hall at US Naval Academy.
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The perfect university would have high academic standards. No freebie-get-by garbage courses like "Television Appreciation," or "Concepts of Profanity." The perfect university would teach hard-core math, science, and English courses.

The perfect university would not teach students that they should hate the country they were born in. The perfect university would place a high value on physical fitness while not putting their sports-team ahead of the value of their academics. The perfect university would teach the value of honesty, integrity, loyalty, and self-discipline.

The perfect university would also offer free tuition to all students. No, let's make that free tuition and free rooms. How about free tuition, free rooms, and free books? Or, the perfect university could offer free tuition, free rooms, free books, and free meals! Even better: the perfect university would offer a small salary-type monthly stipend, as well as free tuition, rooms, books, and meals.

You say such a university cannot exist? We know of four: The United States Military Academy (West Point), the United States Air Force Academy, the United States Naval Academy, and the United States Coast Guard Academy.

All four of these institutions meet or exceed the standards listed above for the "perfect university." (Okay, the Coast Guard Academy does require $3,000 up front, but other than that, it qualifies). What's the catch? They are extremely difficult to get into. One might even say it takes an act of Congress.

The U.S. Military Academy

Since its founding nearly two centuries ago, the Military Academy has accomplished its mission by developing cadets in four critical areas: intellectual, physical, military, and moral-ethical -- a four-year process called the "West Point Experience."


From the day of its founding on March 16, 1802, West Point has grown in its size and stature, but it remains committed to the task of producing commissioned leaders of character for America's Army. Today, the Academy graduates more than 900 new officers annually, which represents approximately 25 percent of the new lieutenants required by the Army each year. The student body, or Corps of Cadets, numbers 4,000, of whom approximately 15 percent are women.

A favorite expression at West Point is that "much of the history we teach was made by people we taught." Great leaders such as Grant and Lee, Pershing and MacArthur, Eisenhower and Patton, Westmoreland and Schwarzkopf are among the more than 50,000 graduates of the Military Academy.

The foundation of the ethical code at West Point is found in the Academy's motto, "Duty, Honor, Country." Cadets also develop ethically by adhering to the Cadet Honor Code, which states "A cadet will not lie, cheat or steal, or tolerate those who do."

Academic Programs

Specific developmental goals are addressed through several fully coordinated and integrated programs. A challenging Academic Program that consists of a core of 31 courses provides a balanced education in the arts and sciences. This core curriculum establishes the foundation for elective courses that permit cadets to explore in greater depth a field of study or an optional major. All cadets receive a Bachelor of Science degree, which is designed specifically to meet the intellectual requirements of a commissioned officer in today's Army.

The Physical Program at West Point includes both physical education classes and competitive athletics. Every cadet participates in an intercollegiate, club or intramural level sport each semester. This rigorous physical program contributes to the mental and physical fitness that is required for service as an officer in the Army.

Cadets learn basic military skills, including leadership, through a demanding Military Program which begins on their first day at West Point. Most military training takes place during the summer, with new cadets undergoing Cadet Basic Training -- or Beast Barracks -- the first year, followed by Cadet Field Training at nearby Camp Buckner the second year.

Cadets spend their third and fourth summers serving in active Army units around the world; attending advanced training courses such as airborne, air assault or northern warfare; or training the first- and second-year cadets as members of the leadership cadre. Military training is combined with military science instruction to provide a solid military foundation for officership.

Moral-ethical development occurs throughout the formal programs as well as a host of activities and experiences available at the Military Academy. These include formal instruction in the important values of the military profession, voluntary religious programs, interaction with staff and faculty role models, and a vigorous guest speaker program.

Recreational Activities and Clubs

The life of a cadet is demanding, but leisure time does permit recreational activities such as golf, skiing, sailing, and ice-skating, Intramural clubs include a cadet radio station, orienteering, rock climbing, and Big Brother-Big Sister. A wide variety of religious activities is available to cadets from virtually all religious backgrounds.

The United States Naval Academy

The Naval Academy has a unique clarity of purpose, expressed in our official mission: "To develop midshipmen morally, mentally and physically and to imbue them with the highest ideals of duty, honor and loyalty in order to provide graduates who are dedicated to a career of Naval service and have potential for future development in mind and character to assume the highest responsibilities of command, citizenship and government."

This puts everyone -- faculty, staff, and midshipmen -- on the same wavelength. It also encourages a sense of spirit and pride found at few other schools. The moral, mental and physical elements of our program are equally important, all contributing to the qualities of an outstanding naval officer.

The classes now at the Naval Academy will produce many of the leaders of the Navy and Marine Corps for the next 30 years. In the course of their careers, the military and political circumstances of the world will take unexpected turns. Military force structures will change as new technology takes hold. Naval Academy graduates will meet these new challenges with courage, honor, and integrity upholding cherished traditions, always leading to a new and better future.

Academic Programs

Every midshipman's academic program begins with a core curriculum that includes courses in engineering, science, mathematics, humanities and social science. This is designed to give a broad-based education so that a midshipman will qualify for practically any career field in the Navy or Marine Corps. At the same time, the majors program allows midshipmen to develop particular areas of academic interest.

For exceptionally capable and highly motivated students, the academy offers challenging honors programs and opportunities to start work on postgraduate degrees while still at the academy. After four years at the Naval Academy, the life and customs of the naval service become second nature. First, midshipmen learn to take orders from practically everyone. But before long, they acquire the responsibility for making decisions that can affect hundreds of other midshipmen.

Their professional classroom studies are backed by many hours of practical experience in leadership and naval operations, including assignments with Navy and Marine Corps units during summer months.

Focus on Moral Beliefs

Moral-ethical development is a fundamental element of all aspects of the Naval Academy experience. As future officers in the Navy or Marine Corps, midshipmen will someday be responsible for the priceless lives of many men and women and multi-million dollar equipment. From plebe summer through graduation, the Naval Academy's four-year character development program focuses on the attributes of integrity, honor, and mutual respect.

One of the goals of this program is to develop midshipmen who possess a more definite sense of their own moral beliefs and the ability to articulate them. Honor is emphasized through the Honor Concept -- a system which was initially formulated in 1951 and states "Midshipmen are persons of integrity: they stand for that which is right." These academy words to live by are based on the moral values of respect for human dignity, respect for honesty and respect for the property of others.

Brigade honor committees composed of elected upper-class midshipmen are responsible for education and training in the Honor Concept. Midshipmen found in violation of the Honor Concept by their peers may be separated from the Naval Academy.

Physical Fitness Emphasis

The Academy emphasizes the importance of being physically fit and prepared for stress because the duties of Navy and Marine Corps officers often require long, strenuous hours in difficult situations. The physical requirements of plebe summer training, four years of physical education and year-round athletics also develop pride, teamwork, and leadership.

The United States Air Force Academy

Professional development is central to the Air Force Academy experience and distinguishes it from other institutions of higher learning. Four primary areas are stressed: professional military studies, theoretical and applied leadership experiences, aviation science and airmanship programs, and military training.

The intent is to provide cadets the knowledge, skills, values and behavior patterns necessary to meet the leadership challenges of the 21st century where they will spend more than half their Air Force careers.


In years past, the Academy has provided its graduates with, what author Tom Wolfe calls the right stuff, the stuff of heroes. Heroes - like Capt. Lance P. Sijan, Class of 1965, who earned the Medal of Honor posthumously for never ending his personal fight for freedom after he was shot down and captured by the North Vietnamese. Like Col. Karol J. Bobko, Class of 1959, who piloted the space shuttle Challenger in 1983 and commanded two space shuttle missions in 1985.

Another graduate, Col. John Blaha, Class of 1965, commanded the 1991 Atlantis Space Shuttle flight and piloted two previous shuttle flights.

Physical Fitness Focus

Athletic programs stress physical fitness, intercollegiate excellence and leadership development in a competitive environment. Cadets participate in 27 men's and women's intercollegiate sports, with many of the teams, including football and basketball, competing in the Western Athletic Conference. Also, a broad program of intramurals instills in cadets the spirit of teamwork and leadership that is essential in Air Force officers.

The Academy boasts some of the finest sports facilities anywhere, including a multi-faceted field house, cadet gym, myriad tennis courts and outdoor playing fields, as well as two 18-hole golf courses. Civilian and military coaches combine their talents to instill a competitive spirit in cadets, a spirit that has made winning an Academy tradition.

Academic Programs

Academically, the Academy is recognized as one of the finest colleges in the nation, producing 30 Rhodes Scholars and hundreds of other scholarship recipients in its 34 graduating classes. A core curriculum allows cadets to acquire a broad education in the basic and engineering sciences, in social sciences and humanities, and to choose from 25 disciplines.

Providing the bulk of education and training is a corps of dedicated, professional career Air Force and other service officers whose wealth of experience makes them ideal role models for cadets. Distinguished visiting professors from civilian colleges and universities complement the officer corps and offer different perspectives and experiences in the classrooms and lecture halls.

The Cadet Honor Code is the centerpiece of a cadet's moral and ethical development. Each cadet pledges: "We will not lie, steal or cheat, nor tolerate among us anyone who does." All cadets take formal courses in ethics and receive honor and ethics instruction as part of their military training.

The Academy experience is different -- difficult, rewarding, and necessary to meet the challenges of Air Force leadership. Some 12,000 men and women seek entry to the Academy each year. Of this number, only about 1,300 are selected. These new cadets will have the characteristics that will help them meet the challenges of the Academy's rigorous, demanding program.

The United States Coast Guard Academy

Founded in 1876, the United States Coast Guard Academy has a proud tradition as one of the finest and most selective colleges in America. The smallest of the five Federal Service Academies, the Coast Guard Academy provides a four-year Bachelor of Science program with a full scholarship for each individual. Unlike the other Federal Service Academies, however, there are no congressional appointments.

The mission of the United States Coast Guard Academy goes well beyond academics. The mission is:

"To graduate young men and women with sound bodies, stout hearts, and alert minds, with a liking for the sea and its lore, with that high sense of honor, loyalty, and obedience which goes with trained initiative and leadership; well grounded in seamanship, the sciences, and amenities, and strong in the resolve to be worthy of the traditions of commissioned officers in the United States Coast Guard in the service of their country and humanity."

Students come to the Academy to be challenged academically, physically, and professionally. By providing excellent academic programs, a structured military regimen, and competitive athletics, the Academy graduates competent and professional military officers to serve our country.

Academic Programs and Goals

The Academy's four primary objectives are: (1) to provide by precept and example an environment that encourages a high sense of honor, loyalty, and obedience; (2) to provide a sound undergraduate education in a field of interest to the Coast Guard; (3) to provide a living laboratory for leadership education; and (4) to provide training which enables graduates to assume their immediate duties as junior officers afloat.

After successfully completing the Academy program, each graduate receives a Bachelor of Science degree in one of eight majors and a commission as an Ensign in the U.S. Coast Guard. Each graduate is required to serve a minimum of five years of active duty upon graduation.

Admission to the Academy is based on nationwide competition. An average of 265 students enters the Academy each year out of approximately 5500 applicants. Mid-year students are not accepted. The student body, known as the Corps of Cadets, consists of approximately 850 cadets including approximately 30% women and 20% minorities, plus international students representing various countries.

The Academy experience goes far beyond an ordinary classroom curriculum. Freshman year begins in July, seven weeks prior to the academic school year. The first seven weeks, known as "Swab Summer," are an invigorating period of physical, military, and leadership training. The last week is spent sailing aboard America's active duty square rigger, Barque Eagle, America's Tall Ship.

Summer is devoted to professional and military training except for 3 weeks of vacation. Cadets spend five weeks of their sophomore summer sailing on board the training barque Eagle, three weeks at a Coast Guard unit, and two weeks sailing small boats. Junior summer involves the following training: leadership, specialized shipboard training, rifle and pistol, aviation, and leadership roles training the incoming freshman class.

Post Graduate Preparedness

In preparation for shipboard life after graduation, seniors spend ten weeks aboard a Coast Guard cutter learning the roles they will be responsible for as junior officers. In addition, academic internships are available on Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C., and in Coast Guard specialty fields, such as mechanical and civil engineering.

Basic Eligibility Requirements

To attend one of the service academies, applicants must:

  • be 17 but not yet 23 years of age by July 1 of year admitted.
  • be a U.S. citizen at the time of enrollment (exception: foreign students nominated by agreement between the U.S. and another country).
  • be of high moral caliber.
  • be unmarried.
  • not be pregnant or have a legal obligation to support a child or children.
  • with the exception of the Coast Guard Academy, candidates must obtain a nomination from a U.S. Congressman, Senator, the Vice President of the United States, or the U.S. Representative (U.S. Possessions). (Note: Current enlisted members applying to attend one of the service academies do not require a nomination).