Applying to a Service Academy? Here’s What You Need to Know


By Aidan Pesce, Assistant Editor

For most students, senior year is one of the most confusing years. In addition to the leadership responsibilities that accompany being the oldest in the school, athletics and extracurriculars, homework, and more, seniors have to navigate the college process, making their senior year extremely stressful and chaotic. However, for those applying to a United States Service Academy, the process instantly becomes more difficult, and I am here to help you navigate these stressful times.

My name is Aidan Pesce. I am a senior here at Xavier, and I am applying to the United States Naval Academy and the United States Military Academy, so trust me: I know all about how difficult the application can be. However, I also have some advice that can hopefully make this process easier for those interested in the Academies.

Firstly, there are five United States Service Academies: the Military Academy (West Point), the Naval Academy (Annapolis), the Air Force Academy, the Coast Guard Academy, and the Merchant Marine Academy. The academies accept very few students a year, approximately 1,200, making them some of the most competitive schools in the nation. But the Academies are competitive for a reason. In fact, the Naval Academy was ranked as the #1 public school this year, West Point #2, and the Air Force Academy #3. Furthermore, if that does not give you an idea of why the Academies are so competitive, another reason is that they are responsible for producing officers in our nation’s military: those who graduate are commissioned as officers, whether they are 2nd lieutenants or ensigns. The Academies evaluate applicants on their character, leadership potential, physical fitness level, and academic ability. Candidates, the name given to those applying to the Academies, must demonstrate that they can handle the rigors of being a military officer, which is why candidates must demonstrate they fall into those four categories. Thus, the application is designed to be challenging and to evaluate candidates to see if they would be a good fit in one of the Service Academies. As a result of this, the applications require a physical fitness test, a medical exam, 1 or more essays, teacher recommendations, taking the SAT or ACT with writing, an interview, and a congressional nomination.


The Candidate Fitness Assessment

The Candidate Fitness Assessment, also known as the CFA, is the fitness test used to examine a candidate’s physical condition. While sports are also used to evaluate a candidate’s athleticism, one must pass the CFA to be accepted into an Academy. Because of this, it is imperative that you adequately prepare yourself for the CFA. The CFA consists of a kneeling basketball throw, pull-ups, a 40-yard shuttle run, sit-ups, push-ups, and a timed mile run.

Helpful Tip #1: Train to achieve the maximum score in each event. The Academies do not publish the minimum passing scores, so it is best to err on the side of caution and train your body to meet the maximum requirements posted by the Academies.

Helpful Tip #2: Practice! Practice. Practic. If you do not practice the events, you will likely fail the CFA – it is harder than you think. Some events, especially the basketball throw, rely on form, and without the proper technique, failure is inevitable.

Helpful Tip #3: Take the test early. If you fail, you can retake the test, but it has to be before the application closes on January 31st. If you wait until it’s too late, you risk not being able to pass the test in time.


Medical is arguably the most important aspect of the application. You can only attend a Service Academy if you pass the medical exam or receive a waiver, so start the process early and make sure you meet the medical standards posted by the Department of Defense Medical Examination Review Board. One crucial thing to know about medical is that you are directed to medical by the Academy only after you complete a certain percentage of your application.

Helpful Tip #1: Start medical early. This means you need to submit the majority of your application early in the process. Doing so will allow you to move onto medical quickly, which will give you time to work out any issues you have with medical, and, if applicable, receive a medical waiver.

Helpful Tip #2: Do the form with a parent. Having a parent assist you with the medical questionnaire will help ensure that you do not incorrectly answer any of the questions. Furthermore, if you have any conditions that you need to provide more detail on, your parents can give you the information you need to submit.

Helpful Tip #3: Only mark “yes” if you are certain you have had this condition. Marking “yes” on the medical questionnaire If you mark “yes” on the medical questionnaire, you cannot change your answer, so only mark “yes” if you are certain this condition affects you. Furthermore, you will need to provide details on any question you answer “yes” to, including the date of injury, the doctor who treated you, and more.


Like all colleges, you must submit an essay to the Academy you are applying to. However, unlike the Common App essays, the personal statements are tailored to the Academies, and the schools may ask for more than one (West Point asked me for three). These essays are important because they discuss your motivation to attend a Service Academy, and they also help give the schools an idea of the type of person you are.

Helpful Tip #1: Start writing them during the summer. Like everything else in this application, it is best to start early rather than later. This will give you ample time to write and refine your essay(s), and this gives you more time for the other aspects of the application during the school year when you are much busier.

Helpful Tip #2: Talk about personal experiences. The Academies want to know you. They already have information on the sports you do, your grades, and other data about you, but they don’t have that much information on who you are as a person. Use the essay(s) to show the Academies, and a personal experience will tell them a lot about the type of person you are.

Helpful Tip #3: Answer the prompt. Despite wanting to talk about personal experiences, you need to make sure that your essay actually addresses the prompt. These essays are graded, so make sure your primary focus is answering the quest coherently and in a professional way.

Teacher Recommendations

Teacher recommendations are required for all of the Academies, and each Academy requires multiple evaluations. All five Academies require an English and Math teacher to write your recommendation, but some of the Academies add on extra specifications, whether it is requiring the teacher to have taught you in 11th or 12th grade, or asking for other teachers to write letters of recommendation in addition to the math and English teachers. These evaluations will help the Academies learn about your work ethic, your leadership ability, and general character, so they are very important.

Helpful Tip #1: Build a relationship with your teachers. If you develop a good relationship with the teachers you ask for letters of recommendation, they will be more inclined to go into detail on what a great fit you will be at the Academies, and this could make the difference in whether or not you are accepted.

Helpful Tip #2: Ask for the letters early. Teachers get swamped with letter of recommendation requests during the Fall, so try to get your letters of recommendation in during the summer. This gives the teacher more time to work on the other letters, but it also allows you to submit another portion of your application early on.

Standardized Tests

The Service Academies accept both the SAT and the ACT. However, if you take the ACT, you must take it with the writing section. Some Academies accept super scores, but others Academies, or the nomination sources, may not, instead taking only your single highest score.

Helpful Tip #1: Take it early. If you take the SAT or ACT early, it gives you time to determine what you need to work on to improve your overall score. Furthermore, it will be one less thing to study for when you’re back in school.

Helpful Tip #2: Take it often. By taking standardized tests often, you familiarize yourself with the material and structure of the test, meaning it will become easier to score higher. Besides, students who take the SAT or ACT more than once are very likely to improve their scores, giving them a better chance at being accepted.

Helpful Tip #3: Take both the SAT and ACT. By taking both the SAT and ACT, you can figure out which test is best suited for you and you can focus your efforts on studying for that specific test, giving you a better shot at earning an even higher score.

Academy Representative Interview

Every academy requires an interview with candidates to determine their character. Character plays a role in acceptance, so make sure you give the interview your all. Also,

Helpful Tip #1: Dress to impress. Treat the interview like it is a job interview because it is. Dressing professionally shows that you are serious about attending a Service Academy, and the Academy liaison will take notice of this.

Helpful Tip #2: Give personal answers. The interviews are designed to get to know you as a person, so give personal answers. Doing so will give your interviewer a better understanding of the type of person you are, which will go much further than saying exactly what you think they will want to hear. This will also make you seem genuine, making you even more unique.

Helpful Tip #3: Use examples from your life. By incorporating examples and stories in your answer, you prove that you have learned lessons or experienced hardship. These stories make you memorable, and they oftentimes will lead the interviewer to ask you more personal questions that will help them to better understand the type of person you are.

Congressional Nominations

To be extended an offer of appointment, which is tantamount to being accepted into the Academy, you must first receive a nomination. There are two types, congressional and service-related, but every citizen is eligible for congressional. Service-related nominations can be earned by being a member of (j)ROTC or having a family member who served. For more information, please check out the individual service academies you are applying to. With congressional nominations, citizens can apply to their two Senators, their Congressperson, and the Vice-President.

Helpful Advice #1: Start early. Like applying to the Service Academies, applying for a nomination early is extremely useful. It gives you extra time to get your essays and letters of recommendation in, and by doing so, you will have more time for schoolwork during the school year.

Helpful Advice #2: Apply to all possible nominations. The nominations are extremely competitive and absolutely necessary for a Service Academy, so it is not a guarantee that you will receive a nomination. By applying to all four congressional nominations (and any service-related ones if applicable), you stand a much better chance of receiving a nomination, making your chances of being accepted into the Academy that much higher.

Helpful Advice #3: Take the interviews seriously. The interviews are an essential aspect of congressional nominations, and they play a significant part in determining whether or not you receive a nomination. The interviews are shorter, my first interview lasted maybe ten minutes, so do all you can to impress your interviewers. Dress professionally, give in-depth, personal answers, and be respectful. Doing so will increase your chances of receiving a nomination.