West Point Essays

Military.comBy J. Phoenix, Esquire

With over 1,200 candidates (including about 189 women and 250 ethnic minorities plus 21 international cadets) poised to enter Beast Barracks in a few days on 27 June, it seems a good time to respond to a reader's request for information about the current Admissions process.  Of course, the first question that a candidate should be prepared to answer is, "Why do you want to go to West Point?"  Whatever the reason, they will ultimately lead American soldiers, possibly in combat against terrorists.

The basic standards for consideration have changed somewhat over the years.  On 1 July of the year of admission, a candidate must be at least 17 years of age but not yet 23 (originally was 22); a U.S. citizen (except for international cadets); and unmarried.  Also, candidate must not be pregnant or legally obligated to support a dependent.

Academically, candidates must have an above average high school/college record and score well on the American College Testing Exam (ACT) or the Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT).  Recommended high school/college courses include: four years of English; four years of mathematics (pre-calculus and calculus, if available); two years of a foreign language; two years of laboratory science; one year of U.S. history; plus geography, government, economics, and computing.

Physically, candidates should participate in vigorous competitive team sports, individual sports that stress endurance (including running at least two miles), and personal training that includes pushups, pull-ups and sit-ups. More about the physical fitness test later.

From a leadership standpoint, participation in sports, student government, public speaking and activities like Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts continue to be important, with the caveat that the Academy would prefer distinction in a single activity over mere participation in a variety of activities.

Medically, a candidate must be in sound mental and physical health.  A modern requirement: no tattoos or brands on the face, neck or head.  No tattoos prejudicial to good order and discipline anywhere.  On R-Day, all existing tattoos, brands and body modifications will be documented.  Additions to same while a cadet is grounds for dismissal.

The physical fitness evaluation (Candidate Fitness Assessment) is tougher than it was years ago.  For one thing, it is carefully timed, with limited rest (only three minutes) between the first five events, and a rigid sequence of events.  The first event is a kneeling basketball throw (three attempts in two minutes).  A max score of 100 points requires men to throw the ball 102 feet while women can max it with a throw of 66 feet.  After a short rest, candidates have two minutes to do pull ups (palms forward) from a dead hang.  Max is 18 for men and seven for women.  Another short rest (three minutes) is followed by a shuttle run-out 30 feet; turn; race back; repeat.  Two attempts are allowed in two minutes.  Top score is 7.8 seconds for men and 8.6 seconds for women.  Next come sit-ups: both men and women need 95 in two minutes to max.  After another short rest, pushups loom:  men need 75 in two minutes; women need 50 to max.  Finally, after an eight minute rest, all candidates run the mile.  Men can gain 100 points for a 5:20 effort; women have to make six minutes flat.  As all candidates are in competition with at least some other candidates, minimums tend to be less important.

Some things, however, do not change.  Every candidate must secure a nomination from a congressman, senator or the vice president, or if eligible, secure a service-connected nomination. In the past, candidates competed for a principal appointment and three alternate slots available to each congressman; that system is no more.  Each Congressional nominating source now has a total of five vacancies at West Point-ideally, at any given time, at least three or four are filled with current cadets.  For any remaining vacancies, ten young men or women may be nominated to compete.  Fully qualified candidates not receiving an appointment are placed on a national waiting list for vacancies that may arise.  Often, several hundred new cadets are selected from this list, some just a few days before R-Day.

The Admissions website ( http://admissions.usma.edu/ ) offers guidance on applying for nominations and a lot more.  Interested students can start young and sign up for a mailing list to receive age-appropriate literature from the Academy.  Older candidates (second semester of junior year in high school or older) may open a file at West Point on line after reading a general Prospectus.

The Academic Workshops of yore are now called Summer LEADERS Seminars.  [LEADERS is an acronym for aspects of the West Point experience: Loyalty, Ethics, Academics, Duty, Excellence, Respect and Sports.] This year, about 735 high school juniors attended one of two sessions conducted during June.  They lived in the cadet barracks and ate in Washington Hall. In addition to participating in academic workshops in four of 16 courses offered, the attendees receive daily physical fitness training, compete in intramural athletics, and spend a day at Camp Buckner on the Leaders Reaction Course and receiving other military orientation.  They also tour West Point and the Museum, take a boat ride on the Hudson, and even enjoy a mixer.  All candidates are led and trained by a cadre of about 43 cadets.  Students may request applications for the Summer LEADER Seminar on line from September to April of their junior year in high school by visiting the Admissions website and selecting the Summer Seminar tab.

Interested students also may make an orientation visit to the Academy.  A cadet volunteer will escort the student to an academic class and to lunch in Washington Hall.  These visits typically begin at 9 am on Mondays through Fridays during September through April.  At least two weeks advance notice is required to schedule such a visit.

If you would like to help qualified young men and women seek a nomination, you may be interested in becoming an Admissions volunteer.  All it takes is dedication, some free time, and the willingness to learn about the various aspects of the process via the Admissions Team Tutorial.  The USMA Admissions homepage can be found at: http://admissions.usma.edu/ .

Gray Matter. All opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily reflect those of Military.com.

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Former LEAP test prep student and high school valedictorian, Taylor England, is our guest blogger on her journey to get an appointment to West Point.

The best advice I can give about getting into a service academy is to start early and continually seek opportunities to build relationships.

As soon as you become interested in a military academy the first step is to reach out to the local representative from the school (each district has one for each service academy). This representative will be the key that unlocks many doors in your future. The earlier you do this, the better the representative will be able to advise you on how to enhance your application.

During the junior year of high school apply to a summer camp, each service academy has one. Students typically apply by the end of January. The importance of doing that application the day it becomes open cannot be stressed enough. I applied at midnight as soon as it became available, and my representative was alerted. This showed my passion for going to a service academy. The summer camp experience not only helps your application, but it also gives you a good feel of the campus and how things run at that service academy. I would also encourage you to go to more than just one camp. I went to both the Naval Academy’s and West Point’s camp which aided me in choosing my first-choice.  Don’t be fooled. These camps are just as much an evaluation of you, as you of the school. During the week, the Cadre will be taking notes for evaluation of you; just be yourself, and it will all work out.

Back to doing everything early: the application for the actual service academies will come out at the end of May/early June as you finish your junior year. Another good thing about going to the summer camp is your application will be available earlier than the average applicant. Once again I stress the quicker you get all of the requirements done for your application, it can greatly influence your success in the process. Representatives have to wait for you to finish at least 75% of your application process before they can even interview you; it is in your best interest to just sit down and crank it all out.

Writing essays in the summer is not what you want to do, but most of the essays will be able to be used more than once. I wrote the first essay for my West Point application and was able to chop it up and move things around and use it for the Naval Academy’s application. Each essay is around 500 to 1000 words, so not too terrible.

Along with the application to the school, you must also receive a nomination from a congressman, senator, Vice President, or President. You can only get the presidential nomination if one of your parents served in the military. Each congressman or senator has their own application and timeline for when it is due, so be on the lookout. Also apply to each nomination possible. Apply to both senators, the congressman, and the Vice President as it it can only help your chances. After you send in your application, it will be reviewed and you will get a call IF you make it to the interview portion.

In the interview you’ll be questioned about your morals, your activities, your thoughts, why you want to serve, and random questions (one of my questions was what was the last book I read?). You will find out if you got the nomination around Christmas time of your senior year. After you receive your nomination, you must then wait to get accepted by the school. When the school accepts you, they will call and inform you of your appointment to the service academy. Waiting for that call can take months; the first call to go out will be in January and the last call they will make can be the day before you are supposed to report.

What looks good on an application? There are three parts of the application: physical, academics, and leadership. The physical part is assessed by the candidate fitness assessment (CFA) and consists of pull-ups, sit-ups, push-ups, a basketball throw, a shuttle run, and a one mile run. Different service academies stress certain events in their application process. This test is standard across any service academy. The physical part is also assessed by how many sports you participate in, varsity letters achieved, and awards earned in any of them. If you are on travel teams or select teams, make sure you list these too. Just get involved and excel at the sports you are passionate about. The academies are looking for athletes. The physical part is weighted as roughly 10% of your overall application.

The next part of the application is academics, carrying the heaviest weight (the weight of academics differs between service academy). Your ACT/SAT scores, GPA, rigor of course load, and academic awards achieved are all considered. I can only speak from experience academically, but the average GPAs and test scores are posted on websites. I believe the average ACT score is around a 30 for each academy. Most of the academies super score: so take the test as many times as needed to get the best score possible. I got a 34 in science and reading, a 33 in math, and a 29 in English. It has been said that most service academies weigh math and English most heavily. West Point told me that I should retest to get my English score up. You will be pushed to retest; if it can enhance your application, do it! The next part of the academic portion is your GPA and difficult level of classes. If you have over a 4.0 and you are taking easy classes, they will want to know why you didn’t challenge yourself. On that note, make sure you are finding the right balance. Take as many AP classes and IB classes as you can without letting your grades suffer. However, the service academies would rather you challenge yourself and get a B+ then to not challenge yourself. Keep this in mind when all of your friends are scheduling really easy senior years. Class rank also has an effect, but the service academy will take into consideration the type of school you go to and the number of people that go there. If your school says they don’t rank, you should know that deep in their system they do, and it can only help to find this out. So find out who knows it and get it. I don’t really know the average GPA and class rank, but I would say that top 10% and at least a 3.8 would be a good ballpark, if not higher. They also want to see academic accolades, such as national honor society, national merit scholar, best student in a certain subject, etc. Make sure not to slack off your senior year, because your grades are monitored.

The last piece of the puzzle is the leadership portion, which includes all the leadership positions you hold but also the activities in which you participate. Strive to be in as much as possible. Take on leadership positions such as captain, student body president, committee chair in a club, having a job, or leading a community service project. The service academies really like to see a lot of community service, especially if you lead a project. Become involved in a breadth of clubs, don’t just be in one type of club. Student council, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, and church organizations are common clubs sought. Also, there is a program called Boy’s State/Girl’s State run by each state’s government. It is an opportunity to play a part in the leadership of the state; the typical opportunity is to be appointed junior year. Your school should be able to send two students to the program. This looks excellent on your application. Some admissions officers will tell you to go to this program over going to their summer program. Therefore, seek how your school nominates its students.

Overall, the process of getting into a service academy is long and painful….I’m not going to lie. You can ease the pain by getting started early and always striving to enhance your application. It is also important to ask questions along the way; ask your representative or people who already go to an academy. They will know what admissions is looking for. A service academy is an amazing opportunity to serve your country! GO ARMY, BEAT NAVY.

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