So what does it mean?
Congratulations! You just received an “LOA” or “letter of assurance” from one of the U.S. service academies. You should be pleased.
But what does it ‘really’ mean?
In short, an assurance is a declaration that inspires, or is intended to inspire, confidence. In this case, the Naval Academy, the Military Academy at West Point or the Air Force Academy mean to assure you that you have a very, very good chance of earning an appointment. There are a few caveats, but with great confidence (which they would like to convey to you) the Academy believes you will earn an appointment.
It is NOT an appointment, but it provides a direct and confident path to one.
The caveats are to meet the remaining requirements for the school. Often, they are:
Meet medical requirements,
Pass physical fitness testing (through the CFA), and
Earn a nomination through one of your nomination authorities.
A candidate must continue his or her academic performance as well as overall good behavior and citizenship. Often, the LOA is not sent to you until you have met medical and physical fitness standards.
The last ‘item’ on the list –- the nomination –- is often the ‘nail-biting’ portion of the process as the nomination deadline is January 31. Most nominations are received before this time, which still creates quite a ‘time gap’ from an LOA’s arrival (in say, September or October) to a nomination notice near the end of the year!
And worse . . . what happens if you don’t receive a nomination?
Don’t fear, as a number of paths to a nomination should open up. But, first, take matters in your own hands. Just because you have an LOA, you must do the work to ensure you receive the appointment.
The most important step is to apply to ALL of the nomination categories for which you are eligible. Typically, you will have four sources: your three Members of Congress (two Senators and one Representative) and the Vice-President. Members of military families have an additional nomination source through the President, who has unlimited nominations and up to 100 appointments. Other potential routes exist, but these five are the most prevalent. Make sure you complete each application as defined by each nomination source.
The importance of this act of self-discipline will reveal itself if you somehow miss gaining a nomination. First, the admissions office at each of the service academies will be aware of your predicament, but (just in case) I recommend contacting them in early January if you do not have a nomination in hand. The office contact will work with you, your Congressional representatives and others, to ‘find’ a nomination for you.
One alternative (behind the scenes) is a request by an Admissions officer to one of your Members of Congress to replace a nominee that they are positive will not be able to use the nomination. Clearly, this request will be quite awkward if you (the candidate) never bothered to pursue the nomination originally (by skipping all of the requirements met by her or his nominees). As you recall, each MOC may nominate up to 10 candidates for each of their open slots so the substitution should be straightforward if you followed my earlier advice!
Other alternatives include using one of the Superintendent’s 50 appointment slots at each of the academies or using other appointment categories that did not fulfill their numbers, such as reserved slots for enlisted members of the Navy, Air Force or Army. All of these alternatives are possible, but the best route is the main one through your nomination sources that we discussed previously.
An LOA is great, but do not assume it guarantees an appointment. Complete the work for a nomination, and then, with great confidence, you can be sure that you will earn that appointment!
[I would welcome a chance to discuss details with you. I offer coaching services to pace and prepare you (and your parents!) for the entire Academy application process ... including taking the steps to 'earn' an LOA. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org, 503.515.7406 or complete my contact form on the home page.]