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  • Writer's pictureLTC Brechin, USAF, Ret.

Becoming a Great Cadet or Midshipman Candidate!

Updated: 7 days ago

There is no secret formula! But there is quite a bit of work to do . . .


Two Air Force Academy candidates

High school students pursuing an appointment will often ask me what they should do to be a 'great' candidate for one of the U.S. service academies. My response is to be best in three main areas: academics, athletics and activities. And . . . work to become a leader in all three domains to strengthen your résumé.


Let's explore becoming a 'great' candidate for the five different service academies: the Air Force Academy, the Naval Academy, the Military Academy, the Coast Guard Academy and the Merchant Marine Academy.


It is never too early to start your journey to becoming a great candidate. I work with freshmen and sophomores routinely to start this process.


First, a great candidate will review the admissions website for each of their target service academies (SAs). Each site has some very specific details around the process and the qualifications that Admissions seek in a great candidate. I ask all of my students to review and note the recommendations and target achievement levels. To become the scholar, athlete and leader that the SAs' desire, you must be proactive in planning and executing your strategies. Let's review each area of focus.


Academic qualifications for the SAs includes your GPA, the quality of your courses and your college admissions test scores (i.e., SAT or ACT results). To be a great candidate, you must become the best student you can be. Many cadets and midshipmen (about 70%) were in the top 20% of their high school class. The academies recommend an academic course load that includes four years of math and science along with four years of English. Plus, all of the SAs require an evaluation from a math and an English teacher. Refer to my academic blog to read more about scholastic preparations for the SAs. Finally, your SAT/ACT scores are an important consideration for all of the schools.


Scores for the SAs average in the top 15% of all SAT/ACT test takers. USNA Admissions notes that the 50% of the Class of 2027 achieved SAT scores in range of 610 - 700 Verbal and 610 - 710 Math. As a candidate, you should focus initially to achieve a minimum SAT score of 1220 (or the ACT equivalent of a 25). However, to be more competitive, push yourself to score beyond a 1350 (or 29 on the ACT). Note that your math score will be weighted higher than your verbal score.


Athletic qualifications include your sports participation and your Candidate Fitness Assessment (CFA). To be a great candidate, play one or more sports, and be a strong teammate. About 80% of cadets and midshipmen were varsity athletes in school. No matter your sport, I recommend that candidates start a running program of approximately 10 miles per week at about 3 miles per run. The program will provide you with the stamina to complete the CFA successfully and for basic training at any of the SAs.


I have written a number of blogs about the CFA and the separate events. One specifically discusses the kinds of preparations you should make to do well on the test. Needless to say, a great candidate will meet or exceed the published averages for each of the six CFA events.


Activities and Leadership qualifications include all of the different extracurricular activities in which you participate. Scouting, Civil Air Patrol, school clubs, church youth groups, and many others are good examples. With all of these activities (and your sports teams) seek to engage, find additional responsibilities, and earn a leadership role. Serving as a team captain, club president, or troop leader will enhance your qualifications for any of the SAs. Review my leadership blog to understand more. Overall, the academies value 'quality' over 'quantity.' As an AF Admission Liaison Officer, I was never impressed with someone in 10 different clubs (or similar résumé details). I wanted to hear 'what' you did inside a club to shoulder responsibilities and provide leadership.


There is no 'magic formula' to being a great candidate for the U.S. service academies. Each one is quite clear about the qualifications that they seek. Focus on being a scholar, an athlete, and a leader across all of your teams and clubs, and you will find that you are not only going to be a great candidate, but very likely, an appointee!


[Let's discuss how I can help you! I offer coaching services to pace and prepare you (and your parents!) for the entire Academy application process, including ways to be great! Contact me at chris@cbbrechin.com, 503.515.7406 or complete my contact form on the home page.]



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