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  • LTC Brechin, USAF, Ret.

The U.S. Service Academies' Whole Person Concept

Updated: Jan 2



The ideal candidate of the U.S. service academies is a well rounded individual -- some may refer to her or to him as a "Renaissance woman" or a "Renaissance man." This person is an athlete, a scholar and a leader in the different activities in which she participates. Integrity and character are important attributes of a successful candidate. All of the service academies view students through a lens called the "Whole Person Concept." The U.S. Air Force Academy notes that this idea ". . . includes demonstrated leadership experience, or potential, in extracurricular and community activities, athletics and academics."


As one can imagine, 'measuring' these attributes and then comparing one candidate to another candidate is quite challenging. The tool used by the service academies is called the "Whole Person Score," which attempts to capture the qualifications of each candidate by literally 'digitizing' every aspect of a candidate's qualifications in the areas noted: academics, athletics, activities, character and leadership.


For example, the U.S. Naval Academy requires a private evaluation from your Math teacher. This evaluation will be given a 'score.' The Military Academy also requires that a physical education teacher submit an evaluation. And this evaluation will be given a score. USAFA, like the other service academies, will conduct an interview with you using an Evaluator ALO (Admission Liaison Officer). This evaluation will also be scored.


Other components of the evaluation are easier to assess, such as your SAT score and your Candidate Fitness Assessment (CFA) score. Each number is simply used 'as is,' although they will be weighted in comparison to other components of the Whole Person Score. Some are a bit more difficult, such as your Grade Point Average (GPA) in high school and your Prior Academic Record (PAR), as schools, academic courses and course difficulty are challenging to compare across the country. Many of these measurements and comparisons have been used for more than 30 years so all of the service academies have worked to refine and adjust the scoring system.


At the end of the application, when everything is completed for a particular service academy, a candidate's records and Whole Person Score will be evaluated by the Review Board (Selection Panel and Selection Board). In this process, the board members review all of the components of the record. They look at the Interview Evaluation from the interviewing officer, the Writing Sample (Personal Statements), Teacher Evaluations, Optional Recommendations (if submitted), and the CFA results. The board appreciates seeing consistency across the record. For example, a candidate may be a gymnast so one of the essays might include mention of this activity, an optional recommendation might be from her coach and her ALO may note that as the team captain she organized team building activities to create a more inclusive team culture. The panel will reward a score that is typically reviewed by the chair and combined into the composite score. Appointments are awarded later by an appointments board after nominations are completed in early February. The Whole Person Score determines the candidates that will be awarded an appointment. WIthout a nomination, no matter how strong the WPS, a candidate will not be awarded an appointment.


So, what does the Whole Person Score mean for you as a candidate?


First, focus on being the best 'all-around' person that you can be. Build your résumé by fully engaging in your activities and sports. Volunteer to lead some projects and enter the next election for the club presidency or similar position. Keep up your grades and take the SAT/ACT early and often. Participate fully in your classes so that it will be easy for your teachers to write recommendations and complete the school official evaluations required by the service academies. Finally, prepare for the CFA, including a long-distance running routine as part of your preparations.


The Whole Person Concept is a key component of the appointment process for each of the U.S. service academies. Your focus on being a "Renaissance man" or "Renaissance woman" will allow you to compete well for an appointment. Now is the time to start!


. . . 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 improving your WPS! Contact me at chris@cbbrechin.com and/or 503.515.7406 . . .


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