U.S. Service Academy Nominations -- There are a Few Flavors!
Updated: May 17
The first step to earning an appointment to one of the U.S. service academies (i.e., the Air Force Academy, the Military Academy, the Naval Academy and the Merchant Marine Academy) is attaining a nomination from one of the nomination sources for which you qualify. For most students, your main nomination sources will be the Congressional members from your state: the two Senators serving in the U.S. Senate and the single Representative from your U.S. Congressional District.
There are two exceptions. For USMMA, any Congressional representative from your state may award you a nomination. Senators do not nominate candidates for the Merchant Marine Academy. The other exception is the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, which does not require a nomination (and appointment) from a member of Congress (MoC).
This article will focus on nominations from one of your MoCs for the three major service academies: USAFA, USMA and USNA. Note that each MoC sponsors five cadets or midshipmen attending each school at any one time. Each MoC (and their staff) typically manage appointments so that they have at least one to award each year. Clearly, in this four-year cycle, one year will provide an opportunity to award two appointments to a school. An exception (to the numbers I outlined previously) belongs to the U.S. territories of American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
For the U.S. territories, the following numbers apply for the three major service academies:
four from the U.S. Virgin Islands, nominated by the Delegate from the U.S. Virgin Islands;
four from Guam, nominated by the Delegate from Guam;
three from American Samoa, nominated by the Delegate from American Samoa;
three from the Northern Mariana Islands, nominated by the Delegate from the Northern Mariana Islands; and,
five from Puerto Rico, nominated by the Resident Commissioner of Puerto Rico.
The District of Columbia, just to complete the list, also has a single delegate to the House of Representatives. This delegate sponsors five constitiuents at each of the service academies, like the other MoCs from states, such as Georgia, Oregon and others. The District of Columbia, like the U.S. territories, does not have any representation in the U.S Senate. Although the district's population is larger than some state, it may only sponsor five cadets or midshipmen at each of the service academies, USMA, USNA and USAFA.
Typically, a MoC will open an application process in the late Spring of the year prior to entering the academy. For example, a high school junior may start the process in May 2022 to allow her to enter the Air Force Academy in July 2023. The application process may be run in any manner that the MoC desires. The application typically is due in the early to late fall. Some are quite early around the end of September, and some are as late as December. Many applications will require high school transcripts, ACT or SAT scores, letters of recommendation, essay-question responses, and in-person interviews.
Through their defined application process, a MoC may nominate up to 10 candidates for each appointment slot available that year at each of the academies. The roster of nominees must be submitted to each Academy by January 31. The number of nominations that a student may earn will vary from state to state. Some will limit a student to a single nomination to one school. Others will provide multiple nominations to a student for several schools. One of my students literally received four nominations to West Point: one from his Representative, one from a Senator, and two (!) from the other Senator (indicating that there were clearly two USMA appointment slots available that year).
One interesting aspect of the nominations is that they may be issued in one of three different versions: "competitive," "principal," or "principal with numbered alternates." The first method is the most popular by far (with 80%+ of Congress using this approach).
Here are a few more details:
With the Competitive Nomination method, the MoC selects a roster of nominees to submit to each Academy. The roster may include up to 10 nominees (as noted previously). The individual school then returns the results to the MOC ranking the nominees from the highest to lowest. By definition, the MoC selects the top nominee for the appointment. This method is the most prevalent as it provides a 'transparency' and a 'fairness' that allows the MOC to avoid any issues around favoritism.
Using the Principal Nominee method, the MoC names a principal nominee, which must be the first person from the district offered an appointment if the school determines that the nominee is fully qualified. If not, then the alternates are ranked listed by the school so that the 'next' nominee is offered the appointment. The MoC may select this method, especially if she has an important consideration that the MoC believes warrants the selection.
With the Principal Nominee with Numbered Alternates method, the MoC explicitly defines the order that the Academy must use to determine the appointment.
If a student wins the appointment through their MoC, the good news is that the other fully qualified nominees will have another chance to compete for an Academy appointment. These nominees enter a national pool and a few hundred are selected for admissions to fill the entering class through this national competition of qualified alternates. If a nominee receives an appointment through national pool, they will be unaware of this fact as the MoC that provided the nomination will be the one to announce the nominee's appointment. Effectively, the MoC will 'add' another cadet or midshipman to their constituents from their state or district; however, the additional appointee will not 'count' toward their limit of five.
The nomination process is a critical component of receiving an Academy appointment. Without one, you cannot continue with the application process. The two components run in parallel most of the year, so you must work through both 'paths' starting in the late Spring of your Junior year and the Summer/Fall for your Senior year in high school.
To get started, go to the different websites for each of your respective MoCs and the Vice President too. Often, you will find details around the nomination process under "services" or a similar menu choice. I typically use Google search with the simple statement: "academy nominations for representative [last name]."
Now that you have the details . . . focus, organize and start the nomination process today!
[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 nomination and Academy application process. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and/or 503.515.7406]