Military Academies

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u.s. air force academy
john sherfesee

u.s. coast guard academy
thomas j. haas

u.s. merchant marine academy
lee c. deighton

u.s. military academy
dean w. meyerson

u.s. naval academy
u.s. naval academy publications office


The mission of the U.S. Air Force Academy, the nation's newest federal service academy, is to "inspire and develop outstanding young men and women to become Air Force officers with knowledge, character, and discipline; motivated to lead the world's greatest aerospace force in service to the nation." The academy is located just north of the city of Colorado Springs, Colorado. Its 18,000 acres border the eastern slopes of the Colorado Rocky Mountains. Since its establishment in 1954, the academy has graduated more than 34,000 cadets to serve in all of the U.S. military services. It is accredited by the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Institutions of Higher Education, and the chemistry, computer science, engineering, and management programs are accredited by their respective accrediting organizations.

The first class of 207 graduated in June 1959, while the first class to include women graduated in June 1980. Since then, the academy has had more than 2,600 women graduates. Congressional legislation limits enrollment to a maximum of 4,000 students as of the early twenty-first century. Cadets are appointed from all fifty states and from the U.S. territories, and must be between seventeen and twentytwo years of age on July 1 of the year of admission. Each must be a U.S. citizen, unmarried, and have no dependent children. They must be qualified academically, physically, and medically, and be nominated by a legal source as authorized in Title 10 of the U.S. Code. Those sources include a candidate's U.S. Representatives, U.S. Senators, the President of the United States, the Vice President of the United States, and several military-related sources for eligible individuals. To graduate, cadets must complete the entire four-year program.

The faculty comprises 560 full-time military and civilian members. Approximately 55 percent possess doctoral degrees. Fifteen percent of the faculty are women. Career Air Force officers provide most of the instruction, complemented by officers from the other services, officers from several allied nations, permanent civilian faculty, visiting professors from civilian institutions, and representatives from several federal governmental agencies. Many of the military faculty and some of the civilian faculty are academy graduates.

Legal Status

Since its inception, the academy's overall mission, goals, and objectives have not appreciably changed. That singularity of purposeto graduate second lieutenants who are motivated and prepared for military careers in service to their countryhas been a unifying force across the institution's history and structure. Various sections under Title 10 of the U.S. Code establish the basic guidelines for the functioning of the academy to include the instruction and preparation of the cadets for military service, the four-year course of study, and civilian oversight through its Board of Visitors.


The superintendent reports directly to the chief of staff of the U.S. Air Force. Through the chief of staff, the academy also responds to the secretary of the Air Force. The superintendent has the clear responsibility and authority to make decisions affecting the resources and functional integrity of the academy. The principal internal governing body is the academy board. The superintendent, through the board, exercises institutional decision-making authority. Board members are both experienced educators and senior officers in positions to institute changes in policies or practices across the academy.

Each fall, a conference, attended by the most senior Air Force general officers and the secretary of the Air Force, is held at the academy. This conference presents a unique opportunity to formally present and advocate specific programs to Air Force leaders. It also gives these leaders an opportunity to provide guidance or recommendations to the academy on its programs or practices.

Although not a formal governing body, the presidentially and congressionally appointed Board of Visitors is the academy's primary external review group. This board, which reports directly to the president of the United States, is chartered to review policies and protect the integrity of the institution, including its resources. The inclusion of two professional educators on this board, which also contains academy graduates, ensures a well-informed basis for institutional oversight and advocacy.


The academy offers a four-year undergraduate curriculum of academic, leadership, and military training; physical education; athletics; and aviation courses. The total academic curriculum provides cadets with a solid foundation appropriate to an Air Force career and the activities of a responsible American citizen. A core curriculum provides the common body of knowledge that prepares all cadets for the Air Force profession. The academic core consists of courses in basic sciences, engineering, humanities, and social sciences. Other core requirements include military strategic studies and physical education courses.

The academy offers thirty academic majors: aeronautical engineering, astronautical engineering, basic sciences, behavioral sciences, biology, chemistry, civil engineering, computer engineering, computer science, economics, electrical engineering, English, engineering mechanics, environmental engineering, foreign area studies, general engineering, geography, history, humanities, legal studies, management, mathematical sciences, mechanical engineering, meteorology, military strategic studies, operations research, physics, political science, space operations, and social sciences. Minors in foreign language and philosophy are also offered. All cadets must have a major and may choose their courses from the more than 500 offered each year.

The Air Force Academy ranked second in the United States in the 2001 U.S. News and World Report ranking of top aeronautics and astronautics programs, behind Embry Riddle Aeronautical University. It tied for sixth place in the 2001 U.S. News and World Report ranking of best undergraduate engineering programs in schools without Ph.D. programs, and it was ranked the fourth-best overall academic experience for undergraduates by Princeton Review 's 2001 "Best 331 Ranking," placing just behind Princeton, Amherst, and Harvard. The academy was also named a Truman Scholarship Honor Institution for 2001. Only four or five colleges and universities are selected for this honor each year, and only thirty have been selected in the history of the award, which is based upon academics, leadership qualities, public service, and positive influence upon the changing face of higher education.

Other honors include being named one of sixteen Leadership Institutions by the American Association of Colleges and Universities' Greater Expectations Initiative Consortium on Quality Education, and the receipt of a Pioneer Award at the Fourth Annual Conference on Ubiquitous Computing, sponsored by Educause. The Pioneer Award was presented to seven higher education institutions that made early commitments toward offering students access to technology.

Cadet Development

The academy program of cadet development rests on four conceptual pillars: professional military training, academics, athletics, and character development. The military training program develops the techniques and attributes of successful leadership. The goal of this multidimensional program is to develop the knowledge, skills, values, and behavior patterns required to be an effective Air Force officer. The academic program is designed to provide cadets with a broad, high-quality education at the undergraduate level. Since the academy's origin, it has sought to produce graduates with the breadth and ability to represent the Air Force in academic settings and with the general public.

The objective of the physical development program is to develop good physical conditioning, as well as to foster traits of teamwork, courage, aggressiveness, self-confidence, and an intense desire to winall of which are essential to a military officer. While at the academy, every cadet takes at least six semester hours of physical education courses. In addition, cadets must participate in intramural or intercollegiate sports throughout the academic year.

While good character is important in most professions, it is vital to the military officer. Character includes ethical behavior, respect for human dignity, and a sense of honor that transcends self-interest. The character development program fosters development of these characteristics and ensures they also are reflected in the other pillars. This program focuses on the academy's core values of "Integrity First, Service Before Self, and Excellence in All We Do." The balanced emphasis on the four pillars of cadet development sets the academy apart from most of the approximately 3,800 institutions of higher education in the United States.

Upon graduation, a cadet receives a bachelor of science degree and a reserve commission as an active-duty second lieutenant. Graduates are required to serve at least five years in the Air Force or, for a very few graduates, in one of the other armed services. The excellent education graduates receive is reflected in the number of prestigious postgraduate scholarships and fellowships they have been awarded. Cadets have won more than 1,900 of these prestigious awards (as of 2001), including thirty-two Rhodes scholarships, nine Truman scholarships, and five Marshall scholarships.

To further motivate academic excellence, the academy has a graduate program that annually allows approximately twenty selected cadets to attend advanced degree programs immediately after graduation at schools around the country. This program prepares them for a possible future assignment as a faculty member. Additionally, the National Competitive Scholarship Program allows approximately twenty cadets to attend prestigious international and national graduate schools for advanced educational opportunities, and up to 3 percent of each graduating class are allowed to attend medical school, .5 percent are allowed to attend dental school, and .5 percent are allowed to attend nursing school.

See also: Military Academies, subentries on U.S. Coast Guard Academy, U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, U.S. Military Academy, U.S. Naval Academy; Military Professional Education System.

internet resource

U.S. Air Force Academy. 2002. <>.

John Sherfesee


The Coast Guard's ability to effectively serve as a viable maritime, military, multimission organization hinges on its leaders' ability to think, learn, and act effectively and ethically. Thus, the Coast Guard Academy (CGA), as an institution of higher learning and the primary source of the Coast Guard's leaders, is critical in enabling the Coast Guard to perform its duties and fulfill its mission.

The mantra of developing leaders of character is firmly embedded in CGA's institutional mission: "The Coast Guard Academy is committed to strengthening the nation's future by educating, training, and developing leaders of character who are ethically, intellectually, professionally, and physically prepared to serve their country."


The U.S. Coast Guard fulfills unique roles in support of the nation's military and economic security. These roles go directly back to visionary, nation-building initiatives of Alexander Hamilton, George Washington, and the first Congress. In 1790 Alexander Hamilton, the nation's first treasury secretary, developed fiscal plans and economic policies for the United States. Central to his vision for a self-sufficient and strong nation was the creation of the Revenue Cutter Service. In 1915 the Life-Saving Service and the Revenue Cutter Service were combined to create the present-day U.S. Coast Guard, which is now an agency in the Department of Transportation.

Congress chartered the Coast Guard Academy in 1876. At first it was simply a school shipthe academy's first home was the Revenue Cutter Dobbin. Nine cadets were selected by competitive examinations, and appointments of CGA cadets today continue on a merit basis. The early cadets learned at sea under a single professor, studying a blend of liberal arts and professional subjects. In the early 1900s the curriculum grew to three years, gaining emphasis on engineering and science. In 1910 the Academy came ashore to makeshift facilities at Fort Trumbull in New London, Connecticut, and in 1932 moved to its modern, purpose-built campus, also in New London. In 1939 the academy's general engineering program was accredited by the Engineer's Council for Professional Development (ECPD). In 1940, after also being accredited by the Association of American Universities, it was given the authority to grant the bachelor of science degree. In 1946 the USCG Barque Eagle, a prize of war, was commissioned into the U.S. Coast Guard and stationed at the academy for sail training.

The academy became accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) in 1952. In 1973 electrical, marine, and ocean engineering programs were accredited by ECPD, and in 1978 the civil engineering major was accredited as well. In 1980 ECPD was renamed ABET (Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology), and in 1996 the academy was fully accredited in mechanical engineering. The management major was admitted into candidacy in 1998 by AACSB InternationalThe Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business. The CGA also offers majors in government, marine and environmental sciences, and operations research and computer analysis.

Over the years, the Coast Guard Academy matured into a learning environment that (1) fosters a high sense of honor, loyalty, and dedication to service and humanity; (2) provides a sound undergraduate education in fields of interest to the Coast Guard; and (3) trains future officers in professional and military skills required for career service. Cocurricular activities in professional development and athletics add to the ability of CGA to fulfill its mission. Commissioned graduates from the undergraduate program have served with distinction in peace and war and they make up the majority of the officer corps of the modern Coast Guard.

Other noteworthy milestones include the admission of women cadets into the Academy in 1976, with the first women graduates in 1980. In 1998 the Academy established the Leadership Development Center (LDC), a center for leadership education, training, and development that focuses on the career needs for a diverse population of Coast Guard adult learners (military and civilian members associated with the Coast Guard and a limited number of international students from other maritime countries).

Organizational Structure

Since 1994 governance of the academy has been provided by a board of trustees, comprising Coast Guard senior managers and other distinguished individuals with strong ties to education. Their general purpose is to oversee all programs at the academy and provide guidance and advice to the superintendent of the academy, the Coast Guard chief of staff, and the commandant of the Coast Guard. It was this newly chartered board that endorsed the LDC and supported a substantive mission change, which was accepted by the NEASC in 1997. The undergraduate program and LDC complement each other, and both support the institutional mission. In 1999 the courses offered through the LDC were evaluated and granted American of Council of Education (ACE) course credit recommendations.

Other governance is provided by a congressional Board of Visitors, composed of three senators and five congressmen, which is authorized to review the academy's programs, curricula, and facilities. The superintendent is aided by the senior management team (SMT), comprising the dean, the commandant of cadets, and other senior staff members. Together they provide for the strategic management of the academy as well as the day-to-day administration.

The dean administers the academy's academic division, encompassing more than 100 full-time faculty and a number of staff. The commandant of cadets serves as a dean of students and has a central role in maintaining commissioning standards. The athletic director oversees student physical development and the National Collegiate Athletic Association Division III sports programs. Other senior leaders manage admissions and business processes. Several boards advise the superintendent. They include the Academic Council, Faculty Senate, Curriculum Committee, Credentials Committee, Resources Allocation Board, Cadet Academic Advisory Board, and others.


The Coast Guard Academy is one of the most selective schools in the nation, enrolling about 300 young men and women, who are selected from more than 6,000 applicants. The 900 cadets who make up the corps are competitively selected from across the country, as well as twenty from foreign countries. The LDC serves about 3,000 adult learners per year through short courses or programs. The faculty supporting the LDC and the cadets are both military and civilian.

The Coast Guard Academy is committed, as proclaimed in its vision statement, to be the "well-spring of leadership and character for the United States Coast Guard. In serving the American public, the Academy is recognized as an exemplary institution and valued national asset. To earn that recognition and inspire life-long learners, CGA excels in education and military training, and leadership development."

See also: Military Academies, subentries on U.S. Air Force Academy, U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, U.S. Military Academy, U.S. Naval Academy.

internet resource

U.S. Coast Guard Academy. 2002. <>.

Thomas J. Haas


The U.S. Merchant Marine Academy is one of five federal service academies. It is operated by the Maritime Administration, an agency of the U.S. Department of Transportation. The Merchant Marine Academy is located on an eighty-two-acre waterside campus in Kings Point, New York, about twenty miles from New York City on the north shore of Long Island. The academy is commonly referred to as Kings Point. It offers a four-year program leading to a bachelor of science degree and is accredited by the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools. The academy includes the Global Maritime and Transportation School, which was established in 1994 to meet the continuing education and training needs of professionals from the commercial and military maritime transportation industry.

Each graduate of the academy is awarded a license as a third mate or third assistant engineer in the U.S. Merchant Marines; academy graduates are also commissioned as ensigns in the U.S. Naval Reserve. In 2001 the student body numbered about 950, with approximately 750 in residence at Kings Point and the rest in training aboard ships at sea. The academy was established to prepare young American men, and later women, for careers as deck or engineering officers aboard ships of the U.S. Merchant Marine. One of the conditions for admission is the signing of an agreement to serve as a licensed officer in the U.S. Merchant Marine for at least five consecutive years after graduation.

The U.S. Merchant Marine consists of all commercial U.S. flag vessels and crews engaged in the foreign and domestic transport of cargo and passengers. Although the ships are owned and operated by private shipping companies, they provide logistics support to the U.S. military services in times of emergency; accordingly, the U.S. Merchant Marine is often called the "fourth arm of national defense."

Each Kings Point graduate joins a ship as a fully qualified junior officer and immediately takes charge of a watch on the bridge or in the engine room. Deck officers are responsible for navigation, cargo handling, vessel maintenance, and shipboard safety. Engineering officers are responsible for maintaining and operating all the ship's machinery, including propulsion, auxiliary, refrigeration, and deck equipment.


The educational program of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy consists of three years ashore at Kings Point and one year spent at sea aboard merchant ships. Each academic year is eleven months in duration, with a rigorous program of study in order that professional and degree requirements may be met within the three-year period ashore. The academy's academic year is divided into three trimesters.

Students at the Merchant Marine Academy are called midshipmen, a term that applies to both men and women. Midshipmen can select one of seven major programs of study: marine transportation, marine operations and technology, logistics and intermodal transportation, marine engineering, marine engineering systems, marine engineering and shipboard management, or dual license. Each program leads to a bachelor of science degree. The challenging dual-license program, available only to top students, combines marine engineering and marine transportation studies and leads to licensing in both specialties. This program was pioneered by the academy in 1965, in anticipation of technological changes in the industry that would call for highly trained officers possessing both deck and engineering proficiency.

At the end of their fourth year of study, all midshipmen must pass a comprehensive written examination, after which they are licensed as either deck officers or engineering officers, depending on their major. In addition to the attainment of maritime professional excellence, midshipmen are provided with mathematical and scientific knowledge and a basic general education that includes the study of history, English, business, economics, and humanities. Such a broad education prepares midshipmen for executive positions when they move ashore after careers at sea.

Students majoring in marine transportation, logistics and intermodal transportation, or maritime operations and technology study a curriculum that includes such professional subjects as seamanship, communications, navigation, naval architecture, meteorology, safety of life at sea, cargo handling, gyrocompass principles, electronics, international law of the sea, and marine transportation. Students in one of the three engineering majors study such technical subjects as machine shop, engineering graphics, marine machinery repair, statics, dynamics, thermodynamics, strength of materials, hydraulics, internal combustion engines, marine refrigeration and air conditioning, electrical engineering, and marine engineering. Each curriculum also includes a certain number of hours in mathematics, physics, chemistry, English, history, foreign languages or comparative culture, business and economics, maritime law, labor relations, marine insurance, ship's medicine, physical education, and naval science. Each curriculum is composed primarily of required courses, though a midshipman with the necessary academic standing may add one elective course each trimester.

Transfer credit may be awarded for any course completed at another college that is equivalent to a course offered at the academy. Validation credit may also be awarded in certain subjects upon passing an examination administered at the academy. A student may then substitute courses from the list of electives to complete the academic program.

Because the U.S. Merchant Marine operates with the U.S. Navy in time of war, an understanding of naval procedures by its officers is essential to successful cooperation. Candidates for admission to the Merchant Marine Academy must meet the qualifications for naval reserve midshipmen. All midshipmen take a prescribed program of naval science courses, taught by naval officers, which leads to a commission, upon graduation, as an ensign in the Merchant Marine Reserve/U.S. Naval Reserve. The graduate is then under obligation to remain in the naval reserve for eight years and to maintain his status by completing correspondence courses and undergoing training duty.

Sea Year

After one year at the academy, during which midshipmen take introductory courses in all areas of study, they are assigned to several different types of U.S. flag merchant vessels for three nonconsecutive trimesters during their second and third year of training. Midshipmen who are interested in a naval career may also train aboard U.S. Navy ships. This is a unique work-study situation in which the ship serves as a laboratory. Midshipman are introduced to life at sea, and they become familiar with the work done aboard ocean vessels. In addition, they are issued a sea project manual containing assignments that they must complete and forward to the academy for grading. Midshipmen also receive voluntary instruction from ships' officers while observing and performing some of the duties of a junior officer. Academy training representatives in New York, New Orleans, and San Francisco assign midshipmen to the ships and oversee their progress.

Regimental Life

The academy is military in character, and midshipmen are organized into a regiment. The regimental program provides an opportunity to practice leadership as midshipmen officers, a system of strict discipline in which infractions of regulations incur demerits and punishment, and the standing of watches. Regimental life is considered essential to the development of leadership ability, self-discipline, a sense of responsibility, and the ability to adapt to the rigorous life at sea.

In addition to participation in the military routine of the regiment, the Kings Pointer may take part in student government and such extracurricular activities as publications, musical groups, special interest and hobby clubs, debates, and social affairs. An arts and world affairs series brings a program of cultural activities to the campus throughout the year. Participation in religious activities and attendance at services in the Merchant Marine Memorial Chapel are voluntary. In addition, there are intramural athletic programs and scheduled intercollegiate competitions. Liberty is granted as a matter of privilege.


The academy selects 266 men and women for admission annually. Candidates for admission must be U.S. citizens between the ages of seventeen and twenty-five. Appointment to the academy begins with an application to the appropriate nominating authority, usually a U.S. senator or representative from the candidate's home state, who officially requests that the applicant's name be submitted in nomination to become a candidate for admission. A candidate must meet general and scholastic requirements, including high school graduation or its equivalent and qualifying ACT Assessment or SAT score.

Candidates are ranked in order of merit by an objective evaluation of all credentials. They are then competitively selected to fill academy vacancies through a quota system based on each state's representation in Congress. The candidate must then pass a physical examination conducted by the U.S. Navy for appointment as a midshipman in the U.S. Naval Reserve, and must also meet security requirements. The academy also admits up to thirty students from Latin America and certain other foreign countries.

The U.S. government bears the major portion of academy costs, including tuition, quarters and subsistence, and medical and dental care. While at the academy, each midshipman receives a yearly allowance for required uniforms and textbooks. During the sea year, a monthly salary is paid by the shipping companies.


The U.S. Merchant Marine Academy was developed from a program of merchant-marine officer training that began in 1891 when the federal government authorized the assignment of cadets aboard ships receiving mail. When the handling of training by shipping companies proved unsatisfactory, the federal government passed the Merchant Marine Act of 1936, which provided for the establishment in 1938 of the U.S. Merchant Marine Cadet Corps. The training program was conducted solely aboard ship at first, but temporary shore facilities were soon established. Construction of a permanent academy was begun in January 1942 at the Walter P. Chrysler estate, whose thirteen acres form the nucleus of the present campus. The academy was dedicated on September 30, 1943. In his dedicatory message, President Franklin D. Roosevelt summed up the purpose of the academy: "This academy serves the Merchant Marine as West Point serves the Army and Annapolis serves the Navy."

During World War II, the academy berthed at one time as many as 2,700 cadets taking an abbreviated curriculum that included training aboard ships in combat zones. The academy graduated 6,634 officers during the war. The four-year course was instituted with the class entering in September 1945, and authorization to grant a bachelor of science degree was granted by Congress in 1949. A 1956 act of Congress made the academy a permanent institution.

The academy accelerated training to supply officers during the Korean War and the Vietnam War. The academy was also involved in training officers for the country's first nuclear-powered merchant ship, the Savannah. In 1974 the Merchant Marine Academy became the first federal service school to admit women. Before and during the 1991 Persian Gulf conflict, academy graduates and midshipmen aided the extensive sea-lift of troops and military supplies to the Middle East. Academy midshipmen and graduates also provided support for military actions in Somalia and Haiti during the 1990s.

See also: Military Academies, subentries on U.S. Air Force Academy, U.S. Coast Guard Academy,U.S. Military Academy, U.S. Naval Academy.


Butler, John A. 1997. Sailing on Friday: The Perilous Voyage of America's Merchant Marine. Dulles, VA: Brassey's.

Kaplan, Philip, and Currie, Jack. 2000. Convoy: Merchant Sailors at War, 19391945. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press.

internet resource

U.S. Merchant Marine Academy. 2002. <>.

Lee C. Deighton

Revised by

Judith J. Culligan


The U.S. Military Academy, located in West Point, New York, is a postsecondary educational institution operated under the general direction and supervision of the U.S. Army. The academy, usually referred to as West Point, occupies a 2,500-acre campus, which is augmented by about 15,000 acres of adjacent government-owned land. The mission of the academy is to train selected young men and women for careers as officers in the regular army of the United States. Successful completion of the four-year course leads to a bachelor of science degree and a commission as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army. The academy has an enrollment of about 4,000 students; approximately 15 percent of whom are women.


The West Point curriculum includes a combination of academic, military, and physical training. The core academic curriculum, which focused largely on engineering in the past, now includes a balance of arts and sciences. Although most of the curriculum is prescribed, there is some flexibility that permits cadets to pursue particular interests and aptitudes. Class size is small, usually numbering between fourteen to eighteen student.

Every cadet must complete thirty-one courses that make up the academy's core curriculum. Cadets must also complete at least nine elective courses, chosen to support a major or a field of study. In 2001 the academy offered twenty-five fields of study and twenty-two majors, most of which were related to engineering, foreign area and foreign language studies, or modern history and political science. Cadets choose a major (which requires ten to thirteen elective courses) or field of study (which requires only nine electives) at the end of their second year.

The total curriculum is designed to develop the qualities of character, intellect, and physical competence needed by army officers, who at various stages of their careers must be prepared to lead the smallest combat unit or to advise the highest governmental official. In order to achieve this goal, the curriculum is rounded out by military and physical training, in addition to the academic stress on science and the humanities. The total program provides a sound foundation for both graduate education and professional development.

Military training at West Point is designed to provide a comprehensive knowledge of military fundamentals and doctrine, as well as proficiency in basic military skills. The student body is organized as a brigade under the command of a brigadier general known as the Commandant of Cadets. The brigade is lead by a professional officer and a cadet chain of command. By serving in various positions of responsibility within the corps of cadets, cadets are given opportunities to apply their knowledge and to improve their leadership abilities. This portion of a cadet's training, including both practical military training and military-science instruction, is the foundation for more specialized postgraduate training in armor, infantry, engineering, signal corps, field artillery, air defense artillery, military intelligence, or another of the various branches of military science.

Most of the academy's military training occurs during the summer months. New cadets (called plebes ) undergo Cadet Basic Training during their first six weeks at the academy. Sophomores (yearlings ) complete eight weeks of intensive field training at Camp Buckner, located near West Point. Juniors (cows ) engage in specialized military training, such as airborne, air assault, northern warfare, or mountain warfare at various locations and military bases around the world. Seniors (firsties ) learn military leadership skills by helping direct military training for plebes and yearlings.

The academy's rigorous physical training program continues throughout the entire year. Each cadet participates every season in either intramural or intercollegiate athletics. Formal instruction includes courses in coaching techniques, which provide the basis for another valuable dimension of leadership.

As part of their military and physical curriculum, cadets undergo training in ethics and morals. Such training supports the West Point Honor Code: "A cadet will not lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate those who do." Moral and ethical training is also buttressed by formal instruction in important military values, voluntary religious programs, and a guest speaker program.

Admission and Military Obligation

All men and women who meet academic and physical requirements may apply to West Point, but admission is extremely competitive. Above-average high school records, demonstrated leadership skills, strong performance on the ACT Assessment or SAT college entrance examinations, physical aptitude tests, and medical tests are prerequisites. In addition, an applicant must be between the ages of seventeen and twenty-two, neither married nor pregnant nor carrying the legal obligation to support a child, and a citizen of the United States. Naturalized American citizens must provide proper documentation to be considered for admission. A small number of foreign students may be nominated by formal agreement between the U.S. government and another country.

Procedures for admission to the academy differ in several respects from those of civilian educational institutions. A prospective candidate cannot apply directly to the academy for admission, but must first secure a nomination from an authorized source, usually a United States representative or senator from the candidate's home state, or the secretary of the army. By law, these officials are authorized to nominate up to ten young people to compete for vacancies at the military academy each year. After nomination, candidates receive permission to undertake the examinations for appointment, which determine their academic, medical, and physical qualifications. Classes enter the academy in July of each year. Every cadet enters as a plebe. Transfer credit is not given for college work completed prior to entry into West Point.

Upon entering the academy, a cadet takes an oath committing to a military obligation of six years, the first five on active duty. Upon graduation and appointment as a second lieutenant in the regular army, the West Point graduate serves the five-year active-service commitment. If a cadet is separated after he or she has started the first academic term of the second class year (except for physical disqualification, unfitness, or unsuitability), he or she is subject to transfer to the reserve or ordered to active duty in an enlisted status.

Cadet Life

The daily life of a cadet, apart from academic instruction, is centered on the cadet's company in the corps of cadets. Cadets live in barracks, stand formation, and participate in intramural athletics as a member of this company. There are approximately 110 cadets in a company, with equal membership from all four classes. A cadet company commander, subordinate cadet officers, and noncommissioned officers are responsible for the military formations and many of the daily administrative matters. Every company is assigned a tactical officer who is specially selected on the basis of his or her commissioned service in the regular army and proven leadership ability to counsel and advise cadets.

An integral part of daily life within the corps of cadets is the honor system. The system and the honor code upon which it is based are fundamental to the stress placed upon personal integrity. Every day, cadets see their work or signature accepted as final proof for authorized absences, for compliance with instructions, and as certification of accuracy.

No tuition is charged for attendance at the academy. Cadets are considered members of the regular army and receive stipends of about $600 per month, enabling them to buy uniforms, books, and supplies. In effect, each cadet receives a full scholarship.


The U.S. Military Academy is the oldest service academy in the nation. Troops were first garrisoned at West Point during the Revolutionary War, and the military academy was established there in 1802. George Washington was among the revolutionary leaders who strongly felt that a national military academy was needed to eliminate reliance on foreigners for training Americans in artillery, engineering, and other military skills. Initially, the corps of engineers operated the academy and was responsible for training officers in all branches of the service. Because provisions were made for the study of many branches of science, the U.S. Military Academy became the first national center for scientific engineering.

After the War of 1812 came a period of academic pioneering that laid the foundation for the methods and standards that still exist at West Point. Colonel Sylvanus Thayer, superintendent from 1817 to 1833, made courses in civil engineering the academic center of the curriculum. In his endeavor to produce trained leaders, Thayer strove for excellence in personal qualities that went beyond the sound practical knowledge his program of instruction imparted. The subsequent impact of the graduates he trained upon the internal communications of the fledgling nation was widely recognized. The construction of canals, railroads, and harbors under the leadership of men schooled at West Point greatly accelerated the emergence of the United States as a unified country.

Although the primary purpose of the academy was to provide professionally trained officers, its secondary role as a national school of civil engineering continued until after the Civil War, when academy graduates served in both the Union and Confederate armies. In 1877 Henry O. Flipper, a native of Georgia, becomes the first African American to graduate from the academy. During the postCivil War period, the proliferation of civilian engineering and technical schools created alternate means of training the engineers needed throughout the United States. In response, West Point shifted its academic emphasis from civil engineering to a pattern of courses affording a broader education. In 1889 Antonio Barrios became the first Hispanic to graduate from West Point; Barrios later served in the Guatemalan army, where he rose to the rank of general.

The emphasis on a broad, general education was maintained in subsequent revisions of the curriculum after World War I, World War II, and the Korean conflict. The expansion of the army's role in international affairs provided additional reasons for increased attention to the academic disciplines of history, geography, economics, and the social sciences. In 1964 President Lyndon Johnson signed legislation permitting the academy to accept nearly 2,000 additional cadets each year, and a major project to expand facilities ensued. During the 1970s and 1980s the curriculum was revised to permit cadets more academic options, including the choice to major in a wide range of disciplines. Women cadets were first admitted to the academy in 1976. During the 1980s and 1990s an increasing number of woman and minorities were admitted.

Notable West Point graduates include Ulysses S. Grant (1843), Jefferson Davis (1828), Robert E. Lee (1829), George Meade (1835), William Tecumseh Sherman (1840), Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson (1846), John J. Pershing (1886), Douglas MacArthur (1903), George S. Patton (1909), Omar Bradley (1915), Dwight D. Eisenhower (1915), Brent Scowcroft (1947), Edwin E. "Buzz" Aldrin (1951), and H. Norman Schwarzkopf (1956).

See also: Military Academies, subentries on U.S. Air Force Academy, U.S. Coast Guard Academy,U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, U.S. Naval Academy.


Ambrose, Stephen E. 1999. Duty, Honor, Country: A History of West Point. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Ruggero, Ed. 2001. Duty First: West Point and the Making of American Leaders. New York: Harper-Collins.

Stewart, Robert. 1996. The Corps of Cadets: A Year at West Point. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press.

internet resource

U.S. Military Academy. 2002. <>.

Dean W. Meyerson

Revised by

Judith J. Culligan


As the undergraduate college of the U.S. Naval Service, the Naval Academy prepares young men and women to become professional officers in the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Marine Corps. Naval Academy students are midshipmen on active duty in the U.S. Navy. They attend the academy for four years, graduating with bachelor of science degrees and reserve commissions as either ensigns in the Navy or second lieutenants in the Marine Corps. Naval Academy graduates serve at least five years as Navy or Marine Corps officers.

The scenic Naval Academy campus, known as the "Yard," is located in historic Annapolis, Maryland, where the Severn River flows into the Chesapeake Bay. With its combination of early twentieth-century and modern buildings, the Naval Academy is a blend of tradition and state-of-the-art technology that exemplifies the Navy and Marine Corps in the early twenty-first century. Throughout the Yard, tree-shaded monuments commemorate the bravery and heroism that are an inherent part of the academy's heritage. Buildings and walkways are named for Naval Academy graduates who have contributed to naval history and their nation.

The Naval Academy is also the final resting place of Revolutionary War naval hero John Paul Jones. A National Historic Site, the Naval Academy hosts more than 1 million tourists every year from the United States and around the world.


Founded in 1845 by Secretary of the Navy George Bancroft, the academy started as the Naval School on ten acres of old Fort Severn in Annapolis. Since then, the development of the Naval Academy has reflected the history of the United States. In 1850 the Naval School became the U.S. Naval Academy. A new curriculum went into effect requiring midshipmen to study at the academy for four years and to train aboard ships each summer. That format is the basis of what has evolved into a far more advanced and sophisticated curriculum at the Naval Academy. As the U.S. Navy grew over the years, the academy expanded. The campus of ten acres increased to 338. The original student body of fifty-five midshipmen grew to a brigade of 4,000, and modern granite buildings replaced the old wooden structures of Fort Severn and the Naval School.

Congress authorized the Naval Academy to begin awarding bachelor of science degrees in 1933. The academy later replaced a fixed curriculum taken by all midshipmen with a core curriculum plus eighteen major fields of study, a wide variety of elective courses, and advanced study and research opportunities.

Mission and Program

The Naval Academy's official mission is "to develop midshipmen morally, mentally and physically and to imbue them with the highest ideals of duty, honor and loyalty in order to provide graduates who are dedicated to a career of naval service and have potential for future development in mind and character to assume the highest responsibilities of command, citizenship and government" (U.S. Naval Academy). This gives everyonefaculty, staff, and midshipmenthe same focus. It also encourages a sense of spirit and pride found at few other schools.

The moral, mental, and physical elements of the Naval Academy program are equally important, all contributing to the qualities of an outstanding naval officer. Each midshipman's academic program begins with a core curriculum that includes courses in engineering, science, mathematics, humanities, and the social sciences. This is designed to give a broadbased education that will qualify midshipmen for practically any career field in the Navy or Marine Corps. At the same time, the majors program provides students the opportunity to develop a particular area of academic interest. For especially capable and highly motivated students, the academy offers a challenging honors programs and an opportunity to begin a postgraduate degree while still at the academy.

After four years at the Naval Academy, the life and customs of naval service become second nature. First, a student learns to take orders from practically everyone, but before long, students acquire the responsibility for making decisions that can affect hundreds of other midshipmen. Professional classroom studies are backed by many hours of practical experience in leadership and naval operations, including assignments with Navy and Marine Corps units during the summer months.

Moral and ethical development is a fundamental element of all aspects of the Naval Academy experience. As future officers in the Navy or Marine Corps, midshipmen will someday be responsible for the lives of many men and women and multimilliondollar equipment. From "Plebe Summer" through graduation, the Naval Academy's Character Development Program is a four-year integrated continuum that focuses on the attributes of integrity, honor, and mutual respect. One of the goals of this program is to develop midshipmen who possess a clearer sense of their own moral beliefs and the ability to articulate them. Honor is emphasized through the Honor Concept of the Brigade of Midshipmena system that was originally formulated in 1951 and states: "Midshipmen are persons of integrity: they stand for that which is right." These Naval Academy "words to live by" are based on the moral values of respect for human dignity, respect for honesty, and respect for the property of others. Brigade Honor Committees composed of elected upperclass midshipmen are responsible for education and training in the Honor Concept. Midshipmen found in violation of the Honor Concept by their peers may be separated from the Naval Academy.

The Naval Academy teaches the importance of being physically fit and prepared for stress because the duties of Navy and Marine Corps officers often require long, strenuous hours in difficult situations. The physical requirements of Plebe Summer training, four years of physical education, and year-round athletics also develop pride, teamwork, and leadership.

Profile of Midshipmen

It takes a special kind of young man or woman to handle the Naval Academy's demanding program, but that doesn't mean all midshipmen are alike. Midshipmen come from all fifty states, from U.S. territories, and from several foreign countries. They have roots in cities and suburbs, farms and ranches, small towns and military bases. Midshipmen are good students, leaders in their high schools and communities, and participants in competitive sports. The young men and women who choose the Naval Academy are looking for more than a college degree, howeverthey like the idea of being challenged morally, mentally, and physically.

See also: Military Academies, subentries on U.S. Air Force Academy, U.S. Coast Guard Academy,U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, U.S. Military Academy.

internet resource

U.S. Naval Academy. 2002. <>.

U.S. Naval Academy Publications Office