PrepWell Podcast


Ep. 155 | Should your child consider a Military Service Academy?

With all the turmoil in the traditional college admissions process, should your child consider military service academies?

Show Notes:

In today's episode, I discuss whether or not your child should consider applying to any of the 5 military service academies. Given the growing challenges of getting into, paying for, and thriving at traditional colleges, many students are opening their eyes to what service academies have to offer (e.g. world-class free education, STEM focus, guaranteed job for 5 years post-graduation, leadership experience, international travel, etc.).  Listen to the pro/con list and think about whether it might be a good fit for you or your child.

Full Transcript:

Hello friends and welcome back to the PrepWell Podcast. In today's episode, I want to talk about what are called service academies or military service academies. These are places like West Point and the Naval Academy and the Air Force Academy. I'd like to talk about the pros and cons and whether or not your child should consider looking into the service academies as they think about their future, especially in light of many of the things happening with traditional college admissions these days, which I won't get into detail about today. But I'm sure you've caught wind of many of them. Many of them are not good. And one reason I bring this up is that I talked to a lot of students, males and females every day who I think would be great candidates for service academies. But the students and their parents often have either never heard of the service academies or they confuse them with ROTC programs, or they don't think service academies are for them. Or they're generally just unclear about what service academies really are, what they look for, and how they might be a good fit. And I get that because service academies are not well publicized and many people just don't know a lot about them. And so in these cases, when I think there might be a good fit, I try to give students and families a quick rundown on what service academies are all about, just in case it resonates in general. The students that seem to be good service academy candidates are smart, athletic, and have shown some leadership potential. Those are the big three criteria when it comes to service academies. They're looking for smart athletic leaders. And I meet a lot of students who check these three boxes and who also don't really have a plan when it comes to college.

They're not sure where they want to go to college or increasingly where they might get accepted. They don't know what they want to major in. They don't know what kind of job or career to pursue. So they're stuck. And to make matters worse, many of them are not quite competitive enough to get into a top-tier traditional college. Call it a top 20 or top 30 college. And so they're left with choosing from among a big group of second and third-tier colleges, many of which cost $80,000 a year or more. And if they end up going to one of these second or third-tier colleges without much of a plan, and they bumble their way through with a communications major only to move back home with mom and dad, where they start looking for an entry-level job with $100,000 in school debt hanging over their heads. That doesn't paint such a pretty picture. Maybe being on a Navy aircraft carrier sailing around the Mediterranean Sea making $90,000 a year for five years wouldn't have been such a bad option after all. So this episode is for students who fall into the following category. They're smart. They have a four-point something GPA. Now, they may not be the valedictorian, but they've done well academically. They've taken advanced classes, and honors in AP classes. They've done well on the SATs or the ACT. Again, maybe they didn't get a 600 on the SAT or a 36 on the ACT. But they've done well. Maybe they played a varsity sport. They may not be an all-American, but they were good. They've taken on a leadership position in a club, and they're trying to figure out their next move. But their next move is probably not Yale or Harvard or Stanford or another top-tier college, because those schools are nearly impossible to get into these days unless there are extenuating circumstances.

And so they're having a hard time envisioning their next step because of all the reasons I cited above. Then maybe the idea of a service academy gives them another option, a nontraditional option that they hadn't thought of before. At least that's my hope. First off, let's discuss what a service academy is. But before we get too far into that, let me back up even more. Many of you know this already, but some of you may not. Personnel in the military are broken down into two main categories, enlisted and officers. The enlisted personnel make up the large majority of the military. They are the worker bees. Typically, enlisted personnel join the military straight out of high school or a few years after high school. Some have college experience, but many don't. Officers, on the other hand, all have four-year college degrees, and they are what you might call the management in the military. They are the leaders. They are in charge of the enlisted personnel. Well, how do you become a military officer either by graduating from a service academy, which we're talking about today, or graduating from an ROTC program, which I'll discuss at a later date in more detail. Or you attend what's called OCS Officer Candidate School. After graduating with a four-year degree from a traditional college, you know, I personally became a naval officer by way of the last option here. I graduated from Yale. I worked for a few years on Wall Street. I applied to Navy Officer Candidate School. I became a naval officer and then went on to become a Navy SEAL officer. My older two sons are part of the Navy ROTC program at Yale. And if things go according to plan, they will graduate from Yale as naval officers.

My third son has committed to playing water polo at the Naval Academy next year. Again, assuming all goes well there, he'll graduate from the Naval Academy, also as a naval officer. So the Black family may have all three of these officer options covered in the next few years... OCS, ROTC, and service academies. So that's the difference between enlisted and officers and students who go to service academies are on their way to becoming military officers in one of the branches of the military. A service academy is basically a military college whose goal is to train and educate world-class military leaders. Each academy, of which there are five, has its own discrete campus where all students live for all four years. It's pretty obvious when you're on the campus of a service academy because everyone's in uniform and it just looks different from your average college campus where you see students with Birkenstocks and shorts throwing Frisbees around on the quad. Life at a service academy is structured and regimented. There are mandatory physical fitness programs daily. There are drills and inspections taking place periodically, and everything is, for the most part, neat and orderly. If you haven't been on to one of these campuses yet, you should do your best to visit as many as you can. I think you get a lot out of visiting one in person, even more so than you would with going to a traditional college campus. There are five service academies, number one, U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. Number two, the U.S. Military Academy, also known as West Point, which is in West Point, New York. Number three, the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Number four, the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut.

And lastly, number five of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, New York. Now, obviously, I could go on and on about each of these service academies in great detail and compare and contrast them, but we'll leave that for a different episode or for students who enroll in the prep academy military plan. For our purposes today, I'm going to lump all these service academies together and highlight the pros and cons to consider when thinking about any of them. And what I suggest you do is sit back, listen to these pros and cons carefully, and make some mental notes as to whether or not this is something that sounds like it might be a good option for you. So let's go through some of the pros. A great education, particularly in the STEM fields. Service academies offer fantastic education, especially if you're interested in science, math, engineering, aviation technology, computers, and electronics. If so, the service academies are right up your alley. Service academies have excellent reputations. In fact, the Naval Academy this year was rated the number one public college in the country. You will surround yourself with like-minded people, people who are smart, people who are athletic, and people who are leaders. You have to think to yourself, are these types of people, your people? A common mission, unlike most traditional colleges, where undergrads are typically all over the place in terms of their motivations and their visions. Cadets and midshipmen at service academies are bound by a common mission which is to serve our country and to lead others, which can be a pretty powerful force. On that same note, everybody at a service academy wants everybody else to succeed. It's not cutthroat or competitive because you're all on the same team pushing toward the same goal, which is to graduate and move on to your jobs.

Service academies have exceedingly strong cultures. Why? Because the environment is challenging. Physically, mentally, emotionally, morally, academically and with that challenge creates lifelong bonds. Now service academies do impose boundaries and limitations and pressures that most teenagers need and some secretly will crave. Theoretically, service academies will reduce your exposure to what I call the big social mistakes that are easy to fall prey to at a traditional college. Now, yes, you can still make some of the big mistakes, but you aren't going to be tempted every day and night to do some of these dumb things. You will learn discipline. You will learn how to pay attention to detail. And there are reasons why this gets drilled into your head every day. And it's not just for fun. It's not just for games. Service academies will help you stay focused. For example, you will have mandatory study time every night in your room, and that really helps students out who would otherwise find themselves doing, shall we say, less productive things. And when it sucks, which it will, at times you can take comfort in knowing that everyone else is suffering, too. You're not going to get this fear of missing out. You're all in it together. That's service academies. You must differentiate yourself through your performance, not your hairstyle, not whether you have a mohawk or a mullet. You're not wearing crop top shirts or tattoos. You don't have fancy sneakers. You're not wearing t-shirts with aggressive slogans. It's just your performance in the classroom, on the fields, in a sport, and the lab. All that other stuff has no place at the service academies, which often comes as a big relief. Service academies provide a free world-class education. We talked about education earlier. Did we mention that it was free? And these days, this is not something to take lightly.

You know, I've done the math. I consider attending a service academy to be worth about $500,000 in real money if compared to what you would pay for a similarly prestigious and reputable traditional college if you were paying for free. And I would say that's on the low side, because this includes health benefits, clothes, housing, travel, and books. All you do is show up with a small duffel bag. Everything else is issued to you and paid for. Now, this is what we might call the ultimate full-ride scholarship. And in addition to the free education, you also get paid during your time at the academies starting your freshman year. You make $300, $400, or $500 a month a little bit more every month, depending on what year you're in. My son and I recently figured out that by the time he finishes four years at the academy and five years after the academy working as a military officer, he could build a nest egg of over $150,000 as a 27-year-old. That's not too bad. And after your time as a military officer, depending on when you get out, you will have dealt with real people, problems of people that you're in charge of, pay issues, family issues, substance abuse, educational issues, and a lot more. And of course, once you graduate from a service academy, you have a service "commitment" afterward where you will serve as a military officer for a minimum of five years. Now, some people call this a commitment. I like to call it a guaranteed job after graduation. Now, there are other communities, like if you become a pilot, it's more than five years, but the minimum is typically five years. Now, getting into a service academy is tough. Don't get me wrong, but not in the same way as the competition to get into an Ivy League school is, for example.

It's different and in my opinion, more achievable than an Ivy League school, especially for certain demographics. Service academies help you get a big head start on life. Because once you're done with your minimum five-year commitment or your guaranteed job, as I like to call it, you will have lived on your own, made your own money, and traveled the world. You've led other people. And this is a lot more than your average 27-year-old has probably done. And all of it translates well into the private sector. If that's the path you choose, of course, you will get a ton of leadership experience or what the civilian world might call management experience, which will make you a very highly sought-after person. You will travel the world and visit places and see things that few people will see and experience in their lives. And of course, there's the option to stay in the military. If you want, you can make it a career. That's a very valuable option to have. Or the option to take all of that experience and money and do something completely different. Service academies are prestigious. Most people, most employers, they know what it takes to get into a service academy. And that bodes well for your future prospects. Many military officers are heavily recruited into high-paying careers pilots, consultants, bankers, and nuclear engineers, as well as into graduate programs. Law school. Business school. Medical school. Going to a service academy and serving afterward is like you're getting paid to get a graduate degree in leadership in world travel and street smarts. You will also have an incredible experience leading others in blue-collar environments, technology environments, in hands-on jobs and environments. These are experiences highly sought after in the private sector.

Having a degree from a service academy and serving your country for a few years is a strong signal that you have been well-vetted for nearly any job, particularly a managerial job. Students have all been vetted for scholarship, athleticism, and leadership. That gets you pretty far. And if you are a recruited athlete at a service academy. Most people agree that life at a service academy will be even better still because athletes get out of certain mundane drills and formations and they get to blow off some steam while practicing and traveling for all their games. There's great alumni pride at service academies, thanks to the shared suffering that all the students go through together. There are also five different service academies to choose from, depending on your tastes. Where you want to live. What your lifestyle is going to be like? Most people would consider serving in the military as a brave or heroic act. It's a life experience unlike any other. Now, if you or your parents are nervous about the danger of the military, just understand that it's something like 98% of all jobs in the military are not frontline combat jobs, where you envision walking through the streets of Fallujah trying not to step on an IED. You know, most jobs are just not like that in the military. In fact, if you're looking for combat, you're going to have to work really hard to find a position that will put you in that type of harm's way. Most military jobs are just not what you see in the movies. That's service academies. There is a lot of support. They don't want you to fail out. Yes. They'll be yelling and screaming and making you feel miserable. But they have a lot invested in your money, time, and resources, and they have every incentive to help you to succeed.

Women, by the way, are minorities in the service academies versus regular traditional colleges where they have become the strong majority these days. This sometimes gives women an advantage in the admissions process because there are just fewer women who are called to this type of unconventional path. Service academies are very physical. It's a very physical environment. Activities, sports, drills, marching. So if you like that type of thing, you will be well served. And lastly, what is your alternative? Now, if you're dead set on becoming a dentist or a doctor or a lawyer, or an architect, and you really want to get a jump on all of the schooling and the training that you'll need. Then maybe spending five years traveling the world will cramp your style and you'll be too anxious to get your other career going. But. If your alternative is to go to a mid-tier college without a lot of direction and pay $80,000 a year and major in justice studies with no real plan. Then I'm not sure. I'm convinced that a service academy should be off the table for all the reasons that we just covered. Now let's move over to the cons of attending a service academy. First off, admissions to service academies are very competitive. If you believe half of the pros that we just went over are true. It should not come as a surprise that many of the best and brightest high school kids have their sights set on service academies. Service academies require a nomination from a local congressperson or a senator from your state. There are lots of hoops to jump through. Applications, interviews, fitness tests, nominations. Medical exams, essays. Letters of recommendation. They can be very picky when it comes to your health history and prior injuries and other health issues.

You wear a uniform every day. There are more rules and regulations than at traditional colleges. You have to maintain a certain haircut in the beginning at a service academy, i.e. the summer before you start. That is going to be difficult. There is going to be yelling and screaming and stress and self-doubt. There's also a lot of discipline and military bearing that's required at service academies. There are fewer nontraditional perspectives on a service academy campus than there would be at most colleges. You're not going to have a lot of students with blue hair. You're not going to have protesters marching all over and activists and nose rings and things of that nature. It's a very physical environment. As we said, activities, sports drills, and marching almost every day. If you're someone who would rather stay at home nice and warm in your dorm room playing video games till all hours of the night, then Service Academy probably is not good for you. You also can't be against listening to others. You can't be against taking directions from students just a year older than you. You can't have an issue with authority where you're constantly wanting to buck the system over and over and do the opposite of what's expected from you. I mean, a little bit is okay, but if every single day is a struggle because you think that the person talking to you is below you, then that may not work out. You have to be okay with social limitations and restrictions. No fraternities, no blasting music at all hours of the night, no obscene toga parties, no rampant drinking, no gratuitous hookups, no smoking, vaping, drinking, or recreational drug use. If you want all of that stuff 24 seven, skip the Service Academy and have it at a traditional college.

There are no missing of classes. There's no sleeping in, there's no getting hammered four nights a week. There's no 2 a.m. Wah wah runs four chili dogs. There are sometimes major limitations. You can't major in environmental justice studies or the history of gender ideology. They don't offer those types of majors. You will have to participate in some kind of sport or recreational activity every day for school. Some of you might not be down for that. You may find less-than-ideal working conditions in the job that you get after graduation on a ship, on an air base, or on a marine base. And it might be hot, humid, cold, wet, dark, or all of the above. You may not get your ideal job choice or your ideal community. There's no guarantee that you can be a fighter pilot or a nuclear submarine engineer. Of course, you'll have some say, but at the end of the day, the needs of the military will usually win out and you could be in harm's way if you go into the SEALs or the Marines or EOD, which is explosive ordnance disposal. But in most cases, you will be opting to do this. So it should not come as a big surprise if you don't want to do it. And of course, there are some people who just don't want to commit to working as a military officer for five years after they graduate from college. That's a fair point. But given the state of the economy and a changing workplace and the types of job opportunities out there these days, finding something to do after graduation that is so much better, so much more rewarding, better pay that will set you up for success later in life. That may be hard to come by.

Okay. So that's a pretty good list of pros and cons. And so my challenge to you is to pay attention to this list. Rewind the episode if you have to listen to the list and see which list resonates with you more. The pros or the cons? And of course, keep in mind, it's going to be tough to find a college environment or a job opportunity that is 100% perfect. So if you're out there and you're looking at the college admissions process and the cost and the competitiveness and your ambivalence about what you want to study or do with your life, and you're reflecting on where you stand on the demographic totem pole and you're not particularly loving what you're seeing. You would not be alone. So maybe there's another path for you or a different path. Maybe it's an unconventional path that you had never considered before. I can tell you one thing. If you attend a service academy and you graduate and move on with your guaranteed job for five years, you will not regret it. You will be doing something brave, something different, something that will surely differentiate you from the procession of robots coming off the conveyor belt at today's traditional colleges. And by the time you're done with your minimum commitment, also known as your guaranteed job at 27 years old, if and when you choose to get out, you will be a full-fledged man or a full-fledged woman. You will be on your own. You will have a pot of money. You will have no school debt. You will have a legendary resume. You will be in high demand. And you will be ready to take on the world. So if a service academy and or an ROTC program, which I know I didn't address much today, sounds like something you're interested in even a little bit.

I strongly urge you to enroll in PrepWell Academy, specifically the military program where every week I do deep dives into all of these topics and provide you with a blueprint on how to gain admission to one of these top programs. That's all I've got for you today, folks. Thank you for tuning in. Thank you for your continued support. If you know a parent with an eighth grader, sixth grader, seventh grader, ninth grade or 10th grade or 11th grader, senior in high school, that might find this helpful. Please share the episode with them. You can do that by finding that small box with a tiny arrow pointing up. That's the share button. Click that button. Text your friends the link to this episode with a little personal note from you recommending that they give it a listen. Give us a rating, too. Apparently, if you like what you hear, that helps the podcast reach a much wider audience. If you have questions, comments, or an idea for an upcoming episode, please reach out to me by email. On Instagram, check out our blog Facebook page. Connect with me on LinkedIn. I would love to hear from you. Until next week. Goodbye. Good luck. I never stop preparing. This podcast is brought to you by prep. Well, Academy Prep Academy is the one-of-a-kind online mentoring program that delivers to your ninth or 10th grader a short, highly relevant video from me every week. Every Sunday, in fact, where I give them a heads up about what they should be thinking about to stay ahead of the game, to get these valuable lessons into your child's hands. Please head over to prep with Academy dot com and enroll your child today

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Podcast Host:

PrepWell Academy's Founder, Phil Black, has spent a lifetime cracking the code on the world's most competitive programs: Yale University, Harvard Business School, Navy SEALs, Goldman Sachs, Entrepreneurship, Shark Tank (2X), etc.

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Inside PrepWell Academy, Black teaches students everything they need to know about the college admissions process in a series of expertly-timed, 3-5-minute, weekly training videos starting in 9th grade and continuing through 12th grade [Note: this program can only be joined in 9th or 10th grade]. My specialties include military service academies, ROTC scholarships, Ivy League, and student-athletes.

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