Service Academy Summer Programs

For most high school students, exposure to the military is limited to books and movies.  Even those from military families may wonder what it would be like to personally have the restrictions and responsibility of military life.  Service academy summer programs offer high school students a chance to experience what life as a cadet or midshipman is like. This can help students know if they really want to apply to attend an academy.

These programs are relatively small and cannot accept all of the students who apply, so take the time to submit a quality application. You don’t need to apply the first morning the application is open, but don’t procrastinate either. The applications may require essays, transcripts, and recommendations that you can’t produce at the last minute.

What Are Service Academies?

You might have heard of the Army-Navy Football Game, one of the longest running rivalries in college football. But you might not really understand that service academies are both military training centers and colleges.

There are five federal service academies: US Naval Academy (Navy & Marine Corps), US Military Academy (Army), US Air Force Academy (Air Force & Space Force), US Coast Guard Academy, and US Merchant Marine Academy (civilian maritime professions or a military commission). Each is a college, run by the federal government, that offers an undergraduate education and immersive military training for future officers. 

Students (called cadets or midshipmen) attend college classes, gain leadership experience, and go on summer military training.  At the end of four years, they earn a Bachelor of Science degree and become officers in the branch of the military associated with their academy. Students receive a 100% scholarship that covers tuition, room & board, and a monthly stipend. In return for the tuition-free education, graduates serve for several years in the military. As a result, applications are competitive and should be started in spring of junior year.

Students who are interested in applying to a service academy should also consider college ROTC programs. College ROTC programs are another pathway to becoming a military officer. ROTC scholarships can pay for tuition, fees, books, and a monthly stipend.

Benefits of Attending a Service Academy Summer Program

Students get a better sense of what attending an academy is like

Service academy summer programs are packed with presentations from academy leaders, demonstrations of military gear, and tours academic facilities. But it’s not all passive watching. There is hands on training too: obstacle courses, basic squad tactics, damage control exercises, and more.

Summer programs are led by current cadets & midshipmen

This gives participants a chance to talk to someone currently going through the academy. Their descriptions of academy life up to date and often less filtered. They may explain why they chose their academy over other opportunities or the good and bad side of being there. There are other opportunities to meet cadets and midshipmen, like admissions information events, but service academy summer programs offer several days of interaction, not just the chance to ask one or two questions.

Students learn if they’re physically ready for an academy

Service academy summer programs often start with morning fitness training, and include other physical activities throughout the day. Just getting from one side of campus to another may involve a fair amount of marching or jogging. In addition, academies usually do a full administration of their fitness test for all participants. If your score is strong, you might not need to take the fitness assessment again. If it’s not so great, you can use this as a practice test and go home knowing what you need to work on.

Service Academy Summer High School Programs

The following Service academy summer programs are one-week orientations for rising seniors, usually held before the incoming freshman class arrives.  Training is primarily led by current midshipmen and cadets, along with recent graduates.  The cost includes room and board, but students are responsible for their own travel arrangements.  I’ve put these in rough order by when the applications open and close. Because of the high number of applications, late applications are not usually considered.

Note: Military service members must be vaccinated for Covid-19. Students may be required to provide proof of vaccination in order to participate in summer programs on campus.

US Air Force Academy

The US Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, CO trains officers for the Air Force and now the Space Force. Its Summer Seminar gives seniors an opportunity to experience life as a cadet. Seminar dates are typically mid-June.  Students can submit the Air Force Academy Summer Seminar application December 1– January 15.  The program costs approximately $300.

Session 1: 6-9 June (Virtual)
Session 2: 13-17 June (In Person)

US Naval Academy

The US Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD prepares future Navy and Marine Corps officers. It hosts the Naval Academy Summer Seminar or NASS. This is an introduction to “academic, athletic, and professional training.” 

There are three sessions in June. 
Session 1: June 4 – June 9, 2022
Session 2: June 11 – June 16, 2022
Session 3: June 18 – June 23, 2022

The Naval Academy Summer Seminar application opens January 4, 2022 and closes on March 31, 2022.  Cost is $650.

Note: The Naval Academy currently requires proof of Covid-19 vaccination for overnight stays on campus. Students should expect to submit proof of vaccination to attend summer programs at the Naval Academy.

US Military Academy

The US Military Academy in West Point, NY holds a Summer Leadership Experience or SLE. This offers an immersion in cadet life for rising seniors.  Classes, physical and military training are held in the first two weeks of June.  Rolling admission application open January 15, 2022 – March 15, 2022.  Cost approx $460.

Session 1: May 28 – June 3, 2022
Session 2: June 4 – June 10, 2022

US Coast Guard Academy

The US Coast Guard Academy in New London, CT holds the latest of the academy summer programs. The Academy Introduction Mission (AIM) runs in July. This summer program has a reputation for its realistic exposure to life at a service academy.  The application for summer 2022 will open in February 2022.  Cost is approx $525. 

US Merchant Marine Academy

The US Merchant Marine Academy in King’s Point, NY does not hold a summer camp for high school students. Contact USMMA directly for information about touring King’s Point.

How to Apply to Service Academy Summer Programs

Applications typically ask for PSAT, SAT, or ACT test scores, but this requirement may be waived for students who live in areas where testing has not been offered. Students are usually also asked for grades in key academic courses, an activities list, and an essay.  Programs may have physical requirements that are similar to military medical qualification standards. Some applications require a letter of recommendation. 

Capacity in these Service academy summer programs is limited, so they may prioritize students who live far from the school or in under-represented geographic areas. Students should submit a well-prepared application early in the application window. Because the programs are small, students should not assume a turn-down letter means a lower chance of an appointment to that academy. If you are interested in attending an academy, you should lean in to complete your application early in the fall of senior year.

Other Military Summer Programs

In addition to the academy camps for rising seniors there are other opportunities to get exposure to a service academy or the military.  Some are open to students in earlier grades.

Naval Academy STEM Camps – One-week STEM intensive camps for rising 9th-11th grade students in June.  This camp focuses more on STEM experiences than military orientation.  Each week is restricted to a particular grade level.  Application opens January 4, 2022 and closes March 31, 2022. Cost $900 (includes food and lodging at the Naval Academy). 

2022 Session Dates:
Rising 9th Graders: June 6-11, 2022
Rising 10th Graders: June 13-18, 2022
Rising 11th Graders: June 20-24, 2022
Note: Sessions vary by grade level. Students may only attend the session designed for their grade.

Society of American Military Engineers (SAME) conducts STEM Summer Camps at military bases around the country.  These camps focus on military construction and engineering, and are open to rising 10th-12th grade students.  Application opens in early December.  Cost $100-600 depending on camp, but sponsorships may be available for some camps.

Year Round Military High School Programs

Students interested deeper exposure to the military might consider a year-round program. 

Many high schools have Junior ROTC units associated with a branch of the military.  Students in these units usually have a JROTC class as part of their school schedule, as well as associated after school and weekend training.  Activities may include fitness and obstacle course training, flight familiarization, marksmanship, cyber security competitions, and ceremonial events. Students in some JROTC units may also be eligible for an academy nomination through their JROTC unit.

Sea Cadets – Run by the Navy League of the United States and supported by the Navy and Coast Guard, Sea Cadet units have regular meetings through the year, as well as a two-week summer training camp and additional advanced training opportunities focused on seamanship and seagoing topics.

Civil Air Patrol – Part of the Air Force Auxiliary, CAP Cadet squadrons typically meet weekly with a longer event once a month on a weekend and a one-week summer encampment. 

Sea Scouts, Civil Air Patrol, and Junior ROTC do not require students to join the military.  They do offer opportunities for doing hard things and being active in small group leadership experiences.  8-15% of incoming service academy freshmen participated in one of these organizations.

Service Academy Applications Help

The military is a great choice for many students.  Paths to an officer commission include not only attending a service academy, but also enrolling in a college Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) unit with a scholarship or as a college program student. 

When I applied to the Naval Academy, the application was a packet of paper forms with space for hand-written essays and bubbled in activity listings. The format has changed over the years, but the need for organization and timeliness remains. Applying to any military academy or ROTC scholarship requires organization and attention to detail and deadlines. If you’d like guidance with this process, please schedule an inquiry meeting.

Related: Learn about US Service Academy Nominations

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