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. The application periods vary for each academy, but generally require applying in the winter or early spring of junior year. Check out the end of the article for additional programs, including some for younger students.
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. The exact session dates and application timelines are posted if available. If not, I’ve listed what is typical for each program.
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. The Air Force Academy Summer Seminar applications opened December 1 and close January 15. The program typically costs $300.
2023 Session Dates:
Session 1: 6-9 June, 2023 (in-person)
Session 2: 12-15 June, 2023 (in-person)
Session 3: 21-23 June, 2023 (virtual)
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.
2023 Session Dates:
Session 1: June 3 – June 8, 2023
Session 2: June 10 – June 15, 2023
Session 3: June 17 – June 22, 2023
The Naval Academy Summer Seminar application opens January 4 and closes April 15, 2023. The application must be completed in one sitting. You cannot save and come back to it later. Cost: $550.
Note: The Naval Academy 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 for the Summer Leadership Experience opens February 1 – March. Cost is $625 and need-based scholarships are available.
2023 Session Dates:
Session 1: June 3 – 9, 2023
Session 2: June 10 – 16, 2023
NOTE: Attendees must be fully vaccinated against Covid-19.
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. For 2022, the Coast Guard Academy held a total of four AIM session, three on campus and one virtual session. The application for AIM is usually open February 8 – April 15. Cost is approx $750. Some need based scholarships are available.
2023 Session Dates:
Session I: 2-7 July, 2023 (On Campus)
Session II: 9-14 July, 2023 (On Campus)
Session III: 16-21 July, 2023 (On Campus)
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 grades in academic courses, an activities list, an essay, and PSAT, SAT, or ACT test scores. Students should prepare to be physically active in a military setting during the summer programs. Some applications require a letter of recommendation. While academies may not require test scores for their summer programs, test scores remain a significant part of the eventual academy application. So, I encourage students to take the PSAT junior year (or earlier if offered) and consider taking the SAT or ACT in fall/winter of junior year.)
Due to limited capacity in these service academy summer programs, they sometimes 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. Students should not assume a turn-down letter for a summer program 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 by the fall of senior year.
Related: Learn about US Service Academy Nominations
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 grade level attends during a specific week of camp. Application opens January 4 and closes April 15, 2023. Cost $800 (includes food and lodging at the Naval Academy).
2023 Session Dates:
Rising 9th Graders: June 5 – 10, 2023
Rising 10th Graders: June 12 – 17, 2023
Rising 11th Graders: June 19 – 23, 2023
Note: Sessions vary by grade level. Students may only attend the session designed for their grade.
West Point STEM Camps – Week-long, hands on STEM camps for middle school (rising 7-8th grade) and high school (rising 9-10th grade) students. West Point faculty and cadets teach classes and hands on workshops. All participants must show proof of full Covid-19 vaccination. Application usually closes in March. Cost: The Center for Diversity and Leadership in STEM pays the costs of tuition, food, and housing. Participants must pay for transportation to and from West Point or Newark Airport.
Summer 2023 Cancelled. West Point hopes to resume the program in 2024.
Villanova University Navy ROTC Summer Seminar – This is a 4 day/4 night introduction to Navy ROTC on the Villanova University campus for rising seniors. 2023 is the second year for this program, which is the only ROTC specific summer program for high school students I’m aware of. Cost $625 includes food and lodging on campus. 2023 application deadline: May 13, 2023.
2023 Session Dates: June 19-23, 2023
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. Applications open December – April 15,. Cost $100-800 depending on camp, but sponsorships may be available for some camps.
Year Round Military High School Programs
Students interested in 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 Junior ROTC 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 Junior ROTC 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 Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) unit at a civilian college.
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.