Road Trip: "Aha!" Moments at the US Air Force Academy

Only one personal item is allowed on campus as a freshman… including photographs; the Air Force is not a place for those who prize themselves as individuals. But Aha! as a junior you can have a refrigerator in your room. Lunch is served to all cadets at the same time, in 20 minutes. Though the cadets spoke excitedly of their anticipated assignments upon graduation, one of their comments seemed to capture the philosophy at the Academy: “The Air Force comes first.” Another cadet said that over the four years he was “constantly being asked to do something he didn’t want to do.” The implication being that conquering each request built character.

The decision to attend is with the obligation to serve as an officer for at least eight years after completion of your academic training.  If, after coming to the Academy you have a change of heart… Aha! you can resign in your first or second year without requirement of military service (though you may have to pay for the cost of your education received).  However, if you are a day into your third year before resigning you are required to serve two years of active duty, three years if you resign a day into your fourth year.  As attractive as a free education is, the obligation is to be taken seriously—nothing in life is really “free”. 

Still, 10,000 students make the decision to apply to the Air Force Academy. It is a unique application process and one that starts early.  Some key points:

  • Find out who your Admissions Liaison Officer (ALO) is. Simply type in your high school on the Academy’s website.
  • Complete a Pre-Candidate Questionnaire.  It includes personal data and test scores. Due December 31st, ~72% of applicants move to the next step gaining Candidate Status.
  • Secure a nomination. The most vital piece of the application. It is best to begin the process simultaneously with the Pre-Candidate Questionnaire. Though due January 31 deadlines of the nominating sources (predominantly congressional) vary and could be as early as September of senior year.  A link to “service academy nomination” is on each senator / congressman's website.
  • Take the Candidate Fitness Assessment (CFA). The assessment consists of six physical and motor fitness events and is taken after having achieved candidate status.  Your performance matters, as physical fitness is a significant factor in admission.

Of those achieving candidate status, 33% are considered “qualified candidates” and of those, 65% are admitted.  This results in a 15% admission rate of initial applicants.

So, what does the Academy look for? An “academic composite score”(standardized test scores and transcript) represents 55% of the admission decision. And, Aha! athletics is a significant plus given the physical demands of the Academy. Both factors are reflected in the character & leadership attributes of admitted cadets: Athletic Letter Award 79%; National Honor Society 69%; Scouting (23%); Class President / VP (18%); Boys/Girls State or Nation (17%); Valedictorian / Salutatorian 11%.

The coveted career upon graduation is as a pilot and about 50% of cadets go on to pilot training based on class rank, though those deep in class rank  (750 out of 800 as example) may qualify.  What differentiates the Air Force Academy from other academies is location and career opportunities—the Air Force claims it has the most job opportunities straight out of college.  

Consider the US Air Force Academy if your motivation is sufficient to put aside a sense of individualism and if you dream to fly.  Add athleticism to make a good fit.