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Military Colleges in America

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Obtaining an education has long been considered an essential component in attaining personal success.   As a result, many endeavor to locate those institutions of higher learning that will fulfill this purpose.  Knowledge, however, is not the only discernible characteristic needed for a productive and successful career.  Integrity, discipline, and honor (among others) are also laudable and desired traits that need to be developed.  Yet these social qualities are seldom emphasized in traditional academic curriculum.

However, this is not so with schools that features a military tradition as a part of its overall academic offerings.  These institutions offer an environment that is completely unique in comparison to traditional schools.  Military schools place great stress on discipline, teamwork, and goal-oriented achievement in a blend of military structure and competitive academics. The aim: to produce highly capable graduates who are able to assume the reins of leadership in their various occupational pursuits (military or civilian). The following are the top 10 military schools.

Author’s note:  For this list, I’ve confined myself to American, post-secondary institutions (i.e. colleges and universities).  Further, virtually every military-oriented school has features that can be found in every other institution of the same nature – such as a rigid honor code or high academic standards.  As such, one may ask what the big difference from one school to another is.  Well, that answer is ultimately up to the reader, but I have attempted to articulate something unique about each school, as well as the common characteristics that these institutions share.

10.  Valley Forge Military Academy and College

Officially designated as the Military College of Pennsylvania, Valley Forge is an interesting institution in that it is both a secondary and post-secondary school.  Founded in 1928, the school is located in Wayne, Pennsylvania and offers instruction for young men in grades 7-12 (junior high and high school) as well as a two-year post-secondary offering.  In fact, Valley Forge is one of only five military junior colleges and offers a direct commission into the army after only two years of study (through the army’s Early Commissioning Program).  In essence, students at Valley Forge can begin their military indoctrination at a very early age and carry it through college.


The school offers a very intimate atmosphere due to the small number of students (compared with larger institutions) on campus.  In total, Valley Forge has about 600 students, with a little over half of these being enrolled in the college.  Like most military schools, students are a part of a corps of cadets and abide by a strict, no-nonsense honor code.  It’s interesting to note that the corps of cadets is described as almost completely autonomous.  By this, it is meant that the student leaders within the corps are responsible for the day-to-day administration, discipline, training, etc. of the other students.

Cadets are required to live on campus and follow a very structured daily routine: formation, breakfast, cleaning details, academic classes until lunch and then more classes until mid-afternoon.  After classes, students participate in athletics and such, winding down to mandatory study halls from 7:30-9:30 PM.  While this is fairly standard for any military school, Valley Forge has some unique characteristics that are wholly their own.  One is that unlike other military schools, Valley Forge follows very distinctive British traditions.  In fact, they are the only school in the U.S. that maintains British Drill and military ceremonies.  Almost the school’s entire faculty is either active duty or retired military personnel from both the United States military and the British military.

Valley Forge is also one of the few military schools in the nation that maintains a mounted battalion and that caters to all five branches of the U.S. military and all five service academies.  Valley Forge is a bastion of traditions that are both standard and unique, offering a level of education that is not only competitive, but personal and intimate because of its small size.

Alumni: William R. Trefel-chairman of the board, CarMax; Larry Fitzgerald-professional NFL player

9.  US Merchant Marine Academy

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Their motto is “Deeds not words,” and there is no other service that better exemplifies this creed than the Merchant Marine Service.  While very few consider the importance of sea transport, suffice to say that the military does.  In fact, because the U.S. Navy does not maintain the necessary sealift capacity to move high numbers of military formations (personnel, equipment, supplies) to diverse locations around the world, the Merchant Marines (which are basically privately owned, U.S. flagged transports) provides this ability for the armed forces.

Of course, the Merchant Marines also provide the lifeline of international commerce as the means for moving goods across the world’s waterways.  To further this endeavor, it became apparent that an institution of higher education was needed to develop seafaring officers.  The U.S. Merchant Marine Academy (USMMA) was established in 1942 for this very purpose end is one of the 5 federal service academies that train its students for military (or in the case of the Merchant Marine and Coast Guard, military related) service.

Located at Kings Point, New York, USMMA enrolls a little over 900 undergraduate students.  Getting in, however, is not easy.  In fact, an excellent high school student might find it easier being accepted by Harvard or Yale.  Aspiring candidates for USMMA must have strong SAT/ACT scores, write an essay, provide 3 letters of recommendations, pass a medical and physical fitness examination, and obtain a nomination from a member of Congress (either a U.S. Senator or Representative).  If successful, and after a period of indoctrination the summer before the first school year at USMMA, students are welcomed into the Regiment of Midshipmen.

As with all federal service academies (and one of the attractive features of attending), all expenses are paid by the government, and each student receives a monthly stipend.  Life, ­however, in the regiment is about what one would expect for a military academy.  When Midshipmen take their oath of office in their first year, they become members of the U.S. Navy reserve.  In other words, welcome to the military!  A regimented military environment is the norm at USMMA, but unlike the other academies (with exception to the Coast Guard Academy); the emphasis here is maritime in nature.  Midshipmen focus their academic studies in one of two maritime-related areas: marine transportation and marine engineering.  Courses of study lead to a Bachelor of Science degree in 6 different majors, as well as maritime accreditation and licensing.  Additionally, USMMA midshipmen are provided a heavy course of practical experience.

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Between their sophomore and junior years, midshipmen are required to serve as cadets on operational U.S. merchant ships.  During this time, students will visit, on average, 18 foreign countries and spend almost a year away from the academy.  With four years of intense academic study, leadership development, physical and military training, midshipmen have a number of options available to them upon graduation.  Unlike the other service academies that require several years of active duty service upon graduation, USMMA graduates are responsible to fulfill their government obligations on their own accord.  Essentially, USMMA graduates have the option of either obtaining employment in an approved civilian maritime occupation, or serve as an officer in one of the 4 branches of the U.S. military.  Graduates leave the academy with a B.S. degree, a commission in the U.S. Naval Reserve (unless they choose to accept an active duty commission), and an unlimited license as a merchant marine officer (3rd mate or 3rd asst. engineer).  In short, if one is looking for a career on the seven seas, as well as a superior quality education, the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy is a very attractive option.

Alumni:  Mark Kelly, U.S. Naval captain, space shuttle pilot, and husband of former U.S. Representative Gabrielle “Gabby” Giffords of Arizona

8.  US Coast Guard Academy

It seems proper to follow our 9th spot with another maritime-related school that probably has escaped the attention of most of the American public.  With the motto, “the sea yields knowledge”, the Military Academy of the United States Coast Guard is charged with providing officers for the U.S. Coast Guard service (or other military services).

Located in New London, Connecticut, the U.S. Coast Guard Academy (USCGA) is the smallest of the five federal service academies.  As with all the federal service academies, admissions are very selective.  Unlike the other service academies, however, USCGA admissions standards are based solely on merit.  As such, potential candidates do not have to obtain a nomination from a U.S. member of Congress.  Nevertheless, USCGA is renowned for being one of the most selective schools to gain entrance to, with the school accepting about 16% of the students that apply (about 400 of 2,500 applicants).  USCGA also has the highest number of women amongst the service academies, with female cadets comprising about 30% of the student body.  All students, male and female, make up the schools Corps of Cadets.

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As with all federal service academies, USCGA cadets are on active duty (Naval Reserve), wear uniforms at all times and follow a very strict and regimented daily routine.  The Corps of Cadets is a self-administrating body, which is to say that the student themselves are responsible for the day-to-day operations of other students (training, discipline, etc.).  With this, the classes of cadets (freshman/4th class, sophomore/3rd class, etc.) are structured to facilitate this dynamic.  The 1st class, for example, is made up of students that hold the senior leadership roles in the Corps, while the 4th class is basically a bunch of followers.

The organization of the Corps, down to its smallest operation component (departments and divisions), is designed to mirror the organizational structure of a Coast Guard cutter.  The idea is to provide leadership experience to cadets in a meaningful and practical way.  In addition to the daily military influence cadets are required to participate in various types of intense military training during the summer (generally maritime related).  In addition, the USCGA requires its students to carry a very strong academic course load, with emphasis on engineering and the sciences.  Upon graduation, cadets are commissioned as ensigns and required to serve at least 5 years in the U.S. Coast Guard (or apply for commission in another one of the branches of the armed services for a similar length of time).

The Coast Guard is a unique service as it is not strictly military in nature.  The CG provides both emergency first response services and as well as maritime law enforcement (and come under the jurisdiction of the Department of Homeland Security and not the Department of Defense).  Nevertheless, the Coast Guard has a military component in its mandate that includes harbor and port security, and the protection of naval assets.  As a result, the service not only provides various challenging career opportunities, but requires an institution of higher learning such as the USCGA to train and develop the officers that allow the service to excel at its mission.

Alumni:  Sandra L. Stosz, admiral, first woman to command a service academy, first female graduate to earn flag rank.

7.  The Citadel

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Officially titled “The Military College of South Carolina”, the Citadel is a school of high academic standards and rich traditions.  Located in Charleston, South Carolina, the Citadel was established in 1842.  The school is known for its Corps of Cadets undergraduate military program that integrates high level academics with physical training and military discipline.

The Citadel is somewhat unique in the makeup of its student body.  Of the 3,300 students that attend the school, 1100 of these students are civilians who take part in the schools post-graduate offerings.  Another 100 or so are active duty personnel and veterans.  Both of these groups attend evening classes and are separated from the main body of students.  The main body of students at the Citadel (about 2,100 strong) comprises the Corps of Cadets.  The Citadel has the distinction of maintaining one the largest Corps of Cadets outside of the service academies.  Interestingly, the Citadel also is ranked among the top two schools in the number of officers that are commissioned among schools that offer ROTC programs.

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Life for the Corps of Cadets is pretty similar to cadet life elsewhere.  Typically, cadets have physical training twice a day, along with drills, leadership training and, of course, their normal academic classes.  Cadets are expected to stand regular formations and they march to all meals.  Cadets are required to live on campus and are only permitted to go out on weekends (though they must return to the campus at specified times).  In addition, a cadet cannot be married.

Unlike the service academies, however, cadets, while required to participate in four years of ROTC training, are not required to enter the military upon graduation, though they are offered commissions in the armed forces (and about 40% accept).  And a cadet has a good chance of graduating as well, as the school maintains a high graduation on-time percentage in the nation (69% for 4 years).  The Citadel prides itself on the strong academic foundation of its graduates.  In fact, Citadel engineering graduates are highly sought after and the Citadel’s engineering school is consistently ranked among the best in America.  The Citadel has also produced 269 flag/general officers.  Without doubt, this school produces graduates who are capable of excelling in their chosen field of endeavor, whether it’s civilian or military.

Interesting note: the firing on Fort Sumter, generally considered the first shot that sparked the Civil War was not actually the first shot fired.  In fact, the first shot fired was by cadets of the Citadel who were manning the cannons and fired on the resupply steamer “Star of the West’” that was heading to Fort Sumter.

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