A little advice for next year's applicants

Discussion in 'Air Force Academy - USAFA' started by wildblueyonder, Mar 19, 2015.

  1. wildblueyonder

    wildblueyonder USAFA '19

    Jan 31, 2015
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    Hi everyone,

    Throughout the past 6 months, I have asked a lot of people a lot of questions about the Service Academy application process, particularly as it pertains to the Air Force and Naval Academies. I have learned a great deal both from their answers and through firsthand experience. I am certainly not an Admissions expert, but I do have some tips and advice I'd like to pass on to next year's class. Please take it for what it is worth. Hopefully, some of you aspiring candidates will find this to be helpful to your journey, just as previous years' posts have been invaluable to me and other CO'19 appointees.

    Without further ado:


    Academics: Standardized tests are really important. I would suggest taking them as early as you can, as often as you can. I took the SAT three times, and improved my overall score with each test. Sure, in 9th grade you might not have taken all the courses needed to ace the math section, but you just might be able to do really well on the CR section (remember, the AFA superscores ;)). And you also may surprise yourself with your math score, like I did.

    I never took the ACT, so I can't speak on that subject. However, as with any other test, it helps to take it multiple times. It's definitely worth the extra fees, since standardized test scores account for something like 30% of your WCS (Whole Candidate Score).

    GPA is also very important. If at all possible, try to earn a 4.0 unweighted, but DON'T skimp on the difficult courses. In fact, take as many as you can reasonably handle. The AFA will be more impressed by a student with a 3.8 or 3.9 GPA who took all Honors and AP than with somebody who earned a 4.0 with all regular courses. Class rank is very important too, but if you can achieve an excellent GPA, chances are that you will also end up with a high class rank. :thumb:

    Another way to really improve your GPA is by taking Dual Enrollment classes. A lot of high school students focus on AP courses, which are great, of course. However, taking these same classes at a real college can have many benefits as well.
    First, high school classes are administered differently than college classes. Many high school teachers remind you of assignments practically on a daily basis. College teachers are more likely to give you a syllabus, and remind you--once--the week before a test or paper is due. The latter case is more like the Academy--you will be responsible for doing your own work and taking accountability for your own grades.
    Second, dual enrollment (where I live, at least) is FREE. That alone makes it a pretty good option! I know of some students who have earned their AA's before graduating from high school (no, I am not one of them :p).
    Third, you can take classes via DE that you can't take in high school. Try really advanced math, certain language courses, and some science courses. Advanced courses like these will be looked upon highly by the Academy. (Of course, you don't HAVE to take all advanced college classes, but the option is there if you are ambitious.)

    It's also a good idea to search out unique academic opportunities. Studying abroad, becoming a peer tutor, registering in Honor societies, etc., are great ways to gain leadership experience and good interview talking points while simultaneously making yourself and your file more "interesting".

    Athletics: Many people believe varsity sports are all but vital for acceptance. While it is true that team sports are awesome opportunities to demonstrate athletic ability and leadership, varsity sports aren't ABSOLUTELY necessary to get in. What's really important is showing your enthusiasm and ability to participate in multiple sanctioned rigorous physical activities and associated leadership positions. I, for example, participated in junior tennis and martial arts, both considered individual sports (even though I trained with others, there were no formal teams). I didn't participate in team sports, but I did succeed in gaining athletic success and leadership positions, and I believe that was looked favorably upon by Admissions.

    Also, remember that your CFA is super important too, especially if your sports participation is a little lacking. Train for it. A lot. I never imagined how hard it would be to throw a basketball 70 feet (the USAFA average) until I tried it for the first time and got about halfway there. But thankfully, I had plenty of time to practice this event, and ultimately threw 71' on my actual CFA. In other words, prepare early, and do actual practice CFA's. It is much more difficult to run a 6 minute mile after doing 80 situps, 65 pushups, and two ultra-fast shuttle runs. If you can train to expect and work through this fatigue, it will pay dividends on the real test. Furthermore, don't automatically submit your first set of scores. Make sure they are where you want them to be prior to sending them. You will likely only be able to turn them in once, so really do your best.

    Leadership: This is probably one of the largest frontiers for applicants. There are literally dozens of ways to achieve significant leadership in high school. Some of my most important leadership activities included peer tutoring, Civil Air Patrol (I was a staff member), sports coaching, and serving as a Student Ambassador. There are other great ones that I didn't participate in: Boy's State, Boy Scouts, JROTC, student government, etc., etc. The AFA is looking for a good mixture of leadership activities (sports, school, community involvement), but they pay even more attention to the roles you have. For example, if I had only been a Cadet Airman in CAP, I wouldn't have received nearly the credit I did. As many others have stated, quality is much more important than quantity.

    I'd also like to comment on what some see as a touchy question: Should I participate in XYZ solely to enhance my resume in preparation for USAFA? The answer, I believe, is "yes and no". Certainly, it is pointless to start JROTC one month before applying just so you can check another box on the form. The Admissions board will notice this, and likely won't think too highly of it. However, "resume packing" is completely different than deliberately planning your activities (in advance) to coincide with USAFA's interests. Pursue activities you enjoy, but keep USAFA in mind when doing so. In other words, plan for success early on.

    Work (includes a volunteer job): Work is not listed as a requirement on the USAFA Admissions website. There is a reason for this. Having a job will not earn you an appointment, period (well, maybe if you are a 17-year-old member of the Admissions panel :D). However, a job does provide the opportunity to gain additional leadership and learn interpersonal skills that can prove invaluable during interviews. Of course, there are other ways to learn many of these skills, but in no way can I imagine an honest job detracting from a candidate's file. Focus on school, athletics, and leadership first. After all, the AFA expects you to be a student first and foremost. Nevertheless, if you can fit in a job (especially one that includes extra leadership), you won't be sorry. Just something to keep in mind if you are looking for that one extra activity to enhance your file.

    Summer Seminar: SS is a really cool experience and a great opportunity! Definitely participate if you can! Many on this forum can attest to the great experiences they had and all the new friends they met during their stay at the AFA. I have even heard that in past years, some SS cadre put in a good word for certain candidates, although I'm not sure how much emphasis would be placed on such a recommendation.

    However, don't EVER forget that, by and large, SS will not help you get an appointment the following year. Don't despair if you get the "thanks, but no thanks" email that everyone dreads--it DOESN'T mean they think you are a poor candidate. I was rejected from SS last year, and was honored with an appointment to the CO'19 three days ago, almost exactly one year and one month after my Summer Seminar eTWE. Keep striving and building your resume, and even if you aren't accepted to SS, you will have just as good of a chance as everyone else next year.


    Application: Prepare your applications early, and I mean EARLY. Obtain those letters of recommendation at least a month before you have to. Start working on your essays, resume, etc., at that time as well. You really want to put time into your apps--remember, no nomination = no appointment. And definitely apply to all the nomination sources you can. Earning multiple noms will give the Academy more "choices" when assigning you to a slate (list of candidates from which 1+ appointees are chosen). Oh, did I mention to prepare your application early? Missing a Senator's nomination deadline due to complications with getting letters of recommendation is a huge wakeup call, one which I don't recommend to others. Just saying! :eek:

    Interviews: Be yourself! Be your very respectful, well dressed, professional, motivated, and knowledgeable self. Prepare well, but let your personality shine through. Giving a canned answer to an interview question isn't going to get you any bonus points, no matter how fast you rattle it off. :rolleyes2: Also, don't memorize your answers. If you plan practice interviews (recommended!), realize that your answer to a given question will be worded a little differently each time, and that's OK. Get comfortable with speaking impromptu--I know it's scary when you first start, but the pain now will really help later! :thumb: (And it will help you with your leadership.)

    Miscellaneous: Don't freak out if you discover your Congresspeople collaborate when giving nominations, in order to ensure each candidate only receives one. From what I hear, this is pretty common in really competitive districts. The Academy knows this and will more than likely work to maximize the number of appointees from these areas simply because they are so competitive.

    Principal nominations are wonderful opportunities for promising candidates, but remember they are NOT appointments. Do everything you can to keep up your academics just as if you had a "normal" nomination. I have heard several tragic stories this year about candidates who received principal noms but didn't have high enough test scores or suffered from medical issues. Sadly, they received TWE's instead of eBFE's. Also, don't fret if your MOC's don't rank candidates (i.e. there are no principal nominees). My understanding is that nowadays, most Congresspeople have competitive slates, which are unranked. Both my nomination sources had this type of slate, and it worked quite well for me even without a principal nom. :)

    (And now...the hardest part...)


    Honestly, what can I say here? It's not fun to wait. I know. I waited 132 days after I submitted my application before I received my appointment. Some 2019 candidates waited/are waiting even longer to hear back. I won't tell anyone that the waiting is enjoyable.

    However, you can choose to use this time period to practice cultivating attitudes that will be extremely useful at the Academy. Don't despair, even if you find yourself losing hope. After all, admitting defeat isn't an option during BCT (based on others' stories, not mine, of course). Use this time to encourage your teammates, in my case, fellow SAF-ers. Keep striving for excellence, and do your best to improve your resume even more while you wait. It is a great feeling of accomplishment when you finally gaze upon the words "Appointment offered" and can admit to yourself that you fought for it all the way, and didn't give up even when you doubted your chances. Remember, as so many have said, that it's never over until I-Day. "Commit everything you do to the LORD. Trust him, and he will help you." --Psalm 37:5, NLT

    I hope some of next year's applicants will find this helpful. Fellow appointees and candidates, feel free to chime in with your own tips as well. To the prospective Class of 2020 (and all those afterward): reach for your dreams and don't let anyone tell you you can't make it, because you can! Strive on for God and country, and know that the forces of freedom in this world need people like you!


  2. jwest182

    jwest182 USAFA Cadet C/O 2019

    Feb 15, 2014
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    Lots of good info here, definitely matches up with my own C/O 2019 application experience.

    One thing I would add is to, as with most things at an Academy, make it a team effort. Obviously, I am not saying to copy someone else's app, but, try to reach out to other applicants in your area/school. There is a fellow applicant/appointee in a few classes with me, and it definitely made the waiting/application process easier, when there is someone else going through the same process to talk to.
    wildblueyonder likes this.
  3. gbobster

    gbobster Member

    Jan 3, 2014
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    Nice job yonder
    wildblueyonder likes this.
  4. Iwanttobeanofficer2019

    Iwanttobeanofficer2019 Member

    Jan 4, 2015
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    One thing I might add is to thank everyone who helped you get to that point every step of the way. Look for support. We all know that, if it were not for your teachers, instructors, parents etc... You would not even be considered for this high esteemed honor. Always stay humble and yes, try to keep your sanity, even though your failure seems inevitable( like mine did). It's going to be the most grueling year of your life, but the key is to never accept defeat and to fight to your very last breath. That's when God steps in; I'm sure, the others agree.
    baileydb, LindsA10 and wildblueyonder like this.
  5. baileydb

    baileydb Member

    May 27, 2014
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    What a great post! Adding my own two cents to some of WBY's AMAZING insight!

    In my experience, there were a ton of things I took on merely to become more competitive to USAFA, and ended up loving, and without having USAFA to prompt me into these activities, I never would have discovered the passion I have for some of these activities. For example, I started running Cross Country so I could say I had a varsity sport. Then I discovered through cross country that I love running! I had similar experiences with my job, Civil Air Patrol, and a variety of other activities. Was this always the case? Heck, no! I took on basketball to add another varsity sport and HATED it, but at least I got out of my comfort zone a little and learned more about myself.
    All this to say, USAFA looks at certain activities for a reason! They build you up, and at the end of the entire process, I am glad I participated in these extra curriculars not just because they got me into USAFA, but because they made me a better person.

    I can't even begin to tell you guys how much having a job helps with building social skills, teaching you responsibility and time management skills, and contributing to overall maturity. If at all possible, I HIGHLY recommend all applicants to work part time. Not just because it looks good on your application, but because it also prepares you to be a better future officer.

    This is critical. I personally know a highly-qualified candidate who is very competitive except for the fact that he did not receive a nomination, and much of that was due to the fact that he neglected to apply to all nomination sources. So please, apply to EVERY source available to you. And apply early, because it is extremely stressful when it's September and you are trying to fill out 3 different nomination applications last minute!

    This is so true! Please take time to remember every single family member, friend, teacher, coworker, or anyone else who contributed, whether it was driving you back and forth to sports, encouraging you to apply, or yes, even for grounding you when your grades were low. These are the people who did the hard things to help you get there, and this success belongs to them, too. Don't forget to thank them! For every cadet that is at USAFA, there was and is an entire community supporting that person who helped them get there!

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