ROTC at SMC vs Academy

Discussion in 'Publicly and Privately Funded Military Colleges' started by Packer, Mar 21, 2011.

  1. Packer

    Packer Member

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    I realize not many have attended an SMC and USxA but maybe someone has one child at an SMC and another at an academy. How different is the Academy experience versus the experience at a SMC such as Texas A&M?
     
  2. bruno

    bruno Retired Staff Member

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    Packer- I don't think that you can generalize about the experiences at the Senior Military Colleges. They are pretty different places from each other. The guys I know who are Alumni of VMI and the Citadel have fairly similar experiences to each other, but A&M and Va Tech and Norwich (to a little lesser degree) are really different animals-predominantly civilian campuses and classrooms with a Corps embedded in the middle of those campuses. I couldn't and wouldn't venture to compare a SA experience to that of the typical SMC because I don't think that there is a typical SMC.
    I believe that I can tell you a lot about the life of a cadet at VMI vs USMA, but the experience at VMI vs A&M will be as different as WestPoint is from VMI. You need to be a little more specific in which ones you want to compare.

    From what I have experienced /observed for myself and several counterparts who are Woops graduates (now all retired or General officers so not exactly current!), and my son currently at VMI and several of his friends from HS who are now at West Point - VMI is a lot more physically demanding and rigorous during the Academic year than is USMA (and from what I can tell the rest of the Service Academies). They believe in the adversative method of training- while USMA has changed significantly in the last 10 years in that regard. (That's code for: they are physically, verbally and mentally going to stress you as a rat to see if you crack and see if you can function under that kind of pressure; while at USMA (especially once Beast has finished)- they are going to take a more positive approach. I have my opinion as to which is a more time tested approach- I won't share it in this post.
    At both VMI and USMA- you are "all in it together". There is nobody not in the Corps of Cadets at either location and all of you are in uniform and under regulations 24/7. At VMI - 93% of the Cadets are male- so your social life regardless of what sex you are , is pretty constrained by that percentage. (According to Playboy VMI is the lowest ranked party school in the country for what that is worth!)

    USMA cadets (for the first couple of years) actually get more off post passes than do their counterparts at VMI (My son was really irate to get pictures from one of his HS friends of a weekend in NYC while son was straining away in the Ratline with no hope fo escape). Offsetting that- a Cadet at West Point only has about a month of free time in the summer beginning in late June of his Plebe year with the rest of your time taken up with military training courtesy of the US Army at various locations around the world. By comparison VMI is on a typical civilan college school year- late August to mid May.
    Depending on the service and whether you are a scholarship cadet or not- at VMI you may have some military training in the summers after your 4C year which is the same as for every other ROTC cadet. Typically, because the ROTC detachments at VMI- especially Army and Marine- are so much larger than at other ROTC programs, they get more actual slots to attend additional training - but its the same schools (at least in the Army). As a result- IMHO USMA 2LTs are better trained in the specifics of their duties as a new lieutenant than most of their contemporaries from other sources including SMCs. The difference disappears within a relatively short time- but I firmly believe from both personal experience and observation that it is there initially.


    After commissioning- USMA is far and away the largest single source of officers in the Army- you will run into classmates throughout your career and in the early parts of your career you will be around a lot of them. VMI commissions a lot of officers- but by comparison, nowhere near as many as USMA. You will run into classmates and fellow alums everywhere- but once you have seen a USMA founders day event on a post you will understand the relative scale pretty well! With that comes some reality check- if you are an Army officer as a USMA grad you have a large and valuable support network- compared to a much smaller network from anywhere else - including VMI. There's value to that network and there is nothing wrong with recognizing it or utilizing it. Is that the magic bullet for a career- nope, but it's a nice thing to have on your side.

    I hope that this helps somewhat. As I said- it's only valid for VMI- though I suspect it's fairly similar to what a CID grad would tell you. For an Aggie or Hokie opinion- I defer to those in the know. (And for Norwich- who knows what goes on in the land of never ending winter? I definitely would defer to what Patentesq has to say!:rolleyes:)


    .
     
    Last edited: Mar 21, 2011
  3. tonk002

    tonk002 Member

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    Haha! 5 inches of the white stuff in NH today. Probably about 7 up at Norwich. Im starting to think that winter will never end.

    The one thing that I will add, and you should wait for patentesq for a full analysis, is that Vermont is very different from the rest of the SMC locations (Texas, Virginia, South Carolina, and Georgia). It is hard to compare Vermont to Virginia, in my mind. If you don't ski, Vermont doesn't have a lot to offer. Now, New Hampshire is a much more exciting place.....:thumb:
     
    Last edited: Mar 21, 2011
  4. patentesq

    patentesq Parent

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    I agree with what bruno has to say (invariably always do) and only have a few other points to add.

    1. Academics: My DS is looking to become a military doctor, and USMA has a better program than any SMC for that. If academics are important, look very hard at each of the opportunities and go with that option first. Most graduates separate from the service after their service obligation is over, and with the expected drawdown in the coming years, this will be especially important for job opportunities in the civilian sector.

    2. When my DS did an overnight recently at USMA, I was very surprised to see the role of active duty military folks helping with mundane things such as drill and ceremony. USMA is clearly a federal institution in every sense of the word. At USMA, I recall seeing a group of about 6 majors and lieutenant colonels and 1 one-star GENERAL helping the cadets get prepared for a parade. You will never find this kind of close-level, active-duty involvement at an SMC, where it is pretty much the Corps that handles these things.

    3. You also have to look very closely into seemingly little things like whether you are considered a vet once you enroll (at USMA you are, at SMC you are not), the cost of tuition, whether you qualify for military discounts at hotels while a cadet, etc. At USMA, you get to visit active-duty installations during the summers to follow an officer around, while this does not happen. Health insurance? Choice of branch upon commisssioning? Also, I think if you are at the bottom 10% of your class at USMA, you can still enjoy a solid, free education and obtain a commission. At the SMC, if you are on scholarship, you risk losing that scholarship. (I don't encourage you to expect poor performance, but it is something to consider).

    4. As for Norwich, you will never hear me say it is better than any other SMC, because it isn't. I do know that I absolutely loved my time at Norwich, and for me it was the right thing. I do know that Norwich is very generous about scholarships (likely because it wants to equalize the cost of attendance to other SMCs to remain competitive, but I don't know this for sure). The one thing about alumni networks is that all of the SMCs have very strong networks. The Norwich network is much stronger in the Northeast, while the VMI and Citadel networks are stronger in the South. As for the snow, you should know that I was on the Mountain and Cold Weather Rescue Team at Norwich, so I LOVE snow -- never bothered me. Some folks, like bruno, are MUCH MORE SENSITIVE so that's why a warmer climate worked for them! :shake::shake: Tonk002 seems to be much tougher!!

    5. As between USMA/SMC and regular ROTC, the HUGE HUGE HUGE benefit that you do not get at regular ROTC is basically guaranteed active duty assigment after graduation, by law (provided you meet the requirements). For the past 10 years, this has not been an issue. It will likely be a MAJOR issue in the next 10 years.
     
  5. Packer

    Packer Member

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    Bruno - Thanks, that is good information. Son's first choice is USAFA with USMA being a close second. The SMC he is considering is Texas A&M.
     
  6. Packer

    Packer Member

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    Patentesq - Thanks for the reply. The guaranteed active duty is one of son's reasons for looking at an SMC. As of right now his preference is an academy education but if that doesn't work out we are wondering how close an SMC education would be. He wants to study mechanical engineering and Texas A&M has a good program but from a prestige and recognition standpoint it is pretty difficult to beat an academy. His primary goal is to be an officer but one must/should look at possibilities beyond that.
     
  7. patentesq

    patentesq Parent

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    Packer, my recommendation is to apply to all of the SAs and all of the SMCs. Later, if admitted, your DS can decide where to attend. It's not that costly.
     
  8. bjkuds

    bjkuds Parent

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    Just to throw this point in the mix. DS will be studying ECE this fall . I cannot speak for a SA at all but we looked in-depth at VMI & Norwich ..a few reasons DS chose SMC were his SATs were good enough for SMC but really borderline for SA, and he still wanted the 24/7 military experience. At both VMI & Norwich the student/prof ratio is 12 to 1 (appx) in the Eng courses, so the smaller classes are a plus for him in his opinion. Cadets at both schools praise their teachers for the availability for extra help and tutoring when needed. They genuinely care about the success of the students. And in both cases we left feeling like our DS would receive a very high quality education.
    They are great options for the situation if SA is a big "IF". Honestly though DS says that he would go to SMC over any academy even if he got in both because of the "personal academic attention" factor. That's a big deal for him though. He feels he can personally succeed at a SMC but isn't as confident toward a SA, but that is just his mental make up. Not to mention that (I try to think of all possible scenarios) if he gets injured horse playing and loses and eye (so to speak) his education can continue at SMC. He can't be DQ'd medically as easily from graduating because commissioning is optional. (don't know specific policy..but that's my summation) ...Down side...it costs a lot of money but both offered decent financial aid to make it possible for us to go either way. Good Luck
     
  9. Packer

    Packer Member

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    Son is definitely planning on applying to all of the SA but after USMA I don't know his order of preference. I have mentioned some of the other SMC's other than Texas A&M but he hasn't really bit on them. I will keep urging him to consider them. He has a handful of regular schools with ROTC that is on his apply to list as well.

    I like the small class size environment but it doesn't seem to concern him, obviously if he is looking at A&M. Once a student contracts at an SMC do they have the same medical requirements as at an academy?

    Hopefully he will have decisions to make a year from now.
     
  10. bjkuds

    bjkuds Parent

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    As far as I know if he contracts with a scholarship he must medically qualify through DoDMERB in order to get the ROTC $$$. But if he doesn't qualify according to DoDMERB he can still qualify for the school if he meets the schools admission standards. DS has ADHD history and will need a waiver for the military if he receives a scholarship or chooses to commission in the military, yet for him to gain admittance to VMI it is not an issue. His grades were good and he never needed special accommodations. He was on his meds a few months too long to meet the military standard. We have yet to cross that bridge. I think the ADHD part of him is what makes smaller more appealing:smile:
     
  11. bjkuds

    bjkuds Parent

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    One additional thought Packer. If he is like my DS and not positive of the branch of military as time goes on SMC is the obvious choice if its fiscally possible. Even if he receives a scholarship via ROTC he does not have to commit to that branch until day 1 of his sophomore year and he owes them nothing in tuition if he chooses to switch except the next 3 years are at his expense (or yours) unless he is able to pick up an in school scholarship from the branch he transfers into.
    (But don't count on it)
    If he is not contracted prior he has the option to not commit to a specific branch until day 1 of his Junior year. My DS will be 19 when he matriculates and the ONLY thing he is sure of is school choice and that he wants to serve. I am baffled a bit how 17 year old HS kids know for sure what they want 5 years from now with little exposure. I don't doubt that many here do...Many have said they've wanted to join the Army since they were little or fly jets since they can remember..but I am sure that my DS is not that unusual. These are BIG decisions, and SMC's give his indecisiveness a little more wiggle room.
     
  12. Packer

    Packer Member

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    Options and flexibility are a good thing. That is definitely a plus with regards to a SMC. DS is quite certain that he wants to serve as an officer in the military. His prefereence is definitely AF but will serve elsewhere if a different door opens. When I was 17 I didn't know what I wanted to do, when I was 18 I thought I knew but I didn't until I was about 21. I was fortunate in that the right doors always seemed to open at the right time for me. It is tough for a 17 year old to say this is what I am going to do for the next 9 years of my life. I think my job is to make sure his decision is as informed as possible.
     
  13. bjkuds

    bjkuds Parent

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    Couldn't agree more. Good Luck
     
  14. patentesq

    patentesq Parent

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    As a parent, I pushed my DS to open as many doors as possible (wasn't really optional on DS's part), because I know that there are so many things that happen that are beyond his control. That said, I have left it to DS to decide which door is the best for him in the end. In my experience, having multiple options leads to better informed decisions.

    I think all of the SMCs have fairly strong programs in engineering. The reason for this is, traditionally, it was the convention for military officers to study engineering before accepting a commission.
     
  15. bruno

    bruno Retired Staff Member

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    I'm impressed- you figured it out by then. I'm going on 54 and I still keep wondering what I want to be when I grow up.
    Packer- you are so right- the best you can do is make sure that they have lots of options and opportunities because so many things turn out different than we imagine, or our priorities change. I can think of any number of guys who showed up at VMI all hot to be career soldiers- and by graduation were ducking and diving to try and avoid any committment at all- and conversely guys who were the biggest grub privates out there and are today Retired O6's and in one case still on AD as a Maj Gen. Similarly- lots of wouldbe engineers who discovered that not everyone gets the chance to build the Hoover Dam but they really like teaching history. Options & flexibility are a wonderful thing to have.:thumb:


    Good luck
     
    Last edited: Mar 22, 2011
  16. patentesq

    patentesq Parent

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    You are so right, bruno! Gen. Gordon Sullivan was a grub private at Norwich and ended up becoming Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army (4-Star General). He definitely wasn't a pinhead as a cadet. :smile:
     
  17. Packer

    Packer Member

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    "Knowing" what I wanted to do at 21 is a bit loosely termed. Since then I have stayed on the same path but not necessarily a straight one. At 21 the U-turns stopped.
    I am pushing son to open many more doors than he would on his own. He is not against that but needs a little extra motivation to lay out lots of contingency plans.
    He likes the structured environment that the military brings and would like to attend college in that type of structured environment. It sounds like the SMC's provide something similiar to the academies in that regard. I would guess that Texas A&M and Virginia Tech are a little less academy like than the other SMC's but I don't know that. We will visit some of the schools but can't visit them all so we are relying, to some extent, on people here that can give us a sense of reality.
     
  18. CadetMom777

    CadetMom777 Member

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    Packer, my son is a current cadet at Texas A&M. Feel free to PM me if you have specific questions as to what cadet life is like there.
     
  19. CadetMom777

    CadetMom777 Member

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    To share a bit about my observations as a parent on differences in the academies versus SMC's. My son is at an SMC (Texas A&M) and he has 2 friends at the Naval Academy and one at USMA. He also attended Cadet Field Training with all the West Point cadets this past summer for 4 weeks.

    For whatever reason, the SMC's are much tougher during freshman year than the academies. Plebe summer at the academies is very hard with the yelling, physical training and sleep deprivation, but then it calms down when the academic year starts. At the SMC's, the "treatment" goes on throughout most of the freshman year. Academically, you have fewer major choices at the Academies than at SMC's. The academy cadets also need to carry a heavier load each semester because they must graduate in 4 years. The SMC's give you some leeway to take an extra semester to graduate. These days, finishing an engineering degree in just four years is not very common at regular universities. The academies do give you the advantage of time in service for pay purposes. Your four years at an SMC do not count toward that.

    The big difference for A&M and Virginia Tech versus the other SMC's is that they have a Corps of Cadets within a much larger civilian school population. So they get the experience of the full-time military environment and the ability to join in social activities and clubs with a traditional college student body.
     
  20. SamAca10

    SamAca10 Ensign - DWO

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    Why not look at USMMA, otherwise known as Kings Point? I know that their graduates can choose to commission into ANY branch of the military. Just a thought....
     

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