Great advice, thank you.Now that I have received an offer of appointment from USAFA, I want to do something to give back to the community on this forum. I decided to share my experiences with applying to SA’s, and so far being accepted to one.
Some of you might have heard (I posted it somewhere else before), but I only found out about the academies late in my junior year. I completely missed the SS applications. That means that even if you are late in the game, like me, you could certainly still receive an appointment! Anyway, what really helped me out was conducting a lot of research on the academies that I was most interested in, including USAFA. I bought multiple books (not that you have to do the same, they were all basically the same), some about interview tips, some about the application process, some about the academy itself, too. If you are able, maybe it would not be a bad idea for you to get one of these books on ebay or amazon. Ebay had some really inexpensive ones, maybe around 5 dollars with free shipping. In fact, I have one of my USAFA books sitting next to me now, The Air Force Academy Candidate Book: How to Prepare, How to Get in, How to Survive by Sue Ross. It is probably the most thorough for USAFA, out of the ones that I have purchased, but if you are interested in multiple academies, then maybe How to Get into a Military Service Academy would be better for you. It is another book I read, and it offers details on all five of the service academies. Again, these books are not that different from each other, and I think that all of mine had interview tips and sample questions, so you would probably only need one if you wanted. Becoming familiar with the process really helped me, I think. Being active on this forum also proved to be extremely useful.
One of my shortfalls in applying to service academies was that I was too sporadic sometimes. I applied and completed applications in their entirety to both USAFA and USCGA because I knew that I was for sure interested in those two. Later, I changed my mind about USNA and USMMA, and I was not able to finish those applications because it got to be too late. So, if you are even considering other service academies, it would help to make the decision about applying as soon as you can, given that you are sure that you are making the right decision. Even if you are not 100% sure, I don't think that it would hurt to start those processes since you can always just not complete the application if you change your mind. For USAFA and USCGA, I did not have trouble with the deadlines since I was so motivated about them, but I think that some people do benefit from keeping track of important dates so that what happened to me regarding USNA and USMMA does not happen to you.
Speaking solely from a grades standpoint, as many applicants are worried that they will not meet a service academy’s high standards, my unweighted GPA is about 3.8, and my weighted is about 4.25. My lowest grade in high school was an 81% in honors chem, but I brought that up considerably in AP chem. (Corona certainly helped with that because my school adopted a really easy grading policy when quarantine hit). So, if some of your grades are not too good, see if you can show USAFA improvement in those specific areas. If it is too late, in that you won't have that same type of class again, you could try to find another way to show your academic prowess. I think that my SAT score helped me in this regard, since I got a 1500 with a 790 on the reading portion and a 710 in math. Try to do really well on the SAT or ACT, or even both, to see which one is a better fit for you. Maybe another unique and helpful way of showing a solid STEM foundation would be tutoring or starting a program? However, if it is already your junior year, you do not have a lot of time to start that before submitting your applications. Plus, besides showing that you have improved academically, it also would show initiative and leadership. Of course, these are just my speculations. I must also mention that grades are not everything. People have been offered appointments, falcon scholarships, and admissions to the prep school with sub par grades, so do not think that you stand no chance. As many people have said, you don’t slam dunk sitting from the sidelines.
Something else that I worked on a lot during my application period was exercising, since the CFA can bar you from being admitted to a service academy. I run cross country and track, so I trained a lot that way already, meaning that I focused my workouts on upper body and core strength. Of course, I ran too, as stopping would not have fared well for me. I met the average for one event, and was over for another, and the rest were below. I have kept training in order to continue to improve. Basically, make sure that you are ready to exceed the standards for the CFA.Something that helped me for both the CFA and USCGA’s PFE was caffeine. I rarely drink coffee, but on the day of the tests, I would drink a cup or two an houe beforehand. As long as you do not drink it consistently (as this would build up tolerance), studies have shown that it can help with running. This trick worked for me on my tests and during cross country season. That being said, if you have never had coffee before, it might make you sick. That happens to some people, so test it out a few weeks beforehand. (Experts say that you want to stop drinking coffee two weeks before your desired event.) The last thing that you want is needing to run to the bathroom, therefore flunking the CFA or PFE. And even if the weather is bad, within reason, of course, run your test. I beat my first PFE score on a cold, windy, and rainy day.
And, I am sure that you have all heard this before, but work on your backup plans. I went a bit overboard and applied to tons of colleges, mostly ones that had free applications. I have been accepted to more than 20 so far. (Plus, a lot of them have sent me free stuff for being accepted, so there's another reason for you.) Also apply for scholarships, especially if finances might be a problem for you. Some scholarships, I believe, could even be utilized while at a service academy. Just make sure you read the rules carefully.
Again, you must know this already, but you will have many interviews when applying to service academies. I had to interview with someone from USAFA, someone from USCGA, two people for one senator's nomination, a board for the other senator, and a board for my MoC. I am fairly comfortable with speaking to people since I love to talk, but not everyone is as comfortable as me. Before I had any actual interviews, I had an 'interview' with one of my grandmother's colleagues. She is pretty prolific in our area, and she interviewed me to write me a letter of recommendation for my MoC. We talked for 2 hours! I think that my experience with her allowed me to shake off some of my nerves. In all of my nomination interviews, there was at least one question I wished I had answered differently. That being said, I still received a nomination to USMMA from one senator and a nomination to USAFA from my MoC. One of my flaws is that I often worry/obsess over small details that went wrong. I gave myself a hard time about those three questions, often disregarding all that I did right, and it really did not help me since I couldn't change what was already said. Actually, one of my mistakes ended up helping me in a later interview. So, if you make a mistake, instead of fretting, try to learn from it. This piece of advice tends to hold true for everything. In my case, I think that it actually helped me receive a nomination, because I used the information from my first mistake in order to better express myself at a later interview. Also be ready to think on your feet, as I was thrown a few curve balls in most of my interviews. Make sure that if you say something, you are familiar with the concept enough to back it up or answer related questions if need be, because sometimes interviewers will ask about your answers. In my case, some of my interviews were probably easier than usual since some were conducted over Zoom due to COVID-19. This year seems to have been a unique one in regards to applying to a service academy.
Applying to any service academy, especially if you are applying to multiple, is a long and drawn out process. For me, the worst part was the waiting. I just want to reiterate that it is a bad idea to get behind with components and due dates of the applications. Find a way to keep yourself motivated. Again, I did this by researching the academies, learning about their respective branches, and watching cool videos about them. I reinforce this point because I want you all ato learn from my mistakes and not have to personally go through them yourself in order to learn. Keep track of the deadlines if need be, and make sure that you apply to all the academies where you would be willing to attend.
It is also a good idea to be supportive of other people. On the forums and in life in general, it is better to support people rather than tear them down. I was genuinely happy for the people that were appointed and received nominations, even before I received any. Being hateful and spiteful will not get you far. Of course, I have not seen anyone act like that in regards to this, and I expect that people applying to a service academy would tend away from this trend.
I must make this disclaimer, though: I am just somebody that received an appointment to USAFA and a nomination to USMMA. I am by no means an expert on admissions, so please take my advice with that in mind. I sincerely want to help all of you, but what I said might not hold true for everybody. Please reach out to me with any questions that I might have, and I will do my best to accurately answer them. Good luck!
Finally, I want to thank you all again. Every one of you on here that has responded to me, messaged me, or even just posted something that I have read, has helped me. You were all available to answer my questions, and never got annoyed even when I had a lot. Everyone on here has just been so supportive and have always rooted for positive outcomes with my applications. I genuinely think that my experience of applying would have been vastly different had I not found this forum. Thank you.