In regards to the academic element, I'm wondering how cut throat the environment is at USAFA. Do the students generally help, support, and build each other up? Or is it each man (or woman) for him or herself?
I'd say it is very collaborative. In the physics department out grades definitely depended on how everyone else did, but we still met in study groups for almost every homework set/test. There is also plenty of opportunity to get help from instructors (EI) if you don't play a sport. If you do...well it gets a little tougher and knowledgeable classmates definitely saved me several times
USAFA10 is right - especially in the Physics program.
However, for most coursework, you are responsible for all your own work, and (it used to be, back in the day) if you got "help", you had to report it.
I do wonder about your description of academics as "cutthroat." Will another student sabotage your work? Not too likely. Will you be pushed to your limit? Likely
Is the work very difficult? Sometimes (major in Physics, you'll see!).
I will say that in many classes, it would be almost unheard of to NOT study in groups. When I visit friends' rooms around ACQ, it's pretty common for there to be a bunch of people studying together in there. I also don't think it's unique to any one/multiple majors--cadets often tend to hang out in groups and academics is no exception.
As fencersmom alluded to, all help received MUST be documented appropriately, or else really bad things tend to happen. This doesn't mean it's not ok to work together, though--just that you have to say so if you did.
As far as "cutthroat"--that is probably the last word I would use to describe the peer-to-peer academic environment. It's much more like "unite together against the common enemy". Yes, there are a lot of Type A personalities who want to succeed within the Cadet Wing, but I don't think I've ever seen or ever will see it take the form of sabotaging or purposely hindering other students. The difficulty of the academics causes cadets to really lean on each other for assistance and study help.
Not true - everything is ranked, but it is not a contest in that cadets battle to outdo one another. The vast majority of cadets are willing to help their peers academically and there is very little comparing of who has the higher GPA or MPA for that matter. Most realize the goal is to graduate and get commissioned whether you are first, last or somewhere in between.
You are training to be a military officer that leads soldiers and one of your first lessons will be teamwork. The individual does not succeed if the team does not succeed. Your classmates will bend over backwards to help you and you should do the same. This is an important lesson that you will need your entire military career. You will be evaluated against your peers during your entire career and you have to understand that your success is dependent on others and you all work towards the same goal. The other thing you have to remember is that no one is perfect at everything, you will have to ask for help with something wether it be a certain class, help with fitness, how to shine your shoes.
The most amazing thing about the academies and the military as a whole is the diversity that comes together for the common goal.
There are a few exceptions and there is a derogatory name for those individuals that i will leave out of the post. Those individuals usually do not progress very far in life.
Academically, and in other areas, the academies are a very unique environment. Let me list some facts; without any commentary; and you decide for yourselves how these can and do affect you and your classmates.
1. 90%+ of all cadets are Type-A personalities; over-achievers; academically and athletics probably big fish in a little pond in high school.
2. 100% of all cadets are now "Little Fish" in a "Big Pond".
3. 90%+ of all cadets are use to getting mostly "A's" in high school.
4. 100% of all cadets from BCT on, are taught "TEAM WORK". They LIVE and BREATHE it every day.
5. Most/ALL of BCT tasks were designed that you NEEDED to help each other.
6. Study groups, extra instruction, helping each other is ENCOURAGED and part of: Integrity First, Service Before Self, Excellence in All We Do
7. Many of these over-achievers will continue to over-achieve at the academy.
8. The camaraderie and friendships by the 3rd/4th years will run deep. The classmates will have each other's backs.
9. In their Junior and Senior years, the Top-10% of each department (Major) will start surfacing. (The cream will rise)
10. Many in the Top-10% are going to be looking to "Applying" for direct "Grad-School" slots for their Masters or even PhD
Now; take all of this info, mix it in with human nature and individual's desires, and you can see why the academies are a very unique environment. These individuals have grown more in 4 years out of high school, then most young people do at much later times. But in their growth, they have found a balance on how to excel and look out for their own interests; without hurting others. They know the difference between emphasizing and promoting their positive attributes without pushing others down. This is something that most people learn many years later.
You will indeed find that the academies are VERY COMPETITIVE. But do you want to know a little secret?????? The majority of that COMPETITION, is YOU AGAINST YOURSELF!!!! If you are a successful cadet; truly part of the cadre; truly accepting the philosophy of "Integrity First, Service Before Self, Excellence in All We Do"; then you will find that YOU are your own strongest critic and competition.