Grad School after USAFA

Christcorp

10-Year Member
Nice thread Capri

Definitely a nice reward for busting your butt at the academy. The academy itself is a great advantage for those luck enough to be appointed and go through. Excellent education and a job when you graduate. And the privilege of serving you country.

But if you're willing to not "Just Get By" and actually work hard; especially in academics; a grad school slot can be extremely beneficial. And for those who don't know, getting a grad school slot doesn't affect your job at all. If you got a pilot slot, they will HOLD the slot for you until you've completed grad school.

The other benefits are:
1. If you don't plan on making the air force a career, it's nice to have a graduate degree done when you're getting out of the military. Opens up a lot more job opportunities.
2. If you plan on making the military a career, you'll eventually need a graduate degree to get promoted.
3. Getting a grad school spot directly out of the academy means you get to go to grad school FULL TIME. Meaning; you don't have to go to work for 8-10 hours a day and take night classes or online classes; and hopefully finish up in 3-4 years. You go to school full time and that's your job. You can get your master's done in 1-2 years. And if you're one of the 3 fortunate individuals to get the RAND Scholarship, you'll have your Masters AND Your PhD done in 3 years. (My son was fortunate to get the RAND Scholarship).
4. If you get married shortly after graduating the academy, having a direct grad school slot means you'll be able to spend time with your family. Nothing worse than working 8-10 hours a day; going to school at night; trying to work in a family life with the spouse, getting the kid to ballet or soccer practice, etc.

Basically, the longer you wait to get your graduate degree, the harder it becomes. Mainly because you don't have as much time in the day that you need. But also, because you've been out of "School" mode for a while, and it's tough to get back into the swing of things. So getting a grad school slot directly out of the academy, before you have rug rats running around and a lot of other personal commitments; and still being in the "School Mode"; and going to grad school FULL TIME; is the best of all worlds.

So work hard at the academy. Be the best in your department. (Your major). Apply to all the grad school slots you can. They have every type of grad school you can imagine.

One word of advice. While I'm all for getting the major at the academy that you have a passion for...... look at what future educational opportunities are available. For instance. My son majored at the academy in "Behavioral Science". Not a problem. Great field. My first degree was in Psychology. (Old school name). But in the educational and job world, you either have a Bachelor's or a PhD. There's basically NO Master's courses available. So when my son applied for all these Grad School programs, most of them came back and said they didn't have any Master's programs that built on a Behavioral Science degree. Except for the RAND Scholarship, ALL other grad school slots directly out of the academy are Master's degrees. So my son though he would not get a grad school out of the academy. Even though he was graduating #7 in the class. Fortunately, the RAND Scholarship had a slot for him. Their PhD program allowed him to work based on his Undergraduate degree in Behavioral Science. Matter of fact, his Dissertation was centered around Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Point is: Whatever your Bachelor's degree is going to be in; make sure you look ahead on what types of graduate degrees you can work towards with it. You don't want to get in a position where there are no grad degree programs available to you. If the RAND Scholarship hadn't accepted my son, (They only accept 3 individuals from the air force academy), then my son would have had no options directly out of the academy.

Anyway; work hard and best of luck.
 
Spoke to a cadet that just graduated in the class of 2016 at a career fair event who got a medical school slot. She advised that all cadets in her class received medical school slots that wanted them. Is this normal? I read that only 3% of the each class go directly to med school. It must be that not many cadets want that option?
 

MN-Dad-2016

5-Year Member
Spoke to a cadet that just graduated in the class of 2016 at a career fair event who got a medical school slot. She advised that all cadets in her class received medical school slots that wanted them. Is this normal? I read that only 3% of the each class go directly to med school. It must be that not many cadets want that option?
Our son got a 2016 medical school slot. He explained that like nearly all colleges, the majority of students get washed out along the way. Either because they lost the passion for that degree OR because of "weeder courses". If memory serves me correctly, in 2016, around 17 students applied and got into medical school. That's under 2 percent. So while there is an official cap, I don't believe that is ever needed.

With that said, you have a 5 year payback for USAFA. then another 4 years for the HPSP scholarship. Add another 3 years + if you chose a specialty. If you go with a subspecialty, you have another year of commitment. So all in, add 9 or 10 years one you get out. In other words, our sons life is planned until he is around 39 years old.

Meanwhile our DD is in San Antonio for Officers training (she just graduated as a dentist). In 4 years, she met her commitment. If she likes it, she will take the bonus and stay. If not, she dodged $440K of debt plus 7% interested accruing annually. Many of her fellow students graduated with $>$500K debt. OUCH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

IMHO, (HPSP only) makes a lot of sense for an MD. The Academy has a lot of demands that certainly were responsible for at least some potential doctors to fall short. So going the USAFA and wanting to be a Doc has some risks (unless you are exceptional and multitasking).
 
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NavyHoops

Super Moderator
5-Year Member
It sounds like USNA and USAFA are similar in their numbers. One caveat... just because someone is selected for Med School there is one more layer... acceptance to Med School. The class behind me at USNA who had 2 selected for Med School did not get into a Med School. They were then given another billet like SWO or pilot.
 
Our son got a 2016 medical school slot. He explained that like nearly all colleges, the majority of students get washed out along the way. Either because they lost the passion for that degree OR because of "weeder courses". If memory serves me correctly, in 2016, around 17 students applied and got into medical school. That's under 2 percent. So while there is an official cap, I don't believe that is ever needed.

With that said, you have a 5 year payback for USAFA. then another 4 years for the HPSP scholarship. Add another 3 years + if you chose a specialty. If you go with a subspecialty, you have another year of commitment. So all in, add 9 or 10 years one you get out. In other words, our sons life is planned until he is around 39 years old.

Meanwhile our DD is in San Antonio for Officers training (she just graduated as a dentist). In 4 years, she met her commitment. If she likes it, she will take the bonus and stay. If not, she dodged $440K of debt plus 7% interested accruing annually. Many of her fellow students graduated with $>$500K debt. OUCH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

IMHO, (HPSP only) makes a lot of sense for an MD. The Academy has a lot of demands that certainly were responsible for at least some potential doctors to fall short. So going the USAFA and wanting to be a Doc has some risks (unless you are exceptional and multitasking).
I see now why most do not go the med school route! Passion is the key! So going med school route you are normally in until retirement...20 years!
 

Christcorp

10-Year Member
I'm sure all the academies are the same, but I know at least for Air Force, the acceptance is the "Hard Part". Phase I is to go through the academy and see if they will ALLOW you to APPLY for Grad-School directly out of the academy. They look at your records; grades; class standing; etc. "That WHOLE PERSON Concept again". If they think it's good, then they ALLOW you to APPLY to grad schools.

And it MUST be a SCHOLARSHIP. I know a few individuals that specifically asked: "If I apply and don't get a scholarship to grad school, will you still let me go directly out of the academy if I PAY MY OWN WAY"? The answer was no. A scholarship is pretty much a guarantee. Private money; even from a Rich Grandparent is volatile.

And as I wrote above, my son was in a similar situation. The academy approved him going to grad school directly out of the academy, but all the grad schools / scholarships he applied to, he basically got the same answer: We'd take you if you had a different major. So if it hadn't been for the RAND scholarship and grad school, my son would have been one of those where the academy/air force approved it, but he wouldn't have been accepted to a school. Thus, he would have just gone onto the job he was holding onto. Someone who's planning on being a doctor, lawyer, or a job directly related to the Grad School, might be looking at a career change if not accepted by the schools they're applying to.
 

MN-Dad-2016

5-Year Member
I see now why most do not go the med school route! Passion is the key! So going med school route you are normally in until retirement...20 years!
Not necessarily. In case you didn't know, your 20 years of service only starts after you become a doctor for the Air Force. In our son's case it works as follows: 4 years USAFA (age 22), 4 years medical school (age 26), 3 years residency (age 29), subspecialty, add a year or 2. Now you are age 29-31. THEN you have 5 years USAFA payback + 4 years HPSP payback. In order to retire, you have to add 20 years once you become a specialist at age 29-31. I can say with (near) certainty, our son won't want to have 20 years of disruption on top of all of that medical school. Also, as a MD specialist (not so much as GP dentist), the ROI is pretty costly when comparing wages to pay outside of the military).. Meaning, a Midwest cardiologist for instance can make $400K+. MAYBE $200K in the AF (excluding resigning bonuses). It's an apples-orange comparison and infinitely more involved to calculate. But you can see that you don't want to study ROI if you take the Academy path + med school. ;) My free advice was for him to punt on USAFA for his UG. He pretty much had 100% paid for at the UofMN anyways. But he didn't do it for the money... He wanted something radically different.

In case you didn't know, "retirement" for a doctor is like any other 20 year officer; 1/2 your rank wage. So the majority of a doc's income is specialty pay + pre-tax housing allowances + re-signing bonuses. None of those extras are included in your 1/2 wage annuity for the rest of their life. Hence, most people who "retire" in the military don't really unplug like a 70 year old but rather go back to work.
 
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USAFA10s

USAFA Class of 2012 Kirtland, AFB
10-Year Member
Ah, the professional student career field When I finish my 4 year BS to PhD in applied physics program in one more year, I will have been in the Air Force (counting time as a cadet) for 10 years, with eight in school. Talk about a good deal.
 
Ah, the professional student career field When I finish my 4 year BS to PhD in applied physics program in one more year, I will have been in the Air Force (counting time as a cadet) for 10 years, with eight in school. Talk about a good deal.
Sorry for intruding in the conversation, but may I ask what your field of study within physics is? I'm interested in a technical major at the Academy and physics seems like a good fit, but I'd definitely want to go to grad school after my 4 years there. How was your school life? Did you have time to participate in extracurriculars, or enjoy yourself? I've heard that physics is notoriously the hardest major, how do you feel about that? Thanks!
 

USAFA10s

USAFA Class of 2012 Kirtland, AFB
10-Year Member
Sorry for intruding in the conversation, but may I ask what your field of study within physics is? I'm interested in a technical major at the Academy and physics seems like a good fit, but I'd definitely want to go to grad school after my 4 years there. How was your school life? Did you have time to participate in extracurriculars, or enjoy yourself? I've heard that physics is notoriously the hardest major, how do you feel about that? Thanks!
I have a focus in electro-optics, specifically things like radiometry and detection of signals using passive sensors (I.e. cameras) but there are many options available at AFIT. I was an IC tennis player my first two years, a double math/physics major and I also played in the cadet orchestra and led the show choir band, so it is possible, but yes, physics is the hardest major. The only other majors that might dispute that would be Astro or aero, but I think anyone who has tried both would agree physics is significantly more difficult. You have to be willing to work your butt off significantly more that most of your classmates. The good news with physics is if you want to be an Air Force physicist, you probably will be. Also if you want to go to AFIT (best deal ever) and you make it through the physics program, you'll probably get a slot. Everyone in my class that wanted to go to AFIT for physics went.

I'd wait till you take the introductory physics class and go to majors night (where all the juniors and seniors will usually be there to talk about their research projects). If you love and are pretty good at the former, and find some area of interest (preferably many) at the latter, then it may be a good fit. Proceed at your own risk though, we started with 25 and graduated...12, lost something like 5 on the first homework set in the first true majors class.
 
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Thanks for the detailed response! It's reassuring to know that you were still involved in other activities, I'm also looking at IC sports and wasn't sure if you could balance that and school, but it looks like it's possible. I tend to get ahead of myself but it's nice to have some info on my possible career paths. I'll focus on BCT for now but will definitely keep this in mind during the school year. Thanks!
 

Christcorp

10-Year Member
Not necessarily. In case you didn't know, your 20 years of service only starts after you become a doctor for the Air Force. In our son's case it works as follows: 4 years USAFA (age 22), 4 years medical school (age 26), 3 years residency (age 29), subspecialty, add a year or 2. Now you are age 29-31. THEN you have 5 years USAFA payback + 4 years HPSP payback. In order to retire, you have to add 20 years once you become a specialist at age 29-31. I can say with (near) certainty, our son won't want to have 20 years of disruption on top of all of that medical school. Also, as a MD specialist (not so much as GP dentist), the ROI is pretty costly when comparing wages to pay outside of the military).. Meaning, a Midwest cardiologist for instance can make $400K+. MAYBE $200K in the AF (excluding resigning bonuses). It's an apples-orange comparison and infinitely more involved to calculate. But you can see that you don't want to study ROI if you take the Academy path + med school. ;) My free advice was for him to punt on USAFA for his UG. He pretty much had 100% paid for at the UofMN anyways. But he didn't do it for the money... He wanted something radically different.

In case you didn't know, "retirement" for a doctor is like any other 20 year officer; 1/2 your rank wage. So the majority of a doc's income is specialty pay + pre-tax housing allowances + re-signing bonuses. None of those extras are included in your 1/2 wage annuity for the rest of their life. Hence, most people who "retire" in the military don't really unplug like a 70 year old but rather go back to work.
I was asked a question about retirement and grad school, and wanted to clarify something. MN-Dad is correct about what he wrote above about doctors, grad school, and retirement.

But, for others getting their master's or PhD like from RAND or AFIT, your time in school DOES COUNT towards your active duty and retirement eligibility time. Example. My son went to RAND directly out of the academy. It's a 3 year PhD program. (You also get your Master's along the way). Anyway; 2 years into it, he was promoted to 1st Lieutenant. A year later, he finished and got his PhD. He then went to his "Real Air Force Job". He had 3 years of active duty under his belt, and it will count towards his 20 years. 1 year after graduating RAND, he had 4 years in and was promoted to Captain.

So just a little clarification; all of you interested in grad school out of the academy, for the most part, 99% of you; the grad school times counts as active duty and towards your retirement. Of course, instead of a traditional 5 year pay back of active duty for going to the academy, they will add another year or two on for letting you go to grad school. But ALL OF THAT TIME is active duty and does apply towards your 20 years retirement.
 

hornetguy

10-Year Member
The grad school additional commitment is not as trivial as suggested. It's a three year pay-back per year in school that begins after completing the program. So while the USAFA commitment is concurrent while in school, the new commitment adds up. That lovely RAND program (of which I also graduated) now requires a 9 year commitment after graduation for three years of school.

For those who are dead set on pilot, few want to discuss the inherent risk of delaying training. Things can change with you or the Air Force during that delay. While rare, it happens. Like it did for me. A medical reg change while I was at RAND took me from fully pilot qualified to permanently disqualified despite no change in my medical state. Most likely, had I not gone to RAND, I would currently be a pilot somewhere on active duty. Instead, I'm a (happy) civilian analyst. But for awhile, losing a childhood dream the day before I was to step foot in the cockpit of a T-6 hurt for quite some time. I don't regret my choices now, but it would be a disservice to cadets and candidates not to warn them of this risk.

And a short story combination of where commitments and risk combined to make for quite the headache. When I signed my RAND commitment form (you sign a form outlining your commitment for taking assignments that impose further commitment), the policy was 5 years post-graduation for PhD programs. I signed a 5-year commitment. After I graduated and was waiting to begin pilot training, AFIT came back and said, "Whoops, you should have had a 9 year commitment, we updated your files to show commitment to 2022 instead of 2018." At first I was like, "that seems very wrong, but whatever, my pilot commitment will be 10 years so its irrelevant anyway." But I started thinking more about it and, being the senior LT and more mature 25-year old self (haha!), I realized that sh*t happens and I need to protect myself. I contested the increase with AFIT who basically said tough, deal with it. Knowing that it's kind of illegal to impose an extended commitment after signing one contract and going through the program before being informed, "we made a mistake," I appealed to the Air Force Board for the Correction of Military Records (BCMR). They concurred with me and corrected my records back to a 2018 commitment. Sidenote: MANY 2009/2010 grads during this period received similar changes from AFIT, it was quite a boondoggle. At the time, I was happy but figured it didn't matter a whole lot. Then I was medically DQ'd from flying, contested the DQ for a year, and had to decide what to do when I knew I was no longer going to be a pilot. Since it was the end of 2014, I petitioned to separate instead of reclass into a new career field. With a 2018 commitment rather than 2021, the Air Force was willing to let me separate since they needed to downsize my year group anyway. I learned some very important lessons in those few years. One about decisions and risk, particularly when you delay a dream for a great opportunity and what that may cost you. The second was to always ensure your records and files are correct, even if you think the mistake won't have repercussions (mitigating risk again). You should always have back-up plans.

At the end of the day, looking back, I don't regret my choice to go to grad school. The experience fundamentally changed my world-view, my intellect, and provided me invaluable tools that have led to significant success as a civilian. During my short time on active duty, I found that I did not really fit in to the Air Force anyway but I am thankful for all the training and opportunities that my service opened up and taught me. I would do it all over again.
 

Cerberi

Member
Regarding Medical School - it was explained to me by USNA folks that they have 12-15 slots per year allocated for people wanting to attend medical school and pretty much everyone that applies gets one of those slots. They are not all that competitive (though getting into medical school is) because the vast majority of people that enter service academies do not do that with the goal of attending medical school afterwards.

No doubt the GPA and the MCAP have to be very high but the pool of people competing for medical school from SA's is pretty limited, so if you qualify - it is not super competitive to obtain the slot.
 

AFrpaso

USAFA Alumnus
5-Year Member
I'm heading to Purdue in the fall. As most have said, you really cannot pass up this deal:

USAFA Service commitment: 60 months
Grad School Program Length: 15ish months
Grad School Service commitment: 45ish months

Since these service commitments run concurrently they will end around the same time. Obviously there's a few months fudge factor what with 60 days and all. Total service commitment extends to 62ish months. Five years down the line who knows if I'll be leaning towards staying in or separating (or even if new AF policies come into play). Keeping my nose to the grindstone was tough, but oh so totally worth it when I finally got the news!
 

MN-Dad-2016

5-Year Member
Regarding Medical School - it was explained to me by USNA folks that they have 12-15 slots per year allocated for people wanting to attend medical school and pretty much everyone that applies gets one of those slots. They are not all that competitive (though getting into medical school is) because the vast majority of people that enter service academies do not do that with the goal of attending medical school afterwards.
I'd modify your accurate point (nearly everyone who applies gets in). I was told over 20 potential med school students were washed out along the way. Meaning, 40 might have wanted to attend medical school in their 1st year, but as time went on, more and more dropped. So yes, the people who were left standing all got in. But for many others, they had to modify their dreams (just like other colleges) and are doing something else.

Also, one of the reason our son chose USAFA over USMA was that 50% of the student body wants to be pilots and thereby reducing the total competition for these allocated slots. So statistically speaking, I would have thought USNA would have more potential medical competiton (at the beginning) than USAFA. But maybe not...
 
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Christcorp

10-Year Member
I'm glad "Commitments" have been included in this thread. Obviously, grad school, whether for a Master's or a PhD, is indeed a very attractive offer. And MN-Dad and Hornet have both brought up some very important information. And those commitments do indeed come into play; depending on your goals and dreams when it comes to the military. Indeed; if you have a pilot slot, with a 10 year commitment instead of the traditional 5 year from the academy, then adding on grad school can indeed make your commitment a bit longer. Taking the concurrent part into the equation, and using as an example a pilot slot and going to Rand, you are looking at a 13-16 total commitment. (There are other factors, that's why there is a 3 year deviance).

This is what my son was looking at when he was at RAND. He had a pilot slot. In the end, he turned down the pilot slot and was accepted into Special Operations as a Special Tactics Officer. While that doesn't have the 10 year commitment of a pilot; it does have a 6 year commitment because of the length of training. Add on the commitment for his PhD at RAND; and he's still looking at a 12+ year total commitment.

So, the concurrent part of commitments can be confusing. And you can have more than one happening at the same time. E.g. commitment for pilot but also for grad school. And for the individual who has plans to make the military a career and stay at least 20; it doesn't matter AT ALL. However; as someone who spent 20+ in the air force; who in the BEGINNING NEVER THOUGHT I'd stay 20 years; and as an ALO; I can tell you for a fact: Any plans you have coming into the academy basic training, WILL CHANGE at least 100 times before you leave the academy. What job you want, a career, travel, family, etc. It will all change a number of times.

So as has been mentioned. Getting a grad slot out of the academy is a great perk. It is going to save you a LOT OF MONEY. It's going to open up doors for you both in the military and when you eventually leave. But NOTHING IS FREE!!! Same with medical school; pilot training; Special Tactics Officer training; and a host of other careers. Each of these costs the military a lot of money. In return, they want an EXTENDED COMMITMENT from you. Add on grad school, and you can easily be looking at a 10+ year commitment in the air force. Add on certain jobs; and depending on the concurrent part of it, you could be looking at 12-15 years minimum. Just make sure you check into it before committing yourself to deeply.
 
Seems to be pretty confusing with regard to the various service obligations, whether they run concurrently, when they start running, when counted towards retirement, etc. Anyone happen to know if there is a particular combined source where the various graduate school options and their related conditions might be listed. Any help would be appreciated - have a great day!
 

Capt MJ

10-Year Member
Seems to be pretty confusing with regard to the various service obligations, whether they run concurrently, when they start running, when counted towards retirement, etc. Anyone happen to know if there is a particular combined source where the various graduate school options and their related conditions might be listed. Any help would be appreciated - have a great day!
Depending on retention rates, the concurrent-consecutive requirement can change, as well as programs funded and degree areas funded, from year to year.

Most of the time, the Services want advanced degrees that relate to that Service’s mission areas. Retention is low - sure, we’ll fund Tuition Aid for your M.S. in Ranch Business Management, that you want to get via distance learning during your tour as an instructor pilot (happened to a USNA sponsor alumni of ours). Retention up, everybody staying in, not so flexible.

What is applicable today may not be true next year, in 4 years, and so on. As always, “needs of the Service” trumps all.
 
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