I’m glad that you’re interested in improving your chances at getting accepted! At this point it’s a bit early to guess at your chances of getting into USAFA. Two years of preparation is a long time…I was not even interested in the service academies in my sophomore year of high school and did not start preparing until my junior year. So on the plus side, you have time to do a lot of things.
About class rank – yes, the academies take into account how competitive your high school is. Having said that, work on your GPA. Take Honors/AP/IB courses, and plenty of them. If you can, take dual enrollment courses at a local college. Academics are 50-60% of getting accepted to an Academy (according to USAFA’s website), so definitely push yourself academically.
On the same note, take the SAT/ACT as soon as possible. I recommend taking both – a lot of people naturally do better on one or the other. Then take them both again. Repeat as necessary.
And what score should you be aiming for on the ACT? 36. This is not to say you need a perfect score to get into an Academy (you can look up average scores of appointees on the websites of each Academy), but rather that you should always strive for the best possible score. Unless you actually get a 36 (on all sections), I suggest that you take the ACT as many times as it is offered in your area. Most of the Academies super score (accept the highest score on each section, even if they’re from different tests), so it is to your advantage to take the test multiple times.
Other ways to stand out academically:
- Take a foreign language, and not just your standard 2 years of HS Spanish. If you’re into Spanish and enjoy it, great. Keep taking it. If not, I recommend taking one of the critical languages (Arabic, Chinese, and Russian). These are highly sought after by the military.
- Do as much math as possible. Seriously, if you can get well into Calculus by the end of your senior year, that will position you well for the transition to USAFA’s (or any other Academy’s) math- and engineering-intensive program. Just make sure you’re getting A’s or high B’s…An A/B on Pre-calculus is better than a C/D in Calc 1.
- Take computer programming, IT, or something similar. In my opinion, this is quite a bit less important than the previous two suggestions, but computer science is a great addition to any transcript if you are able to take it.
- Dual Enrollment. I cannot stress this enough. Not only will DE challenge you academically and do wonders for your GPA (if you do well in your courses), but it will show USAFA that you are able to perform at the college level as a high school student. MAJOR plus.
As for other things that will help you prepare…
Marco91199 mentioned CAP – I definitely agree on that. Try to work into a leadership position in your squadron. Civil Air Patrol is all about showcasing leadership, which is (besides academics) probably the most important thing on an Academy application. Other great activities for showing/developing leadership include:
- 4-H program
- Toastmasters International (Speech/Debate club)
- Community volunteer service (LOTS of it, for a variety of different organizations)
- Captaining a sports team (like you mentioned)
- Teaching anything (DEFINITELY put teaching swimming on your application!!! That is a fantastic and unique leadership credential!)
- Student government
- Junior ROTC
- Starting a business/nonprofit organization/club (Also like you mentioned)
- Anything else where you are responsible for getting things done/are in charge of other people
Also, get a job. (If you don't already have one.) I highly recommend this! Individuals who are able to hold down a job while balancing school, athletics, and extracurriculars are the kind of people USAFA is looking for.
It sounds like you are already involved in a few leadership things. Keep it up, and take on more responsibilities whenever possible! You can ALWAYS improve as a leader. However, don’t do stuff you hate just because it “looks good.” Find the things that you enjoy (for the most part) AND that help you become a better leader.
As far as athletics go, it sounds like you’re doing pretty well. Stay in shape, train hard, don’t get hurt, etc. Train for the CFA – it’s like the SAT, weird at first but not terribly difficult.
Other miscellaneous advice:
- Be calm, confident, and humble. Don’t doubt your abilities, but always remember that there are thousands of other future USAFA/USNA/USCGA/USMA applicants out there, many of whom have better grades, SAT/ACT scores, and leadership/athletic credentials than you. An arrogant attitude will definitely show through in your ALO/BGO/Congressional interviews, so stay humble. At the same time, be proud of your achievements and don’t be afraid to showcase them.
- Keep truckin’ away. It can be hard to keep plodding along at school and all of your activities week after week. Try to think of the long-term payoff of what you’re doing now – it WILL be worth the hard work. Don’t get discouraged if people tell you “You won’t make it” and don’t get overconfident if everyone says “Of course you'll get in!” Just keep working hard and ignore all unsolicited advice.
- Apply early. Submit your preliminary applications for Summer Seminar programs, but don’t worry if you don’t get in. Start applying for nominations in the summer before your senior year, or even earlier. Plan out the application process and DO NOT leave anything until the last minute.
- Last but not least, have a Plan B. And a Plan C. And maybe a Plan D. You will be asked about this in interviews, and besides, you don’t want to try to reapply to USAFA/USNA/etc. after taking a gap year from academics. So make sure you have all your ducks…or colleges…in a row.
I hope this helps a little. Stay positive and motivated! Feel free to PM me any time, I’m always happy to talk USAFA.
Best of luck to you!