How to Boost your WCS

Discussion in 'Military Academy - USMA' started by GoArmy2022, Feb 16, 2018.

  1. GoArmy2022

    GoArmy2022 USMA 2022

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    INTRODUCTION
    We hope our school's college advising programs are as reputable as they seem, but this is unfortunately seldom the case. Because not many counselors tailor their programs specifically for Service Academy applicants, I decided to type up an informational segment on what I wish I knew while I was applying to West Point.

    As a serious USMA applicant, you've probably heard the merit percentages a thousand times: 60% Academic, 30% Leadership, and 10% Physical. I'm going to break these down a little and suggest ways that you can raise your WCS, or whole candidate score, regardless of whether you are a junior in high school or college re-applicant running out of time or a middle school student with an abundance of it.

    Keep in mind that this information is all available for public knowledge online. I have simply synthesized it for easy comprehension and access for candidates. I'm not giving away any secrets or any private knowledge I have as someone who's been through the process. That doesn't mean that reading this will be a waste of your time at all, though, because this is information that not everybody knows. Some of it I wish I had known earlier. As an applicant to the United States Military Academy, this is my gift to you. I wish I could give you more, but I hope this enables you to actively seek opportunities to become a better West Point candidate. I can confidently promise you that, through this process, you absolutely cannot lose.

    Whether you get into West Point on your first try, fifth, or not at all you'll become a better leader through simply trying.

    ACADEMIC

    These are NOT listed in any order of importance.

    GPA
    If you have years to work on your USMA application, it's key to remember that your ideal cumulative (unweighted) GPA should be somewhere around the 3.75 ballpark. Of course, this is 1). an estimate and 2). an average, meaning that it changes slightly from year to year and that some candidates have lower or higher grade point averages. If you don't have as much time to work on your application and had less-than-ideal grades the years before, you are not alone. In fact, this is something I experienced myself. Work on it, but know your GPA does not matter as much as your class rank and course load anyway. However, you should not be doing poorly in your classes if you want to go to West Point.

    COURSE LOAD
    This applies to all grade levels. You should be taking courses that challenge you personally. While some years USMA has the goal of expanding the humanities department and may demonstrate interest in candidates who excel in language, don't forget that West Point is a STEM school. Take calculus if you can and make sure you have the required years of lab science under your belt. Try to do well in physics, chemistry, trig, and geometry. If you're like me and fall a little behind in the sciences, congratulations: you get to work extra hard. West Point likes to make sure you challenge yourself academically. Don't take easy classes to coast through your years of high school or college. Take classes that replicate the ones you'll be taking if you are admitted to West Point. AP classes are outstanding, but keep in mind that you will not be able to transfer some of your credits to USMA.

    SAT/ACT SCORES
    Scoring well on these tests is essential if you seek admission to West Point. Of course, there are some candidates with lower scores, though these candidates usually are recruited athletes or perform extremely well in the other categories to "make up" for low standardized test scores. However, I'll tell you that these things are actually some of the easiest to improve and make an instrumental difference in your competitiveness level if you do well enough. A solid SAT or ACT score can help mitigate the disadvantage that a lower GPA will give you as a candidate. Additionally, if your school absolutely does not rank, your score percentile will act as your class rank...that means that it can double up as two important aspects of your application. Take and retake over and over again. If you're like me, you won't get a score above 30 the first time and will have to use study tools. There are reliable and free places online you can access to help or you can pay for a tutor. If you've only taken one type of test and did poorly on it, try the other. My SAT was lower than I expected (so much that I believed I didn't have a shot at West Point at all), but my ACT was significantly better. This is the case for many candidates, or vice versa. Take them both, as I can't emphasize enough how important it is to perform well on these. Yes, they are four or five hours long. Yes, they are a giant pain in the a**, but do you want to go to West Point badly enough to take them over and over again?

    Make sure you take the test with writing, as USMA requires a writing score for admissions.
    Here are the SAT/ACT breakdowns for the Class of 2021, including scores used only as basis of admission:

    (If you are reading these on a mobile device, they may be a little screwed up. Here is the link for your reference if this is indeed the case: https://www.usma.edu/oir/Class profiles/Class of 2021.pdf)

    ACT Scores
    Considering these averages, the cumulative average is roughly a score of 29 for the Class of 2021. This is unofficial information, though the following is official:

    Range.........English...........Math..........Science..........Reading.........Writing
    31-36............50%...............35%..............37%................61%................12%
    26-30............33%..............49%..............42%................27%................39%
    21-25.............16%...............16%..............21%.................11%................41%
    16-20..............1%.................0%...............0%...................1%.................8%
    11-15...............0%.................0%...............0%...................0%................1%
    Averages.........29.................28................27.....................30................29

    SAT Scores
    Considering these averages, the cumulative average is roughly a score of 1260 for the Class of 2021. This is unofficial information, though the following is official:

    Range Critical Reading Math
    700-800...................17%...........................18%
    600-699...................37%...........................49%
    500-599...................43%...........................31%
    400-499....................4%.............................1%
    300-399....................0%.............................0%
    Averages...................611.............................648

    Compare your scores. How would you fair in the class of 2021? If you're not sure, take the test early to determine your areas of improvement. You can even take them in middle school.

    CLASS RANK
    Some schools do not offer class rank. Keep in mind that even some schools that say they don't offer class rank actually rank their students and provide these ranks to colleges, but not to you or other students. A larger class + a higher rank = a better score. If your school absolutely does not rank, your SAT or ACT percentiles will be used to calculate your class rank.

    To see where USMA's Class of 2021 fell in their high school classes, check out this data from their official class profile:

    Rank in HS Class..............% of Candidates
    Top fifth (100-80%).......................67%
    Second fifth (79-60%)....................21%
    Third fifth (40-59%).......................10%
    Forth fifth (20-39%)........................0%
    Bottom fifth (0-19%)........................0%

    To compare, here are recent samples of test percentiles:

    ACT Percentiles
    These are the most recent percentiles available and come from tests taken in 2017 and 2018. Data taken from PrepScholar, not from a USMA source.

    Score.......Percentile
    36..............100 (Top fifth begins)
    35...............99
    34...............99
    33...............98
    32...............97
    31................96
    30...............94
    29...............92 (Estimated average)
    28...............89
    27...............86
    26...............82 (Top fifth ends)
    25...............78 (Second fifth begins)
    24...............74

    Noticed I stopped giving you information about ACT percentiles below the 24 composite. This is because scores below 24 are non-competitive. Also notice that the estimated average ACT score for the Class of 2021 is still in the top fifth of scores.
    Go on! See how your ACT score compares to the national pool and what your class rank is if your school does not assign them.

    SAT Percentiles
    These are the most recent percentiles available and come from tests taken in 2017 and 2018. Data taken from PrepScholar, not from a USMA source.

    Score...................Percentile
    1500-1600..............99+ (Top fifth begins)
    1450-1500..............98-99
    1400-1450..............95-98
    1350-1400..............92-95
    1300-1350..............88-92
    1250-1300..............82-88 (Top fifth ends at approx. 1240, estimated average is 1260)
    1200-1250..............76-82 (Second fifth begins)
    1150-1200..............68-76

    Notice I stopped giving you information about SAT percentiles below the 1150 composite. This is because scores lower than this are non-competitive. Also notice that the estimated average SAT score for the Class of 2021 is still in the top fifth of scores.
    Go on! See how your SAT stacks up against the national pool and what your class rank is if your school does not assign them.

    You probably figured out by reading the percentile charts that there is a much larger difference in percentile gaps the lower scores get. This makes it especially important for you to score high on your SAT or ACT, as if it doubles as your class rank, that means you get more WCS points.

    Keep in mind that USMA superscores your tests in your best interest. If you take a standardized test and have a terrible day on the math section but score perfectly on the reading, your fantastic reading score will be paired with a different math score, provided you have a better one. This means it behooves you to take, retake, and send all of your retakes with higher scores to West Point!

    LEADERSHIP
    When applying the RAND study, I assigned numbers to the categories to make it easier for candidates to see where they stand. The study itself does not contain category numbers aside from WCS point values.

    According to the RAND study on West Point admissions, the leadership category is broken up into 3 parts of equal importance, weighted at 10% each to add up to the total 30% that the leadership category contributes to your application. I will break down these three parts here.

    ATHLETIC ACTIVITIES SCORE
    This seems like it's in the wrong place. An athletic activities score in the leadership section? Why does it work this way?
    You've probably heard the phrase "quality over quantity." This is how your AAS (athletic activities score) works. You earn points for athletics in the leadership section because varsity letters and captain positions count towards it and thus earn you more WCS points than simply being a member of the sport. Additionally, being involved in specific sports (I will tell you which shortly) will net you more points than belonging to others. Keep in mind this does not mean you should join these specific sports just for WCS points.

    So, what's worth the most points? The list from RAND sorted activities into 7 categories to calculate a candidate's AAS:

    Top Category (worth 800 WCS points according to RAND):
    An outstanding athlete (All-American, 1st team All-Area selection in baseball/softball, basketball, or football) and athletic rating of either 1 or 2 in the sport in which honors are received or a CFA score greater than 650 (unfortunately, I do not know how to score the CFA and RAND did not publish it to my knowledge).

    Category 2 (worth 700 WCS points according to RAND):
    1st team All-Area selection in a single sport (other than baseball/softball, basketball, or football). Captain of baseball/softball, basketball or football team. Team captain in two or more sports (other than baseball/softball, basketball, or football, for class size over 100).

    Category 3 (worth 600 WCS points according to RAND):
    Captain of team (other than baseball/softball, basketball, or football). Varsity letter in baseball/softball, basketball or football. Varsity letter in two or more sports (other than baseball/softball, basketball, or football).

    Category 4 (worth 500 WCS points according to RAND):
    Varsity letter in a single sport (other than baseball/softball, basketball, or football).

    Category 5 (worth 400 WCS points according to RAND):
    Participation in varsity sport without a letter.

    Category 6 (worth 300 WCS points according to RAND):
    Participation in junior-varsity and other team sports (excluding intramurals).

    Bottom category (worth 200 WCS points according to RAND):
    Candidates with no participation and no evidence of interest in sports.

    According to the same study, which used data from 2001 to figure this number, candidates who were offered appointments to USMA had an average WCS of 6,012.33 while rejected candidates had an average WCS of 5,399.53. If this is still true, a candidate with a 700 AAS has a significant advantage over a candidate with a 300 AAS.

    Find which category you belong in. If you're a junior or senior in high school and still belong in Category 5 or below, try your best to step it up!

    Want to see how you compare to West Point's class of 2021? Here are some of their AAS stats:

    Varsity athletics......1224 (about 98.7% of admitted candidates)
    Varsity letter winner.....1078 (about 86.9% of admitted candidates)
    Team captain......827 (about 66.7% of admitted candidates)

    Out of the total 1240 admitted candidates, you can see here that an overwhelming majority of them participated in varsity athletics and probably belonged in category 5, while the majority of candidates in general belonged in category 4 and above. Do you have what it takes to join them?

    EXTRACURRICULAR ACTIVITIES SCORE
    The EAS (extracurricular activities score) has a broader spectrum than the AAS and thus candidates have more opportunities to improve it. Some activities in particular can raise the EAS incredibly high. Like the AAS, the RAND study chunks the EAS into 7 categories to calculate it:

    Top Category (worth 800 WCS points according to RAND):
    An outstanding young person with quadruple participation or honors and awards on selected extracurricular activities (each worth 600 or more points).

    Category 2 (worth 700 WCS points according to RAND):
    Student council president. Triple participation or honors and awards in selected extracurricular activities (each worth 600 points). Participation in Boys/Girls Nation.

    Category 3 (worth 600 WCS points according to RAND):
    High school class president. Editor-in-chief of a school publication. Participation in Boys/Girls State, president of National Honor Society or recipient of a national or state award. Eagle Scout (Boy Scouts) or Gold Award (Girl Scouts). Triple participation or honors and awards in selected extracurricular activities (each worth 500 points).

    Category 4 (worth 5oo WCS points according to RAND):
    Holder of one or more elective offices in moderately selective organizations. Participation in activities or recipient of awards in moderately selective organizations. Holder of a private pilot’s license.

    Category 5 (worth 400 WCS points according to RAND):
    Participation in activities or recipient of awards in organizations with limited selectivity.

    Category 6 (worth 300 WCS points according to RAND):
    Some participation in organized activities.

    Category 7 (worth 200 WCS points according to RAND):
    Some participation in organized activities.

    You can see that the EAS has a ton of flexibility, as it is not as easy to apply these points to yourself as it is with the AAS.

    The EAS also emphasizes the importance of Boys/Girls State and Nation, which are key to earning WCS points (particularly for candidates who are not Boy or Girl Scouts) for the EAS. Notice that being an officer in your class is also of importance. The above categories give you more than just an estimation of what your EAS is: they give you a working knowledge of what West Point wants in a candidate and what you can do to be this candidate.

    What about the Class of 2021? Let's take a look at their extracurriculars so that you can compare yourself:

    Boys/Girls State Delegate........346 (about 27.9% of admitted candidates)
    Student Body President......149 (about 12% of admitted candidates)
    School Publication Staff.....99 (about 7.9% of admitted candidates)
    Yearbook Editor or Co-Editor.....140 (about 11.3% of admitted candidates)
    Debating.....149 (about 12% of admitted candidates)
    Dramatics.....140 (about 11.3% of admitted candidates)
    Scouting Participants.....223 (about 18% of admitted candidates)
    Eagle Scout (men) or Gold Award (women).....138 (about 11.1% of admitted candidates)

    FACULTY APPRAISAL SCORE
    The final portion of the leadership score is the FAS (faculty appraisal score), which is based on the SOEs (school official evaluations) that West Point requests through the candidate kit when a candidate is activated.

    According to the RAND study, teachers are asked something like the following questions when filling out the SOEs:

    Does the candidate...

    1. show interest and concern for the welfare of others?
    2. work effectively with others toward group goals?
    3. influence others in a positive manner?
    4. communicate effectively in face-to-face discussion?
    5. communicate effectively in written work?
    6. set an example of good conduct for others?
    7. set high standards for own performance in a number of activities?
    8. maintain composure and perform effectively under pressure?
    9. adjust to demanding schedule of activities without neglecting school work?
    10. seek academic challenge beyond that required by normal course work?
    11. reach sound, logical conclusions based on analysis of facts?
    12. accept full responsibility for own actions?

    In addition, the instructor is asked to write how he or she feels the candidate will perform at the college level in the faculty member’s subject-matter area. (These words are verbatim from the RAND study and are not my own).

    The only part of the FAS that is up to you is which teachers you select to fill out these SOEs. West Point requires all of these teachers to have taught you sometime between 9th and 12th grade. You will need a physics or chemistry teacher, an English teacher, a math teacher, and a PE or wellness teacher to fill these out. Choose wisely!

    ESSAYS
    I am not sure which category West Point admissions puts essays into, but my guess is that it belongs in the leadership section rather than the academic (hence its placement).

    Please note that the only reason I am allowed to share these essay prompts with you is because they are part of the RAND study and are published already for public knowledge. I am not going to tell you what the word limit is or which prompt(s) may change because I do not want to violate any of West Point's rules. I will also not be sharing any part of my essays with you, as this is private information.

    Here are the three prompts listed:

    1. Explain why you want to attend the United States Military Academy and serve on active duty as an Army officer.
    2. What are the most important qualities in becoming a successful USMA cadet and a successful Army officer?
    3. West Point and the Army are committed to the idea that respect for others and an understanding of diversity are important leadership traits. Why will you be successful in working with leaders, peers, and subordinates of a gender, color, ethnicity, and/or religion different from your own?

    All I am allowed to tell you is what is on RAND, which is that you will write three short essays and that these were the prompts when the study was conducted.

    PHYSICAL
    That dreaded CFA is actually 10% of your application. If you think about it, that's a lot. You should try your best to meet the maximums, but most of the candidates whom I know scored below the averages.

    The CFA (candidate fitness assessment) is about a 40-minute test conducted to measure various aspects of your physical aptitude. It tests 6 areas:

    1. basketball throw from kneeling position
    2. cadence pull-ups or the flexed-arm hang (women’s option)
    3. shuttle run
    4. modified sit-ups
    5. push-ups
    6. a one-mile run.

    It is not an easy test, as the events are evaluated one after the other...candidates are prone to exhaustion during the last couple of events and it is common for one to come short of his or her full potential on especially the push-ups and mile run. That being said, here is the link to the instructions: https://www.usma.edu/admissions/Shared Documents/CFA_Instructions.pdf. Practice it in real time...there is no better way to prepare.

    If you want to take a practice CFA to see how you match up with admitted candidates and cadets, here are the maximums and averages. Please note that the minimums are not published:

    MAXIMUMS
    Gender............Basketball Throw.......Pull-ups.......Shuttle.......Sit-ups.....Push-ups.....Mile Run
    Male.....................102 ft.........................18..............7.8 sec..........95..............75...............5:20
    Female..................68 ft...........................7...............8.6 sec..........95..............50..............6:00

    AVERAGES
    Gender.......Basketball Throw....Pull-ups.....Arm Hang....Shuttle.......Sit-ups.....Push-ups....Mile Run
    Male..................67 ft....................9................N/A............9.1 sec..............72..............54............6:43
    Female..............41 ft....................3..............19.8 sec.........10 sec...............68.............33............8:06

    CONCLUSION
    I truly hope you found this compiled data useful.

    I want to stop spewing facts at you because I think the tons of numbers I just wrote are will suffice. Instead, I'd like to close by telling you why I wrote this the way I did. Instead of telling you where exactly you should be in the process, I gave you goals, and for some of these categories I did not suggest anything at all. This is because, despite the military mold we'll all be fit into, all candidates are different. People out there are going to tell you that you need a perfect ACT and to be a football star to get into West Point. This isn't true at all.

    Of course, I have much to learn, and I'll get back to you when I do. However, I have learned this:

    If you are serious about wanting to get into West Point or any Service Academy, you will reflect on who you are and catch glimpses of the leader you are becoming. There isn't a journey better fit for someone like you, who wants to serve the United States as a skilled officer.

    There's a long road and a really damn long gray line ahead of you. Good luck.
     
    Last edited: Feb 16, 2018
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  2. willp2022

    willp2022 Member

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    Can you leave a link to the RAND article
     
  3. prospective2019

    prospective2019 USMA 2023

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    Thank you for the invaluable information on the WCS. We are often told the basic 60/30/10 split but no more details and this is very helpful. Out of curiosity, was this the RAND study you were referring to? I've never seen it before and I might have to give it a read!
     
  4. GoArmy2022

    GoArmy2022 USMA 2022

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    https://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/research_reports/RR700/RR723/RAND_RR723.pdf
     
  5. bookreader

    bookreader Member

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    This is brilliant. It would have been very helpful to me and my son when he was in high school. He was home schooled so I was his guidance counselor and none of my other children attended a service academy so I had no experience with what SAs are looking for (aside from what I read on WP's website).

    My son did not have perfect SAT scores (never took the ACT), perfect CFA scores nor perfect anything else for that matter. He was just a teen who really wanted to attend WP (and become an army officer) and was willing to give the attempt his all. He enjoyed his high school years and did not attempt to create a resume to 'dazzle' WP but rather sought to get the most out of his high school years while developing leadership skills and lots of good memories.
     
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  6. hopeful2023

    hopeful2023 Member

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    Based on the AAS, EAS and CFA having 800 maximum points each and applicants being appointed with an overall average WCS score of 6,012, do you think the overall maximum points are on an 8,000 maximum point scale? My reasoning is simply that if three sections worth 10% each are maxed at 800 points each, then it would reason that the overall WCS maximum point score would be 8,000. If this is accurate, then the FAS is also 800 points and the academic portion would be worth 4,800 points but not sure if the GPA/Class Rank would be equally weighted as SAT/ACT at 2,400 each or if (as I have read on this forum in other places) the SAT/ACT is more heavily weighted. Again, this is all a lot of mental gymnastics but is interesting to me. Thoughts of others??
     
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  7. GoArmy2022

    GoArmy2022 USMA 2022

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    Truly, I am not sure and there is no way for us of knowing. I do admire your thought process and ability to come up with reasonable theories based on the presented data. :D

    The WCS is how candidates get in, and it’s mostly a mystery for a reason. I don’t think anyone working in Admissions wants us to have a definite key to the gate. Applying to USMA is not following an instruction manual. That would allow kids who don’t belong at West Point to get there...

    But I do think that your theory here is nicely tied together and might even be right. There’s just no way to check it!
     
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