A little birdie came to me with a dilemma. What happens when the long-awaited letter of appointment finally shows up? For some, the answer is obvious: You hold the postman at gunpoint while your kid checks yes and hands it back to him to mail. Easy, right? Not always. There is an old saying (Trekies pay attention) that says, "It is often better to want than to have. It is illogical, but often true." It is true, and can be true of almost anything; a car, a boat, a house, a piece of jewelry. Or an appointment to a Service Academy.... What I'm going to try and offer here is some advice to those sitting at their parent's table night after night, staring at their letter of appointment, but not knowing which box to check. Perhaps the parents standing by (razors poised over outstretched wrists) will find some comfort, too. The scenario is not as uncommon as you might think. Hopefully I'll be able to offer some insight to help you with your decision. Now, before I begin, I've noticed several new names around here lately, so if you CC veterans will kindly indulge me for a moment, I'd like to introduce myself to the new folk as well as lay the groundwork for some points I will make later. I am a graduate of the Naval Academy Prep School (1987) and the United States Naval Academy (1991). My BS is in General Engineering. I served five years as a Surface Warfare Officer and then left the Navy, and have spent the last ten years working as a Supervisor, Engineer, Consultant, Manager, and now Director of Quality Assurance in the medical device and diagnostics industry (6.5 years in a Fortune 100 corporation). I have a Master of Business Administration (2000) and a Master of Science in Industrial Engineering (2001) from the University of Miami. I am a certified Six Sigma Black Belt. I am also hoplessly biased toward the Service Academies in general, and USNA in particular (just in case anyone's missed it ). In short, I've been there, done that, and still wear the T-shirts (that fit). I've seen and lived the Service Academy experience from every conceiveable angle except as a parent, and I hope to do that in about 12 years when my oldest becomes part of the class of 2021 at USNA (because Lord knows, her Daddy ain't lettin' no daughter o' his disgrace the family name by going to Woopville or Zoomieville! ) This discussion is primarily for the applicants who have not yet decided whether they want to go or not. I particularly invite the Mids and Cadets we have here to offer their viewpoints as well, since they are there NOW. Who knows? Some of THEM may find this useful, too. If so, then so much the better. As for you parents, hold on for the ride, because here we go..... So........ You got your appointment and you're sitting there wondering, "Holy smokes! I got in! NOW what?" Well, delaying isn't going to help. You must decide, and you must decide soon. It is a cruel lesson in life that when opportunity knocks, you'd better damn well answer the door, or you will spend the rest of your life regretting it. A decision must be made, but which one? USNA? USMA? Notre Dame? MIT? Harvard? WHICH ONE? "Maybe my parents will choose for me!" Survey says: WRONG ANSWER. This is YOUR decision to make, Junior. No one else's but YOURS. This may be the first major decision you make in your life, but YOU have to make it, and your LIFE depends on it. I'm not being dramatic. This is cold, hard, REALITY. Welcome to adulthood! When debating whether to attend a Service Academy, do not be put off by doubts you may have because you don't seem as gungy as the others around you who have already memorized the Reef Points. Some folks live and breath Army or Navy. Others go in with a bit more reserve. Perfectly normal. As with so many other choices in life, you must first decide where you want to end up after the decision is made. More than once I have advised folks who, say, want to be a doctor, NOT to attend a Service Academy. Why? Because the chances of getting into Med School out of a Service Academy are VERY low, and only the best and brightest get the opportunity. So decide right now: Do you want to be a pilot, or a doctor, or a submariner, or a Green Beret, or do you want to be an OFFICER who happens to be a pilot, or a doctor, or a submariner, or a Green Beret? In other words, if you don't get your choice of Service Selection, will you still be happy, or is being the pilot more important? If the answer is the latter, then don't go, because nothing is guaranteed. If, however, you want to be an officer and a graduate more than anything else, THEN GO! You have to realize that time changes people. When your service obligation expires, you may decide that you want to leave the military for any number of reasons. If that happens, what do you want to do? Where do you see yourself in 10, 15, 20 years? Based on THAT answer, you make your decision. One of the most important traits sought after in Corporate America these days is LEADERSHIP. Companies are awash in people with technical degrees who can calculate the movement of an electron across the universe or across a circuit board, but can't compose a coherent sentence or head a team (ask me how I know! ). When it comes to leadership, the Service Academies have everyone else beat, hands down. I'd rather have a SA graduate on my staff than some Wharton or Harvard MBA. When you graduate a SA, you are guaranteed five years (or more, depending upon service selection) of employment. In that job, you will be leading people and be in charge of millions of dollars of equipment in some pretty challenging environments. At 23, you will have more responsibilities than some people in Corporate America have at 35. You may not appreciate how valuable that is, but I guarantee you the people HIRING do! The Academies will teach you self-confidence in a way no other university can. You have no idea how many times in the last 15 years I've fallen back on, "If I made it through Plebe Year, I can do this, too!" My mother dying, job pressures, getting two Master's degrees while working full-time, a divorce, turning a $35 million plant around alone, branching out alone into consulting. ALL of these challenges were made more endurable by what I learned at USNA. If I could make it there, I'll make it anywhere. (Apologies to Old Blue Eyes) You will make friends that will be family, and who will stand by you through thick and thin. You may spend years not seeing someone, but as soon as you do it's like you were together yesterday. We take care of our own. There is no drug in this universe (short of Rapture, and I still have my doubts), that compares to the euphoric, boundless high you feel when, after four (or five, like me) years of effort, you throw your cover into the air along with your classmates. Nothing comes close. The birth of my children didn't come close. A classmate and friend who sat next to me at my graduation was my next-door neighbor at NAPS. He was also our anchorman (last in the class). When those covers went up, we held each other and cried like babies, and we didn't care who saw it. First off, we had earned the right, secondly, a whole bunch of our classmates were doing the same thing. Calling us wimps at that moment would have gotten you mashed into paste. So there is the "pro" side. I can go on for hours about it, but in fairness, let's look at the other side. What if you want to be a doctor more than an officer? No problem. Being a doctor is an admirable goal. If you choose to attend Notre Dame to study medicine, then you have my repsect. If you want to be a hard-core engineer and do some real number-crunching on some great projects, and you get accepted to MIT, then by God take the opportunity! If you want to be a banker, and have an offer to Harvard, then take it and go, and never look back! All these examples require that you want something specific that the Service Academies either cannot provide, or from which the opportunities are extremely limited. To go to a SA under those conditions would be foolish, no matter how good the Academy in question is. These schools have their purposes, and your goals have to line up with them. Some have voiced reasons not to have selected USXA as "I'm not sure I want the regimented lifestyle" or "I'm not sure I'm cut out for the Service". Well, if that's the case, then you bloody well should never have applied. Some are afraid they can't hack the regimen. I call BS. If you can get INTO the Academy, you can get OUT with a degree and a ring. You think the government is going to invest $250,000 on you if they think you CAN'T make it? Some are afraid the Academy is no fun. What, do we stand at parade rest while taking showers? NO! Sure, Plebe Year is tough, but after that, USXA is not unlike a good deal of universities. You have clubs, dances, and all the rest. Sure, you can't go out every night (not good for grades, anyway), but when you take 4,500 of the nation's best and brightest, lock them together, and add a little pressure, you'd be AMAZED at just how creative and fun it can get. It's no bed of roses, but the end is definitely worth it.