The Best of Zaphod - For those who haven't decided yet...


10-Year Member
Founding Member
Jun 8, 2006
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?


"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.
I'm going to take a break now, and let you guys think about it. I am at your service to answer questions. Let me leave you with this:

1) Choose wisely. Make sure that your choice is the one that best prepares you for the future you want. I can tell you for a fact that for "general purposes", nothing beats a Service Academy. For specialties or fields not addressed by a SA, then the choice is easy: go somewhere else.

2) Choose for YOURSELF. Do not choose anything because you think it will make your parents happy, or your girlfriend proud, or any of that junk. You must be viscously selfish and dreadfully cold in this decision. This is YOUR life you're dealing with here, and no one else's.

3) Do not make decisions out of fear. Fear and doubt are normal, especially when facing Plebe Year. Remember that over a thousand people going into USXA with you this summer WILL graduate. If they can, why can't you?

4) Do not listen to your friends. Listen to your PARENTS. THEY are the ones who have spent your lifetime making you into what you are today. It is THEY who stay up late at night, worried to death that you haven't decided, or if you'll make a sound decision. TALK TO THEM. They have forgotten more about life than you currently know. What do your stupid friends know that your parents don't, and which ACTUALLY MATTERS?

5) Beware of college counselors who try and guide you to THEIR choice because of THEIR prejudices. "You want to go to NAVY? WHY?" If someone asks you that, walk away. They don't have your best interests at heart.

6) Be excited abut your choice. If you're not, you chose wrong.

Okay. I'm tired. Think about it, and DECIDE. If you need some help, I'll be here.

Good luck!

- Z
Agree 100% with Zaphod.

Want to add . . . one other reason NOT to attend a SA -- because it is "free."

It's not free. Very little in life is free. Sure, you get a $300,000 education and get paid to attend to boot.

However, in return, you give the Academy at least 9 of the best years of your life. If a SA is what you want, it's truly worth it. As Zaphod said, there is no feeling like tossing your cover into the air. Not your wedding day (even for women), not grad school graduation. Nothing.

Conversely, if the only reason you attend is financial, chances are you're going to be miserable in a hurry. When things start to suck -- and at some point they will for everyone -- and you have to dig down deep, the fact that you, your parents or guardians or whomever aren't having to fund your college education isn't much of a motivator. If you don't have the desire to be an officer and to serve your country, you're much better attending the college of your choice. Take out loans, work part-time, etc. and be where you want to be.
"The United States (fill in the blank) Academy: A $300,000 education rammed up your ass one nickle at a time."

I challenge anyone to find me an Alumni who won't agree. :thumb:
usna1985 said:
Agree 100% with Zaphod.

Want to add . . . one other reason NOT to attend a SA -- because it is "free."

It's not free. Very little in life is free. Sure, you get a $300,000 education and get paid to attend to boot.

Don't forget all the other expenses:
- travel (before reimbursment, CVW, visit, or NASS)
- medical (shots, other physicals)
- dental (wisdom teeth, cavities)
- mailing postage (letters to academy, boxes sent to self)
- time (research, application, waiting, forms, e-mailing)
- entrance fee, ACE loan
- limited freedom to choose/think (haha)
thank you!!

Zaphod...thank you so much for all of your insight...we have had a great time reading your "words of wisdom". My son has printed off most of your posts and has read them many times over. He is very excited about the adventure that awaits him at USNA (he has received an appointment for the Class of 2015) After all of your advice, he is more sure than ever that he is living his dream...he has never had any doubts (except his fear of Plebe summer:eek:)

Thanks again for taking the time to write all of your thoughts down so that the young men and women following in your footsteps are better prepared for what lies ahead!

Go Navy!
Don't "fear" plebe summer. Today, 98%+ get through it. Prepare for it physically (run, run and run!). Be sure USNA is right for you. And you'll do fine.
Agree 100% with Zaphod.

Want to add . . . one other reason NOT to attend a SA -- because it is "free."

Double ditto on usana1985's sage counsel.

I will be deliberately vague about particulars, but we have had several sponsor son/daughter plebes leave because they chose USNA due to the "full ride," and didn't put enough emphasis on evaluating all the other aspects of a SA and military service. One plebe left because her parents plowed serious money into a private high school, telling her that it was now her problem to find the best scholarship to college she could because they wouldn't help her with college - well, she did, but didn't allow for the fact she absolutely had no desire for military life, even though she was doing well. I also saw this in outbriefs with departing midshipmen, those who realized they hadn't thought through the realities of life at an SA and eventual service obligation.

The Zaph's advice is spot on, and nicely salty to boot.
Zaph: Good to hear from you again. Hadn't seen you around the boards lately!
yeah, I got excited too at first, it was as though it was written yesterday!

It will remain fresh for years to come as young people all over the USA question their next move in life.

Thanks Zaph for putting down on 'paper'. :thumb:
I guess I am bringing back the old topic, but want to see what people think. As a parent, if your DS or DD have to choose between USAFA and Yale AFROTC, what would you recommend? DD's choice to study science/engineering and not interested to be a pilot. She wants to be the Air Force officer. Assume the money aspect is out because AFROTC scholarship. I know she can't go wrong with either institution, and this is the reason why it is a such a difficult choice...

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But the money aspect isn't the same. With AFROTC you will still be picking up at least room and board, and depending on the type of scholarship you may be picking up a portion of the tuition. What am I missing?
You know your military living something that appeals to them?
I agree whole heartedly that the education level is equivalent.
~ ROTC recipients believe is is 4 and the door, and SA is 5 and dive, but impo, ROTC grads will not report for 6-9 months after commissioning, thus they are closer to the 5 and dive.

I would also say impo, if she knows she won't go rated, USAFA for Educational Delay programs might be better option. Hornet and ChristCorp's DS got a Rand Fellowship..AF paid Ph.D right out of USAFA.. Eagle got a Masters from AFIT.

None of that would have happened if they didn't want to be at USAFA... See my first sentence.

OBTW, my DS had 4 mom's (3 MOC and Presidential), he pulled his packet by the 1st of Feb. The AFROTC scholarship and the merit from his college equated to no cost. He commissioned via AFROTC the same time as fencers twins (USAFA). One of her twins was in his UPT class and now they both are 130J drivers.
~ Just saying...

Sit down with her, ask her.
~ My sweetest memory is calling Bullet Jr. into our room on a Saturday night and asking him why he wanted USAFA over AFROTC. It was a turning point for us...he realized that we didn't care about the money.
But the money aspect isn't the same. With AFROTC you will still be picking up at least room and board, and depending on the type of scholarship you may be picking up a portion of the tuition. What am I missing?

I get your point, but you need to also understand that AFROTC does not superscore. A type 2 is usually 1300+ best sitting, and many, like my DS are offered merit! They could easily have 1400+ super.

My DS had 1390 best sitting. His super was 1410. UMiami gave him $100k in merit. UNCCH offered him 50k. We did pick up the bill later on because between the scholarship and merit + the insane increases for costs, plus no guarantee of campus's housing, we were out money. @5k a year for his last two years.
~AFROTC and Merit would not cover off campus housing...A/NROTC does if I am correct.

I would also say that HYPPSM have an insane endowment. Billions. The assumption that they will be picking up the cost is not the same with a college that has an endowment in the low hundred millions.
~ Yale's endowment is 24 BILLION.
Kinnem, I mean to say that money is not a concern since only way Yale is an option if the cost is manageable. The other schools where she got accepted or did not hear from them yet, I think she is not considering anymore. USAFA is her choice. I just felt that Yale is such a unique institution and I loved the campus when we visited, so I am still really want her to consider.
Pima, I think she is completely fine with military life and with the USAFA regiment. Actually I think this fit her better since she is very structured anyway. When we visited USAFA in January, she loved it and I really liked it as well. :) I think my thinking point is she goes USAFA, she will be in the military environment 9years straight. And if she goes Yale, she would go 4 years regular school and then 5 years military. When she finish 5 years and would like to stain in the military, she will just continue. If she would like to go back to the civilian life, she will have Yale adduction in addition to military 5 years. So, as you see I am confused and lost. :) When she will know all the options, she will have to make a decision, but I want to do research as much as possible to help her.

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USAFA is her choice.
I think she is completely fine with military life and with the USAFA regiment.
Actually I think this fit her better since she is very structured anyway.
When we visited USAFA in January, she loved it
Sounds like she already knows what she wants. :wink:

If she would like to go back to the civilian life, she will have Yale adduction in addition to military 5 years.

This could be interpreted that you consider a Yale education to be better than a USAFA education, which many on here would argue with.
No sorry if it sounded like this, did not mean that at all. It is just option between equally excellent school. We are not military family and she hit me with academy as a choice less then a year ago... So I have done much more research on civilians colleges and not Military Academies. That is why I am reaching out for advise.

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