USMA vs CGA

md61

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Feb 24, 2020
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My son is a junior and will be applying soon to USNA, USMA, and USCGA. I am a former Naval Officer and we have had the discussion about the difference between the Coast Guard and the Navy. What I am about to say you can insert 'Army' for 'Navy'. The main difference as I see it, is that in the Coast Guard you train everyday for things you DO everyday. Whereas in the Navy you train everyday for things you hopefully NEVER do. I loved my time in the Navy, but looking back at things, the work (and lifestyle) of the Coast Guard is very appealing
 
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My son is a junior and will be applying soon to USNA, USMA, and USCGA. I am a former Naval Officer and we have had the discussion about the difference between the Coast Guard and the Navy. What I am about to say you can insert 'Army' for 'Navy'. The main difference as I see it, is that in the Coast Guard you train everyday for things you DO everyday. Whereas in the Navy you train everyday for things you hopefully NEVER do. I loved my time in the Navy, but looking back at things, the work (and lifestyle) of the Coast Guard is very appealing
That's helpful, thank you.
 
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I have the benefit of having a 2021 at West Point and a 2023 at USCGA. I can tell you they are very unique and distinct experiences. Both have their hardships and highlights. The BEST advice I have seen was above - Choose the mission not the school ( assuming the program you want exists in both). With my 2021, USCGA was never on their radar, but retrospectively they said they would have at least "kicked the tires". For my 2023, following my 2021 at West Point was a dream that a denied Medical Waiver killed, BUT has proclaimed numerous times, that it was the best thing that ever happened.

West Point is part of much larger machine, with so many different possible paths and outcomes once you graduate. However their primary mission is military defense. You have to be ok with that, if not crave that. The Coast Guard, while extremely dangerous and rewarding has a different mission, MANY different missions as we are learning, but again you have to be ok with life on the sea. You could end up on a small cutter with shorter duration at sea or a very large cutter where it could be months out. As with West Point, You have to be ok with that, if not crave that.

The shorter version is, you know in your heart which one calls out to you more. Quiet reflection can sometimes make hard decisions come into focus. I personally think you cannot go wrong with either, just understand the missions and follow your gut. That's all this old man has to share, but I hope it helps.
This is very helpful, thank you. I have shared it with her to reflect on.
 

Swimmom816

Proud Parent: DD1 AROTC '22 and DD2 USCGA '24
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Sep 29, 2019
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Pick the mission, not the school. College is only 4 years.
i agree. My DD has been researching it for 3 years now and realized you are only at the academy for 4 years, but the service can be a life long career if the mission fits your personal values.
 

brovol

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Problem is, who has the insight , at 16-17 years old, to predict with accuracy your career? Academy candidates may be more mature than other kids (maybe not though), but they are still just kids. My son had the option of USMA, USNA, and USAFA. He would have been happy with any one of them and pretty much any field within any of those branches. He is a Firstie at West Point, and has no regrets, but might have chosen differently now that he has some perspective. He would likely have also applied to CGA, and certainly taken a closer look. He is delighted to be branching armor, and looks forward to commissioning, but my point is, and I know I am in the minority, but I don't think you can simply say the kids should look at the mission of the service. The analysis is far too broad to be accurate when you are a high school kid. Go with what feels good. And lastly, 4 years is a long time to be at any one place, particularly someplace as grueling as an academy. How you like the school itself is very important. If you hate it, you may leave before you graduate. Defeats the whole purpose. So, visiting the school is important, particularly if you can get an overnight, and talk to the cadets. They will be honest, and won't simply be selling the school. You will hear about the warts.
 
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TexasAggie204

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Problem is, who has the insight , at 16-17 years old, to predict with accuracy your career? Academy candidates may be more mature than other kids (maybe not though), but they are still just kids. My son had the option of USMA, USNA, and USAFA. He would have been happy with any one of them and pretty much any field within any of those branches. He is a Firstie at West Point, and has no regrets, but might have chosen differently now that he has some perspective. He would likely have also applied to CGA, and certainly taken a closer look. He is delighted to be branching armor, and looks forward to commissioning, but my point is, and I know I am in the minority, but I don't thank you can simply say the kids should look at the mission of the service. The analysis is far too broad to be accurate when you are a high school kid. Go with what feels good. And lastly, 4 years is a long time to be at any one place, particularly someplace as grueling as an academy. How you like the school itself is very important. if you hate it, you may leave before you graduate. Defeats the whole purpose.so, visiting the school is important, particularly if you can get an overnight, and talk to the cadets. They will be honest, and won't simply be selling the school. You will hear about the warts.
Good post brovol. My son literally just made the decision to attend USMA over USCGA for the Class of 2024. I can tell you it was a very tough call for him. As you stated, it was more the actual academy itself that pushed him toward West Point over Coast Guard. As parents, we tried to "coach" him to strongly consider the mission of the individual branches, but for a 17/18 year old kid, that's difficult to do because they both seem pretty cool to a kid whose world has been only so big. Ultimately (after spending time at both USMA many times visiting DS1 when younger, and USCGA for AIM last summer), the size, feel, and opportunities at West Point won him over. He's now 100% committed to be the best New Cadet this summer as possible, but, as parents we will always wonder what "could have been" had he chosen USCGA.
 
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Good post brovol. My son literally just made the decision to attend USMA over USCGA for the Class of 2024. I can tell you it was a very tough call for him. As you stated, it was more the actual academy itself that pushed him toward West Point over Coast Guard. As parents, we tried to "coach" him to strongly consider the mission of the individual branches, but for a 17/18 year old kid, that's difficult to do because they both seem pretty cool to a kid whose world has been only so big. Ultimately (after spending time at both USMA many times visiting DS1 when younger, and USCGA for AIM last summer), the size, feel, and opportunities at West Point won him over. He's now 100% committed to be the best New Cadet this summer as possible, but, as parents we will always wonder what "could have been" had he chosen USCGA.
I agree and really think being able to go to each and spend time is ultimately most helpful. Unfortunately, she isn't able to do that now because of the obvious current issues. It is making it even more difficult for her to make the choice. She, too, attended AIM and loved it --she really likes the size. She went to West Point last summer for a rugby camp and LOVES their facilities but has not actually done an academic visit there. She did go 5 years ago with her brother (who did not end up applying to WP) and fell in love with it but was quite young.
 

brovol

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Good post brovol. My son literally just made the decision to attend USMA over USCGA for the Class of 2024. I can tell you it was a very tough call for him. As you stated, it was more the actual academy itself that pushed him toward West Point over Coast Guard. As parents, we tried to "coach" him to strongly consider the mission of the individual branches, but for a 17/18 year old kid, that's difficult to do because they both seem pretty cool to a kid whose world has been only so big. Ultimately (after spending time at both USMA many times visiting DS1 when younger, and USCGA for AIM last summer), the size, feel, and opportunities at West Point won him over. He's now 100% committed to be the best New Cadet this summer as possible, but, as parents we will always wonder what "could have been" had he chosen USCGA.
Good deal, and congratulations. You as a parent will love West Point. No place better in the world (unless you are a Cadet, and then it is the worst place. LOL) in terms of beuty, geography and archetectual, history, and everything else. The place is just special. My wife and I have been there probably at least 30-35 times over the last several years, and still are mesmerized when we arive for a game, function, or to get our son. Visit as often as you possibly can. We likely have only one more as a cadet parent, and that will be for graduation. We are supposed to be there for the week, but now are wondering if there will be a public graduation cerimony at all with the COVID-19 stuff. We have our Cadet at home right now, which is nice, but the uncertainty is a challenge.

Good luck to your son. Its great that he has options. My son, after receiving his appointments for USAFA and USMA (USNA didn't come until just days before Beast), told me, "I wish I only got accepted to one academy, so I wouldn't have to make a choice; it would be made for me". He is generally happy with his choice, but I can tell you that there certainly were times over the years where he wished he was elsewhere. West Point is thought to be much more hard-core and strict than either USNA or USAFA, and "less relaxed/fun" (he says CGA is supposed to be pretty hard-core too). But they are all in it together, and he has ALWAYS loved the Corps of Cadets! They love each other, and the relationships that he has made at West Point are perhaps the greatest value of all.
 

Mr2020

U.S. Merchant Marine Academy '19
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Coast Guard all the way, great duty stations. Knew a guy from west point, I know he had a good time to west point, but his next duty station was in the mud in oklahoma.
 

TexasAggie204

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And that’s bad why? Boomer Sooner! 😁
While my DS has never experienced any high-quality Oklahoma mud, he’s definitely washed plenty Pennsylvania clay off of himself thru his 18 years. He’s a “mudder” unlike his mom and dad. The allure of the infantry calls him at this point though there’s hope he may change his mind over the next 4 years. Corps of Engineers sounds good to dad, while Finance Corps is my CPA wife’s branch choice for the lad.
 

Kbinspections

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Jan 29, 2020
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Coast Guard all the way, great duty stations. Knew a guy from west point, I know he had a good time to west point, but his next duty station was in the mud in oklahoma.
Must be Fort Sill.....tough station from what me niece said! I guess it is what you are used to.
I am very interested in the fact that Coast Guard has the highest retention rate of all the services.
 
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Must be Fort Sill.....tough station from what me niece said! I guess it is what you are used to.
I am very interested in the fact that Coast Guard has the highest retention rate of all the services.
Coast Guard has the highest retention rates? Where did you find that information? That is very interesting as it really offers fewer career options (I think) than the Army.
 

ij.sam

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Feb 13, 2020
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Congratulations! That's a very good problem to have - struggling to decide between two service academies. I also attended AIM and loved my experience (the most realistic experience to beast/plebe/swab summer.) If I had to choose, I would choose CG because of the interdiction careers that are unique to the CG. The different service careers are important to look at making this decision though as well as the majors:



Even though I'm most likely army bound, I can't lie, Semper Paratus is a banger compared to the other branch anthems
 

trackandfield08

USCGA 2014
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I've been lurking on this post since it was created and finally have the time to reply. I am going to provide a Coast Guard perspective...and hope that @USCGA13STN or @ekb1398 can also chime in. I'll provide my broad perspective and also address some of the comments I've seen on here.

For clarification, I am a 2014 graduate of USCGA, coming up on six years active duty this May. I majored in Government, specializing in International Relations. Upon graduation, I served for two years onboard a 270' cutter and spent most of my time conducting drug interdiction missions in the Caribbean and Eastern Pacific, transiting the Panama Canal several times and crossing the equator twice. I also spent a few deployments engaged in migrant interdiction, living marine resources (think fisheries enforcement), and search and rescue missions. Following that tour, I switched to Intelligence and have been in this specialty since 2016.

First, I cannot agree more on the notion that the mission HAS to be the ultimate deciding factor in your DD's decision. Every SA is different, but they are all very much the same in the general tone and mission - develop cadets and midshipmen mentally, physically, and morally to serve as commissioned officers in their respective services. The sizes may vary, locations are definitely different, the uniforms take on different appearances, and the quality of the food may change, but the purpose is the same. Ultimately, the mission is (or should be) the determining factor for each applicant. USCGA and USMMA serve very different purposes from our sister DoD SAs. The USCG is a Department of Homeland Security entity dedicated to a humanitarian mission. We are a small service, often overlooked until needed, but with a massively dedicated force that comes to feel like family.

I saw you mentioned that the job opportunities were less - I can assure you, that Coast Guard officers have a wide variety of job choices at their fingertips once the complete their first tour. This is not an exhaustive list but I encourage your daughter to check out this "After the Academy" page of the USCGA website: https://www.uscga.edu/subspecialties/

What does she think she wants to do right now? I say think because I can guarantee her mind will change once or twice as she continues to develop and learn more about whatever service she chooses. I went to my ship thinking I wanted to do another afloat tour afterwards, that turned out not to be the case. Others thought they were only going to do one tour afloat and are now on their third straight afloat tour, having commanded their own ship at 24 years old. If you can give me some insight, I'm happy to tailor another post towards her specific ambitions. The one career field I will tell you that the Coast Guard does not provide is if she wants to be a doctor - we have Coast Guard physician assistants (PAs) but no doctors - those come from the U.S. Public Health Service.

As a side note, and for fun, I saw someone said we don't get to blow things up - trust me, I've been a part of sinking several drug trafficking vessels using a wide variety of methods, from ramming, to filling with water, to using it as target practice for gunnery exercises or flare training. It doesn't happen often, but it does happen. ;)

As for notoriety, while the general public is typically unaware of USCGA, I have never had an issue with lack of awareness when it comes to engaging with reputable public and private sector entities. If anything, it often generates a lot of conversation, especially with vets from other services who want to know what the CG is like. Yes, our alumni association is not as big, but I can tell you that it is dedicated. As a small service, the chances that you and another alumni have worked with the same people are very, very high. I disagree with you on the level of prestige afforded USCGA, and while the network is always important, you ultimately have to prove yourself to a future employer, regardless of what institution you graduated from.

Now, a couple of setbacks for USCGA - there are only nine majors available, is she interested in any of them? CGA also does not offer minors, although double-majoring is a possibility if you validate enough classes. We also have an Honor Program that is just as dedicated at mentoring potential Rhodes/Fulbright scholars as the larger 3 SAs. USCGA is also predominantly a D3 school, with a few exceptions so if she wants to compete at the D1 level, she is not going to do it at USCGA unless she sails, rows crew, or shoots pistol/rifle. USCGA is located in New London, CT - it's certainly not as remote as WP but it's no Annapolis either. Additionally, as a small school, cadets are under a much finer microscope. From what SA exchange students have told me in the past, USCGA is perhaps the most regimented institution because of its size. There is little difference between how each company is run, the Corps leads the Corps - but with oversight from leadership. Some may see that as a drawback, I didn't mind so much.

As for not being able to visit, have her watch everyone possible YT video she can find - the USCGA website also has a virtual tour set up she can use to at least get a little bit of a layout. Again, this is just my initial response - I am happy to answer any specific questions you (or better - your DD) may have. I wish you DD the best of luck in her decision making, it is a great choice to have!

EDIT: I found another post I wrote in response to someone deciding between USNA and USCGA that provides a little more information: https://www.serviceacademyforums.com/index.php?threads/usna-or-uscga.67433/#post-665295
 
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