USMA vs MIT ROTC

Undecided

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Hi everyone, I was fortunate enough to have been appointed to USMA and accepted by MIT. However, I'm struggling to make a decision and would welcome any advice. I know I want to serve in the military, and both options would give me that opportunity. It seems like West Point offers more opportunities for military training than most ROTC programs, but I like the academic opportunities that MIT offers and their greater choice in majors. I've gotten to know fellow prospective MIT students through an accepted students group chat and have a general sense of the culture there. While I like the rigorous environment of West Point, I also have concerns about fitting in there as I'm unfamiliar with the culture (I haven't visited USMA yet and probably won't get a chance due to the COVID-19 outbreak). Many of my family and friends think I should choose MIT, but part of me is unwilling to let go of the possibility of attending USMA. I'm extremely grateful to have the opportunity to make this choice and any advice is appreciated!
 

shiner

USAFA Grad, Faculty 3yrs, ALO 7yrs, DS USMMA '24
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I know multiple students who did undergrad at a SA and then went onto grad school at MIT. I think it comes down to the college experience you want to have. Both offer a great education and are very well regarded schools in the private sector. Tough call for sure, but it comes down to your personal goals. Congrats on great options!

example - Astronaut Raja Chari (USAFA Class of '99) - Earned a bachelor’s degree in Astronautical Engineering from the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado. Earned a master’s degree in Aeronautics and Astronautics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
 

jl123

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Feb 20, 2016
Messages
1,516
Yours is a great problem to have.

USMA is an experience that cannot be replicated. Many people who turn down appointments regret it years later. For that reason I normally recommend USMA over ROTC at other colleges because you can transfer within two years, usually to a college comparable to the ones you gave up to attend USMA.

But when the ROTC college is MIT, Princeton, etc., the decision becomes much more difficult. If you leave USMA, finding a transfer spot at MIT or equivalent can be hit or miss. One year may be no problem and the next there may be very limited spaces. Although there are some opportunities only available at USMA, there is zero downside to a military career for a graduate of MIT.
 

Casey

USMA 2015
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Nov 8, 2010
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770
Congrats on the acceptances to both. This is an awesome problem to have.

Just to touch a couple points in your post:
1) The culture at West Point isn’t something I would necessarily be stressed too much about not having previous exposure to. There are many people who never have the chance to visit prior to accepting admission, and even if you do, Beast is a culture shock for pretty much everyone. The folks who grew up in a military family or are prior service may have an advantage to have a better idea what to expect, but honestly, it’s the kind of environment you’re never going to fully understand until you’re completely immersed in it. The culture shock and inculcation into said culture is part of the process of the 47 month experience.

2) In terms of choosing between the two, I would think about what your academic goals are if both paths bring you to your ultimate goal of a commission. The engineering programs are very strong at West Point with opportunities for some great research involvement, but the research opportunities at MIT definitely exceed what the average cadet will have exposure to. I’m making up now in grad school for the lack of some of the deeper specialization my peers at places like MIT got during undergrad but wasn’t any less competitive for grad school.

Personally, I liked the trade off that West Point offered over universities like MIT in the available military training. To give you a quick snapshot what I had the opportunity to do while at school: air assault, travel abroad, internship with a well known aerospace company, and some fun research for my junior/senior years all while getting some amazing development from the required summer training programs every cadet has to do. Every single year, I was in a helicopter during summer training for some reason or other. The amount of money spent on CST is incredible, and it definitely contributes to the quality of training.

3) If active duty is your goal, not just a commission, just remember it’s more competitive to get an active duty slot via ROTC vs West Point as in all West pointers end up on active duty. Not all ROTC will. The two sources are getting closer and closer to the branching process as well with the move to talent management, but the differences are also something to keep in mind as well if you have a strong preference for a specific branch over another. Traditionally, West Point would get a higher proportion of combat arms slots than ROTC because of congressional mandates that a certain percentage will branch combat arms every year from the Academy.
 

prospective2019

USMA 2023
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484
Something that hasn't been said already that I always tell CC's in this position: at West Point, 90% of your professors will be officers. At a civilian college, you'll have one or two. The exposure to their experiences, all coming from different branches, commissioning sources, and backgrounds, is extremely valuable and influential in your own outlook on the military. It depends on what you're looking for--is the Army a stepping stone, or a career thought for you? I'd decide accordingly, however both sources can go either way.
 

ij.sam

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Feb 13, 2020
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congratulations! I'm in a similar situation and the gist of what my army instructor (a west point grad) said to me was that credits are transferable out of west point but not into west point. But he also said that the two options were ultimately two ways to become an officer and serve. Both ROTC and the SAs are a way to get a higher education for nearly free but service should be the driving factor. If service is your driving factor, I would recommend to choose WP. Getting further education would be relatively easier as a west point grad and army officer but the downside is that you might not be getting it from MIT.

However, MIT is an opportunity to get one of the best civilian educations. If you prioritize the education and the opportunities for yourself after your time as an officer or if a military life doesn't seem appealing to you, then MIT is probably the way to go.

On this site, the majority of the responses will urge you to attend the SA. I'm personally choosing the place and environment I am most comfortable with and ready for.

Good Luck in your decision process and again, congratulations.
 
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bookreader

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823
One possible way to look at the question - where are your 'people'?
Let me try to explain. My son connected more with those who also wanted to go military and so he found that he connected better with those who chose a military college over a 'regular' college (rotc route). He's a social kid and can connect with anyone, but he found more of his tribe at WP than at the civilian colleges he also looked at.

Also, if you haven't already, look up WP videos on youtube and you'll get a bit of a feel for life at WP. It is very regimented and you have to ask if you are ok with such a lifestyle for 4 years.
 

Undecided

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Thanks to everyone for all of the responses. Hypothetically, I'd like to go active duty and preferably branch into a combat arms branch, but I'm not 100% set on making the army a career because I don't have the clearest idea what the day to day life of an army officer is like aside from vague blurbs I've read on various websites. One of my biggest concerns about attending USMA is potentially getting injured or sick and then getting disenrolled and not being able to finish my degree. I've watched numerous videos and read several books on West Point and I like West Point's regimented lifestyle, but I'm not sure how well I would connect with the people there and would like to get a better sense of the typical West Point cadet.
 

shiner

USAFA Grad, Faculty 3yrs, ALO 7yrs, DS USMMA '24
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708
It takes a lot to be medically disenrolled so I don't think this should be a major concern for ANY applicant. Is there a particularly dangerous activity you anticipate participating in? We have national champion boxers who fight daily and they all graduate. Division 1 athletes playing at the highest level and virtually all of them graduate. As a SA student, your medical bills would be fully covered under TriCare. Others can speak to whether or not ROTC is fully covered under TriCare. Students who break a bone in BEAST will be medically turned back for 1 year DEPENDING where in the 6 weeks that injury occurs (later the better). Yet again, this is REALLY NOT COMMON. Service Academies serve a college age student population and are accustomed to incidents that occur with that demographic. Pretty much anything short of paralyzed is routine - we had a gymnast in my unit suffer a neck injury and he got a HALO -- still enrolled, still went to class, and graduated. I've seen temporary wheel chairs - the entire gambit. Sorry, but this fear is so confusing to me because injuries happen and the Academies take care of students to patch them up and get them going again.

As for not fully understanding the lifestyle - that is reasonable and virtually every other candidate is in the same position.
 

prospective2019

USMA 2023
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Nov 25, 2017
Messages
484
West Point is largely what you make of it--there are plenty of cadets that settle for mediocrity and will fall into cynicism and not do much with their time at the Academy. If you show motivation, dedication, and have a bit of luck, West Point will slingshot you into opportunities very few would dream of at normal universities. I have friends who are going to Ivy League medical schools fully-funded next year, ones who are getting their pilots licenses through USMA, and tons who have spent their summers at Los Alamos National Labs. I know some Plebes who are doing graduate-level research right now. I'm not as good at school as you (I wouldn't have gotten into MIT with my work ethic in high school) but West Point has brought me to the Pentagon to meet GEN Milley and SecArmy, to meet WWII paratroopers, soon to jump school and hopefully some awesome AIADs in my future.

I would say that generally the cadet population is inferior academically to that at top-tier schools. However, the top 10% of cadets, in my opinion, are far superior to those at any other institution. It takes a certain kind of person to get a 4.3 GPA in academics, physicality, and militarily, one that can balance the massive amount of "stuff" that USMA puts on your plate and brush it off like it's nothing. Ask those kids what they did last summer and you'll see what West Point really has to offer. If you're MIT smart, and can do well on a PT test, you'll be with them.

In regards to some of your other concerns--I'll address them since you won't be able to do a candidate visit (I host many CC's). If you go to West Point and hate it, you can leave in your first two years w/ transferable credits and owe nothing. It's hard to get kicked out for an injury; they'll take care of you. I was told there's a firstie on the boxing team who has had 15 concussions and will be commissioning with a waiver that wasn't all that hard to get. Don't decide based on medical. With connecting with others, I have a group of close friends who I would take a bullet for and I wouldn't exchange those relationships for anything. Everyone experiences a common struggle and it connects you more than you realize--I've visited some normal universities on the weekends and I would be depressed there. You have a Team Leader as a Plebe who is supposed to guide you through your first year and show you how to get by and a support network of counselors and chaplains who will answer their phones in the middle of the night. You will learn what the daily life of an officer looks like from your instructors, and we have a whole week every year dedicated to branch displays and representatives. That stuff just doesn't exist elsewhere.

Feel free to PM me if you have more questions; I didn't intend to write you an essay but we have a lot of time to waste with this virus.
 

Casey

USMA 2015
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Everyone experiences a common struggle and it connects you more than you realize--I've visited some normal universities on the weekends and I would be depressed there. You have a Team Leader as a Plebe who is supposed to guide you through your first year and show you how to get by and a support network of counselors and chaplains who will answer their phones in the middle of the night.


I think you hit the nail on the head with your entire post @prospective2019, and I want to just reinforce this part because it doesn't stop when you graduate. These connections will carry with you for life. My teammates are still my teammates, and we will drop anything we're doing to help one another if someone asks for help, no matter location, time, or what the situation is.

West Point, as a whole, is what you make of it. There are amazing opportunities to challenge yourself with if you put in effort, or you can slide by if you just want to graduate. What differentiates it from most other institutions is its community that transcends the four years you spend there.


And in terms of not knowing if you want to make the Army a career or not, I don't think that's a bad place to be in. My attitude is I'll stay in until it isn't fun anymore; the majority of my class is hitting our ADSO this year, but I'm going to stick around a little longer, partly because a flight ADSO but also because I'm still enjoying it. The folks that come in thinking that they want to make this a career and find that it isn't what they were expecting seem to become more cynical and run away faster versus the folks that come in open to the possibility the military won't be exactly what they're expecting and adapt to what reality looks like. The job is incredibly important, and if you only serve 4-5 years or if you serve 20, your service is still important to this country. There's a reason that its a pyramid and we have a lot more LT/CPTs than COL/GO types. People have to leave one way or other to fit the rank structure we have; less service isn't dishonorable service if you have other aims in life. Actually, the Academy mission statement used to say that it was designed to produce leaders of character for lifetime service to the country, not just the Army. I forget when it changed, but the sentiment is there. There are more ways to serve than just the Army for a lifetime if you decide to go someplace else. All we ask is that you do your very best for the time you do serve, no matter how long, because that's what your soldiers deserve.
 
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Mr2020

U.S. Merchant Marine Academy '19
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If you're looking for an intellectual challenge then go to MIT. It's just not the same caliber of student at a military academy than the best STEM school in the world.
 

jl123

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If you're looking for an intellectual challenge then go to MIT. It's just not the same caliber of student at a military academy than the best STEM school in the world.
West Point has students intellectually on par with MIT, but obviously not as many due to smaller enrollment and different missions. However, Rhodes Scholars: West Point (#5) - 94 ; MIT (#11) - 53

While one may argue that USMA does not have as many students of the same caliber as MIT academically, one may also argue that MIT does not have the same caliber student character-wise as the best leadership school in the world.
 

Undecided

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Thank you to everyone who responded! Most of the people I know are pushing for me to go to MIT so I wanted to hear opinions from the other side of the pond. I appreciate all of the advice and it has really helped my decision making process.
 

Undecided

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Mar 20, 2020
Messages
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West Point is largely what you make of it--there are plenty of cadets that settle for mediocrity and will fall into cynicism and not do much with their time at the Academy. If you show motivation, dedication, and have a bit of luck, West Point will slingshot you into opportunities very few would dream of at normal universities. I have friends who are going to Ivy League medical schools fully-funded next year, ones who are getting their pilots licenses through USMA, and tons who have spent their summers at Los Alamos National Labs. I know some Plebes who are doing graduate-level research right now. I'm not as good at school as you (I wouldn't have gotten into MIT with my work ethic in high school) but West Point has brought me to the Pentagon to meet GEN Milley and SecArmy, to meet WWII paratroopers, soon to jump school and hopefully some awesome AIADs in my future.

I would say that generally the cadet population is inferior academically to that at top-tier schools. However, the top 10% of cadets, in my opinion, are far superior to those at any other institution. It takes a certain kind of person to get a 4.3 GPA in academics, physicality, and militarily, one that can balance the massive amount of "stuff" that USMA puts on your plate and brush it off like it's nothing. Ask those kids what they did last summer and you'll see what West Point really has to offer. If you're MIT smart, and can do well on a PT test, you'll be with them.

In regards to some of your other concerns--I'll address them since you won't be able to do a candidate visit (I host many CC's). If you go to West Point and hate it, you can leave in your first two years w/ transferable credits and owe nothing. It's hard to get kicked out for an injury; they'll take care of you. I was told there's a firstie on the boxing team who has had 15 concussions and will be commissioning with a waiver that wasn't all that hard to get. Don't decide based on medical. With connecting with others, I have a group of close friends who I would take a bullet for and I wouldn't exchange those relationships for anything. Everyone experiences a common struggle and it connects you more than you realize--I've visited some normal universities on the weekends and I would be depressed there. You have a Team Leader as a Plebe who is supposed to guide you through your first year and show you how to get by and a support network of counselors and chaplains who will answer their phones in the middle of the night. You will learn what the daily life of an officer looks like from your instructors, and we have a whole week every year dedicated to branch displays and representatives. That stuff just doesn't exist elsewhere.

Feel free to PM me if you have more questions; I didn't intend to write you an essay but we have a lot of time to waste with this virus.

Wow, thank you so much for this post. I haven't posted enough to PM you yet, but everything you said helped remind me of all the incredible opportunities West Point has to offer.
 

Undecided

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Mar 20, 2020
Messages
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It takes a lot to be medically disenrolled so I don't think this should be a major concern for ANY applicant. Is there a particularly dangerous activity you anticipate participating in? We have national champion boxers who fight daily and they all graduate. Division 1 athletes playing at the highest level and virtually all of them graduate. As a SA student, your medical bills would be fully covered under TriCare. Others can speak to whether or not ROTC is fully covered under TriCare. Students who break a bone in BEAST will be medically turned back for 1 year DEPENDING where in the 6 weeks that injury occurs (later the better). Yet again, this is REALLY NOT COMMON. Service Academies serve a college age student population and are accustomed to incidents that occur with that demographic. Pretty much anything short of paralyzed is routine - we had a gymnast in my unit suffer a neck injury and he got a HALO -- still enrolled, still went to class, and graduated. I've seen temporary wheel chairs - the entire gambit. Sorry, but this fear is so confusing to me because injuries happen and the Academies take care of students to patch them up and get them going again.

As for not fully understanding the lifestyle - that is reasonable and virtually every other candidate is in the same position.

Sorry, I was not so much concerned with injury as to potentially developing a serious illness (like cancer or another chronic illness) and being unable to commission/graduate, but I realize it's statistically pretty unlikely to happen.
 

Dr. Strange Love

Time Traveller — Blues Man — DD USNA 2024
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Feb 7, 2019
Messages
936
.
The SAs are top tier undergraduate engineering schools. You can coast, or you can work as hard as you want. Nothing is holding you back at any of them.

West Point has that romantic appeal that you can’t get at MIT for sure. All the SAs have those qualities that traditional campus settings can’t give.

Go where your heart tells you to go.
.
#### And one very important thing ####
You should be rested and have food in your stomach when you make important “Final” decisions.
.
 
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