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Getting into the Naval Academy

Midshipmen take a step forward during a formal paradePhoto courtesy of MC1(SCW) Chad Runge

Last April, Sam (not his real name) eagerly checked his mailbox, hoping he was among the final group of candidates offered appointments to the Naval Academy. Hoping for the thick leather binder with its embossed certificate of appointment, complete with fancy calligraphy and illegible signature. Instead, he found a slim letter. It contained devastating news; a one-page rejection notice.

Sam had a solid academic and athletic record, and was an active leader at his school and in the community. He had received a Navy Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps nomination and had attempted to gain nominations from Maryland's two U.S. senators, to no avail. So what went wrong?

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Sam's crushing disappointment may have come down to not turning in his paperwork until January. A call in February to the admissions department from his Blue and Gold officer—his guide through the process—revealed Sam's high school guidance counselor had neglected to send in his fall semester transcripts. Although the issue was quickly handled, it may have been too late. Sam missed his chance to become a first-year, or freshman, midshipmen, also known as a "Plebe."

Less than one in 15 serious applicants receive an appointment to attend USNA. On June 30, 2011, the Class of 2015 inducted 1,229 new midshipmen, culled from 19,145 applications.

Very few decline the honor. The lucky ones are ceremoniously inducted into the Naval Academy regime during a two-month rigor known as Plebe Summer, which begins later this month. Several dozen will drop out before September, unable to handle the rules, the marching, the drills, and the seemingly non-stop orders from upperclassmen. For the Class of 2015, 34 didn't make it through Plebe Summer to commence classes in the fall.

The Class of 2015 comes from every state in the Union, plus Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. There are also twelve international students from Mexico, Asia, and the Middle East. Nineteen percent, or 236, are female.

Of the total, 246 come from the Naval Academy Preparatory School in Newport, R.I. Many were recruited high school athletes, like Allison "Alli" Graf, a top volleyball player and member of the Class of 2012 at Broadneck High School. A star defensive specialist for the frequently victorious Bruins team, Alli learned in January that she would attend the Naval Academy after a year's detour to the Naval Academy Preparatory School.

"I hope to study oceanography," Alli says. Recruited to play Navy volleyball, if she does well at NAPS, she will become a member of USNA's Class of 2017.

"I had to go through the whole admission process," Alli explains. "A friend told me it takes about 80 hours to do everything, so I started in the summer. Before that, I went to Navy's volleyball camp and showcased myself for the coach in a short amount of time."

The coach was impressed with her skills and gave her a Blue Chip, which is the equivalent of an athletic scholarship to NAPS.

In January, she received a Letter of Intent from the academy, which she signed. Shortly after, the leather binder arrived, announcing her appointment to NAPS.

Of the applications received last year, it's a good bet a considerable number came from the Chesapeake region. This area is home to several significant military bases, it's where many service academy graduates settle after completing their military obligations, and it's close to the Beltway. Here, getting an appointment to the Naval Academy is a highly coveted prize.

For Scott (not his real name), the letter announcing his coveted appointment serendipitously arrived on Christmas Eve. Elated at his unexpected "Christmas present," he danced on an invisible cloud the next few days.

The teen's stars had aligned for him. A member of the Annapolis High Navy Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps, Scott was able to bypass the nomination process that many applicants have to endure. An International Baccalaureate student, he was ranked among the top 20 in his class. He held several leadership positions in the Navy Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps and his church youth group, and was a reliable athlete. His father had graduated from a service academy—he knew that added points to his application. Aware USNA handles admissions on a rolling basis, Scott tenaciously got his paperwork, references, medical records, and transcripts completed and delivered ahead of time.


A stellar academic record, high test scores, a varsity letter or two, and plenty of extracurricular activities are considered basic ingredients for consideration. But if a candidate does not receive a nomination, they cannot be considered for an appointment to the academy.

Last winter, in a chic restored warehouse building overlooking Baltimore's Inner Harbor, scores of well-dressed teens idled for hours. Some wore suits, while others have donned their uniform from Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps or Scouts. They were waiting to be interviewed by several panels, assembled by the office of Senator Barbara Mikulski, to screen prospective candidates.

The teens and their nervous parents sat fidgeting in rows of chairs from midmorning into the afternoon. The tension was palpable as they waited to be considered for an appointment to the Naval Academy. Eyes turned to scrutinize anyone who entered the room, evaluating the competition.

Potential candidates may apply for a nomination from Maryland's two U.S. senators, district congressperson, the president, or vice president. The head of a Navy Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps unit also can provide a nomination to a cadet within the unit, and then there are nominations from the USNA superintendent, usually reserved for recruited athletes, as well as nominations for the children of deceased and disabled veterans, prisoners of war or servicemen missing in action, and children of Medal of Honor awardees.

Each senator or congressperson may have up to five "active" nominees. For example, if three of their nominees are in their freshman through junior year at the academy, then they have only two nominations to dole out. Last December, both senator's offices received more than 100 applications from area youth for the few nominations the two were able to award.

Woody Johnston, director of college counseling at the Severn School in Severna Park, calls the effort to apply "a rigorous process." According to Johnston, politicians have separate questionnaires for applicants to fill out and often ask for additional letters of recommendation and personal essays.

"Applying to the Naval Academy," he says, "is like applying to four colleges because you have to apply for the appointment, and then apply to two senators and a congressperson for a nomination."

For more advice on getting in, read Tips for getting into the Naval Academy.


The desire to attend the academy has to begin as early as the freshman year of high school or even earlier.

Unlike most colleges, in addition to academics a candidate also has to be able to pass a physical fitness exam and handle several physical challenges. These include: a kneeling basketball throw; a 1.5 mile run in 10:30 min. for males and 12:40 for females; do 40 push-ups in two minutes if a male, 18 if female; and, for both genders, 65 sit-ups in two minutes.

When asked by any student what they need to do to make it into USNA, retired Navy Cdr. Royal Connell, Jr.'s response is always the same. "Get good grades, improve your class standing, be a varsity athlete in some sport, be involved in clubs and activities, and demonstrate leadership in any or all of the above."

Connell is a member of the Class of 1970. His father and youngest son (David '11) were also graduates. A teacher at Annapolis High School for 18 years, Connell was the lead naval science instructor and led the school's Navy Junior Reserve Officer Training Program, the only such program in Anne Arundel County. This is a magnet program that attracts students from across the county, including Broadneck, Severna Park, Arundel, Chesapeake, South River, and Southern High Schools. Over the years, several students in the program have obtained USNA appointments. Connell is now involved in running the more than 600 Navy Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps units nationwide from its Pensacola, Fla., headquarters.

"There is no magic formula, particularly if you are from central Maryland," Connell says. "The academy needs to be geographically diverse. That means they need to try to get midshipmen from all over the United States, and there are just not as many students who want to go Navy from places like the Panhandle of Texas as there are from Anne Arundel County, Maryland. So your competition is much harder from here; you have to stand out more."

Students can't afford to wait until they are sophomores or juniors to decide to aim for the Naval Academy. By then it's too late, Connell says. That's because the grades a student gets even as a freshman, as well as the activities and sports he or she does at that age, count.

"I guess the real bottom line, though, is that the student needs to want to go there," Connell says. "Not because their parent did, not because it's a free education, not because they like the uniforms or the pageantry of a dress parade or football game."

The goal of the Naval Academy is to produce career officers in the Navy and Marine Corps, and that needs to be the underlying goal of the prospective midshipman, or they won't be able to make it through."

As for Sam, he picked himself up and acted quickly to set up Plan B, attending Anne Arundel Community College this past year. He again applied to the Naval Academy for this coming year, and recently learned he has been accepted.

Wendi Winters is a freelance writer whose articles appear regularly in Chesapeake Taste. Read her full bio in our Contributors section.


A resident of Iowa or North Dakota has a higher chance of getting in to the Naval Academy than a resident of Maryland simply because so few people in those states have heard of the academy.

Admissions are handled on a "rolling" basis. A middle-of-the-road candidate who gets all his or her paperwork processed in the early fall has a much better chance of getting accepted than a brilliant candidate who waits until after the end-of-year holiday break to finish the application process.

The requirements and application are online at usna.edu/admissions/steps.htm.

 

 

 

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