It’s no surprise that West Point is consistently ranked among the most selective colleges in the nation. As America’s first military academy, West Point attracts the nation’s best and brightest students with its gorgeous riverside campus in upstate New York, free tuition, and unparalleled opportunities for international travel and leadership. Add to that the camaraderie of the corps of cadets and the physical challenge of military training—and it’s no wonder that more than 14,000 students apply each year for roughly 1,000 spots.
So how do you become one of the lucky ones? Well, as you might imagine, it’s not about luck. Here are the top 10 tips for getting into West Point. While they’re not comprehensive or fail-proof, they’re tried and true recommendations that can give you a head start in the process.
LEARN THE LINGO.
You’re not accepted into West Point; you’re “appointed.” When you step on campus, you’re not a student, you’re a “candidate.” These differences may not seem significant right now, but if you’re hoping to be a member of the Long Gray Line, it’s important to learn the lingo. The admissions process for West Point is different than any other college in the nation, and while it’s easy to learn the lingo as you go, Admissions counselors notice when you use the correct terms.
TAKE THE TESTS. STUDY. TAKE THE TESTS AGAIN.
Test scores are a critical component of your application to West Point. According to Prep Scholar, the average SAT score to get into West Point is 1340, and the average ACT score is 29. (Hint: that’s pretty high.) To get your scores above average, consider using the “Super Score” method. West Point always takes your top two verbal and math SAT scores, but they don’t have to be earned on the same day. That means you can study your tail off for the math section, then, on another test day, focus all of your energy on increasing your verbal score. Whatever you do, make sure you take the writing component of either test. That’s required.
START EARLY, BUT NOT TOO EARLY.
Many students dream of attending West Point as early as middle school. That’s a little too early to start applying. But, if you’re a senior in high school, that might be too late. West Point’s admissions process includes lots of steps and a bit more time. High School juniors should begin the admissions process during their second semester. So don’t hesitate. After all, you can always decide later not to apply, but if you’re too late, then you may miss out on an opportunity that you wish you’d had.
COMPLETE THE CANDIDATE QUESTIONNAIRE
AND APPLY FOR SLE.
The Candidate Questionnaire (CQ) is the first step in your application to West Point and becomes available to high school juniors every January. Have on hand your GPA, high school course load, SAT or ACT scores and any other relevant information from your high school experience. There is no save and go back feature when completing the CQ, so make sure you’re ready to fill out the entire form when you begin. After you submit a completed CQ, your information will be reviewed, and if found eligible, you’ll receive a “second step kit” which will include login information to the application portal, and a series of documents to download. Also, consider that the CQ can double as an application to West Point’s optional Summer Learning Experience (SLE). Though it has no bearing on admissions decisions, the week-long summer camp for rising seniors will allow you to experience cadet life and may help determine if West Point is right for you.
BUILD STRONG RELATIONSHIPS WITH YOUR TEACHERS.
West Point requires applicants submit an “SOE,” or School Official Evaluation. (See, there’s that lingo again.) The SOE will include four letters of recommendation to be completed by a Math teacher, Chemistry or Physics teacher, English teacher, and the Physical Education instructor or coach that performs your Candidate Fitness Assessment (more on that later). Without strong relationships with your teachers, these letters will feel forced or impersonal—neither of which will be great for your application. It’s not that you need to brown-nose your way into a strong SOE. Simply spend some extra time getting to know the people who’ve devoted their lives to educating you. It will pay off, whether you get into West Point or not.
INVEST IN LEADERSHIP.
Long before you begin your application to West Point, it’s important to become a leader in your school and community. Admissions counselors look highly on Eagle Scouts and Girl Scout Gold Award recipients. Consider looking into representing your school at Boys or Girls State—which also goes far in the admissions process. You can even tell coaches or faculty members that you’re applying to West Point, and that you’d love to serve in a leadership role, if possible. Every student at West Point earned that position because the Admissions committee saw potential for leadership in the Army and beyond. Your experience with service and leadership will show that you’re worthy of that same investment.
SPEAK WITH YOUR RC AND FFR.
West Point’s admissions counselors are called Regional Commanders (RC). Check out this list of contacts to discover who your point of contact should be during the application process. If applicable, reach out to the Regional Commander for Diversity Outreach as well. It’s always beneficial to meet with someone in person, too, so ask to get in touch with your local Field Force Representative (FFR). Typically, FFRs are West Point Graduates who are either retired or serving on active duty as Army officers. FFRs are passionate about two things: their alma mater and helping potential applicants. Though they don’t have any official decision-making capacity, their input with the Admissions team is instrumental. Not only can your FFR answer your questions, they will provide your RC with some great perspective on who you are in person, rather than just on paper.
GET A NOMINATION.
The nomination process is perhaps the most enigmatic part of applying to a service academy. To even be considered for candidacy, every applicant to West Point must receive a nomination. The majority of nominations are congressional, meaning they are awarded by either your state’s U.S. Congressional Representative or one of your Senators. Don’t let this step intimidate you. Every year, each Member of Congress can award up to ten nominations West Point. If you request a nomination from both Senators from your state and the Representative from your Congressional District, you have up to 30 opportunities to be awarded a nomination. That’s a lot! Here’s a sample nomination request letter. Use senate.gov and house.gov to find your representatives’ contact information and requirements. Additionally, sons and daughters of career military personnel and JROTC cadets have a chance to receive service-connected nominations. Check out the rules and make sure to apply for every possible nomination for which you qualify.
FOCUS ON FITNESS.
Every cadet at West Point is an athlete. Whether they are on a Division I sports team, club athletic squad, or intramural team—every student is required to stay physically active. That’s why application will include a medical exam, and you’ll be required to pass the Candidate Fitness Assessment (CFA). The CFA includes a kneeling basketball throw, pull-ups or arm-hang, shuttle run, crunches, push-ups and a 1-mile timed run. Don’t get caught off guard on the day you take the CFA. It’s smart to practice for every scored event and train regularly so that you’re in peak physical performance and ready to do your best on the official test date.
HEDGE YOUR BETS – CONSIDER ROTC OR ENLISTING.
Are you also considering other colleges? Let’s say you’ve done everything you can think of to earn an appointment. Do you have a backup plan? If you’re really interested in serving as an officer in the U.S. Army or if receiving an affordable education is your motivation, consider joining ROTC. There are plenty of colleges and universities with top-notch ROTC programs, and at the end of four years, you will earn your degree and you’ll be commissioned as an officer, no different than if you attend West Point. And if West Point is still your dream, you can always apply again. Having joined ROTC will only strengthen your application. And finally, don’t forget that West Point draws applicants from active duty as well. If you’ve just joined the Army as an enlisted soldier, West Point has a specific recruiter just for you.
Ultimately, even in the admissions process, West Point is seeking out students who can create and follow through with a strategy, step by step. If your dream is to become a West Point cadet, then by all means, do what it takes to make that dream a reality. But there are many paths up the same mountain. If you don’t get into West Point, know that your passion for leadership and service is needed wherever you go.