The cornerstone of the U.S. Naval Academy, located in Annapolis, Maryland, is its mission: to develop Midshipmen morally, mentally and physically, instilling the ideals of duty, honor and loyalty. [Midshipmen is a non-gender-specific term used to identify all Naval Academy students before they graduate, at which time they are given a Commission as an officer either in the Navy or the U.S. Marines. So even women students, who make up about 23% of the Naval Academy’s student population, are called Midshipmen.]
The Naval Academy is a full four-year baccalaureate program, offering a B.A. or B.S. in 24 majors, with a heavy emphasis on math and science programs. There are a few humanities and foreign language options as well. Cyber security is becoming more a more popular course emphasis and career path for graduates. The Naval Academy has a specific core curriculum; Middies must take seamanship, physics, calculus, chemistry, ethics and weapons engineering.
About half of the 700 professors are tenured civilians. The Naval Academy has a 9:1 student-to-faculty ratio, and most classes have 10-25 students per section. There is significant interaction between Midshipmen and professors, who offer tutoring and extra instruction.
All 4,400 Midshipmen live in Bancroft Hall (the largest single dormitory in the world!), which has 1800 rooms in the shape of an H. The grand entrance hall has a stunning expanse of marble floors, giving the building a regal feel.
The Naval Academy education has a strong physical component: all students must participate in a varsity sport (it is not unusual for students to walk onto a varsity team); all students must complete a half-mile swim in under 40 minutes, fully clothed, and must jump from a 40-meter platform into the Academy’s Olympic-sized pool.
Extra-curricular activities are emphasized at the Academy, with cultural, music, service, academic, and religious groups on campus. There is also a National Eagle Scout Association on campus, not surprising given the emphasis on character in the admissions process.
Midshipmen have less free time during standard school break times than other college students; they have about a month off during the summer and the rest of the time they are on campus, or possibly on a ship or learning how to fly a plane. The training starts for first-year students even before freshman year begins; they spend six weeks on campus at a highly physical orientation called “Plebe summer.”
The cost of the Naval Academy education is five years of military service; there is no tuition and in fact, Midshipmen are actually paid a monthly stipend, which increases as they progress through the four years. The Academy has a 96.5% freshman retention rate and only about 6% of students leave after the second year, which is as long as they can spend without incurring the service requirement. “We hire 100% of our graduates,” they will tell you at their information session. Naval Academy graduates have the second-highest mid-career pay and, of course, can pursue any career after their service is complete.
Admission to the Naval Academy is highly competitive. Students are recruited not just from all 50 states, but from all 435 Congressional districts, as the Academy seeks to ensure that all areas of the country are represented. In addition to an Admissions Committee review, applicants must pass a fitness assessment and a physical examination by a Department of Defense-approved doctor. Applicants must also seek a nomination from either their Congressional Representative, either of their two Senators, or the Vice President [students can seek nominations from multiple sources]. The Admissions Committee looks at grades and test scores but also leadership, athletic prowess and character development.
Located in Annapolis, the Naval Academy’s campus is filled with striking architecture that reminded me of French royalty. Midshipmen clearly work very hard during and after their time here, meant to prepare them to assume the responsibilities of command, citizenship and government.