The United States Military Academy at West Point, known as USMA or West Point, is the oldest military college institution in the United States.
The significance of the campus’ location along the Hudson River in New York goes back to the Revolutionary War.
Since its establishment in 1802, West Point has graduated military leaders who have gone on to hold the rank of General and even travel in space as astronauts.
Military History at West Point
The storied grey halls of West Point date back to 1778, when then-General George Washington ordered a fortress to be built so that the American Army could have command of the site.
He established his headquarters at West Point in 1779 and the post has been in operation ever since. According to USMA, “West Point is the oldest continuously occupied military post in America.”
Graduates include Civil War Generals from both the Union and Confederacy—Grant, Lee, Sherman, and Jackson.
Through the years, other West Point graduates went on to become top military and political leaders, such as Eisenhower, MacArthur, Bradley, and Patton.
As the oldest of the service academies (Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard), the United States Military Academy has the longest history and richest traditions for students, called Cadets.
Related Article: How To Get Into The Naval Academy
Cadets at West Point fully embrace the rich military tradition of the institution while they learn and train to become leaders in the Army.
After graduation, new Army Second Lieutenants travel far and wide to take their posts in a variety of specialties.
All Cadets at West Point are given instruction in leadership and tactics, but academic majors now include 35 options, to include everything from Computer Science and Civil Engineering to English and Foreign Languages.
There are also a number of opportunities for study abroad, international travel, and other experiences to broaden a Cadet’s view of the world.
Learning More About West Point
Does this sound like the place for you? It is important to know if West Point will be the right fit, as the requirements and expectations are different than those at a civilian university.
Cadets at West Point are required to wear uniforms, attend mandatory classes, hold leadership positions, and other skill and character-building tasks.
That’s why a campus visit can really help prospective applicants know if West Point is where their future lies.
Attend Summer Leadership Experience
Every summer, 1000 high school juniors travel to West Point from all around the country to see what it would be like to attend as a Cadet.
The Summer Leadership Experience, or SLE, is a “fast-paced program consisting of academic classes, military training, physical fitness training, and intramural athletics” and is meant to replicate what Cadets do during the rest of the year.
The US Naval Academy has a very similar program as well.
Highlights of the program include:
- Academic courses in areas such as science, math, engineering, and the humanities.
- Physical training and intramural sports
- Weapons familiarization
- Obstacle courses and Leadership Recreation Course
- Social events to get to know other other prospective and current Cadets
Candidate Orientation Visits
West Point knows how important campus visits are to both prospective applicants and their families.
They offer guided Admissions orientation visits by appointment, which can be scheduled online or by calling the Admissions Office.
Overnight visits are also available by invitation to high school seniors who are applying.
Things to keep in mind when visiting West Point:
- New York weather can be hazardous in the Winter. During inclement weather, West Point may close the campus to visitors. It is helpful to call ahead if bad weather is expected.
- Visits are not scheduled during Graduation Week in May or the week prior to the new class arriving at the end of June.
- Because West Point is an active Army base, visitors who do not have a Department of Defense ID card will be required to get a visitor’s pass from the Visitor Control Center. Make sure to give yourself extra time, up to one hour, for this step.
Cadet Public Relations Council Spring Break Hometown Visits
Some Cadets participate in a program to provide information to prospective applicants back in their hometowns.
During Spring Break, Cadets travel home to meet high school students and give a face to USMA.
If you aren’t able to make a trip to New York, this can be a great way to talk one-on-one with a Cadet about what it is like to attend West Point.
Regional USMA Information Briefs
Another great option for those wanting information but unable to travel all the way to West Point, Regional Information Briefs are held throughout the year and in major cities all over the country.
Some are West Point specific, while others invite interested candidates to learn about all of the service academies.
A few briefs are even sponsored by Congressmen and Senators from the region, who are part of the application process as well.
Initial application steps
When you are ready to apply, you need to start an official file with West Point Admissions to begin the process.
That starts with an online Candidate Questionnaire, which high school students can complete as early as mid-January of their junior year.
The basic requirements to be eligible to apply are the same for all service academies.
Applicants must be between the ages of 17 and 23 when they start at West Point, be a U.S. citizen, and cannot be married, pregnant, or legally responsible for child support.
After that questionnaire is complete and you have a file with West Point Admissions, it is time to talk to you Field Force Representative.
This person is a volunteer in your local area that will be your point of contact for all admissions questions, application needs, and any other information that will help you on your journey to become a West Point Cadet.
Usually, Field Force Representatives are alumni or someone else who has a connection to West Point, such as a parent of a Cadet.
Getting a Congressional Nomination
The USMA online application is not the only application you will need to complete to become a West Point Cadet.
Prospective cadets also need to receive an official nomination to attend.
Everyone interested can apply for a nomination from:
- S. Senators who represent your state (2)
- Congressional Representative in the House of Representatives (1)
- Vice President (1)
The number of nominations an individual Senator or Congressperson can make is limited, so competition for nominations is just as fierce (sometimes more so, in certain areas) as for acceptance to West Point.
Additional nominations may be available from the Secretary of the Army, the President, Junior ROTC or Honor ROTC Units, and other Service-Connected nomination paths.
The nomination process is independent of the USMA application, which means that it is possible for you to get accepted to one and not the other.
To attend West Point, you must be accepted by West Point and be nominated from one of the above sources.
It is important to begin both processes as early as possible to give yourself time to perfect your application.
The West Point Application
The nuts and bolts of the actual West Point application are similar to many other universities.
Expect to submit your transcripts, standardized test scores, recommendation letters, a personal statement or essay, and your list of extracurricular activities.
There are a few things to know and aspects that West Point specifically looks for in a top candidate.
- USMA has their own application portal and does not use the Common App. This may mean replicating some of your inputs, such as transcripts, extracurriculars, etc.
But once you are standing proud in your West Point uniform, it will all be worth it.
- Emphasize your leadership experience. West Point is in the business of creating military leaders.
They want to know that you are both prepared for the leadership challenges and have an interest in developing your potential.
- You have to qualify medically. You will need to complete the Department of Defense Medical Examination Review Board physical
- You will need to take a fitness assessment. Your Candidate Fitness Assessment will be part of your overall application.
Applicants will demonstrate their physical abilities by completing a kneeling basketball throw for distance, pull-ups (men) or flexed-arm hang (women), 40-yard shuttle run, number of crunches in 2 minutes, number of pushups in 2 minutes, and 1-mile timed run.
- West Point wants to see how you write. Some universities may not be interested in the writing portion of the SAT or ACT.
That is not the case with the United States Military Academy. Writing and communication is an essential skill for leaders, so USMA wants to know how well you write before making you part of the incoming class.
Attending Prep School
If you didn’t get into West Point or didn’t receive a nomination, you may still have a chance to attend and graduate from USMA.
The United States Military Academy Preparatory School, or USMAPS, is located on the West Point grounds and includes further preparation for candidates who may not be ready for the rigor or environment of West Point but who USMA believes will be excellent Army leaders.
At USMAPS, instructors “provide focused academic, military, and physical instruction in a moral-ethical environment to prepare, motivate, and inspire Cadet Candidates in order to qualify for admission to, and graduation for, the United States Military Academy.”
Students at USMAPS may even have an advantage once they enter the freshman West Point class, as they have had an entire additional year of military and academic training, which prepares them for the transition to Cadet life.
Beasting West Point’s Beast Barracks
Cadets participate in summer training opportunities every year but the most significant of those experiences happens before they even start their first class.
Every summer, the incoming class shows up as civilians on Reception Day, or R-Day.
At the end of a very long and exhausting day, they stand in formation, ready to begin their Beast Barracks summer experience.
Beast Barracks is a 6- or 7-week immersive experience that challenges new arrivals to push themselves mentally and physically during every moment of their day.
They learn basic military skills, such as weapons handling and land navigation, as well as military discipline.
This all culminates a week-long Army field experience at Camp Buckner and Acceptance Day, or A-Day, when they join the rest of the Cadets for the start of the academic year.
Life as a Cadet
The challenges do not stop at the end of the first summer or even first year for West Point Cadets.
Every year brings new opportunities to learn, both academically and as a future military officer.
As Cadets move from freshmen, also known as plebes, to sophomores (Yearlings), juniors (Cows), and seniors (Firsties), the emphasis transitions from learning military discipline to practicing military leadership.
West Point focuses on 4 main areas of development: character, academic, military, and physical.
Every Cadet is expected to work hard to further their individual development in each area, with upperclassmen leading the younger classes in that journey.
Every day is very regimented and orderly, with time allocated for class, military obligations, study, and physical activity.
USMA is also rich in tradition, with Cadets singing rousing songs, playing pranks of visiting students from the other service academies, and generally showing school spirit at every opportunity.
Athletics are taken very seriously at West Point, with students cheering for the Army Black Knights in every sporting event.
Army football in the fall is particularly fun for the players, the rest of the Cadets, Alumni, and other spectators.
The United States Military Academy is one of the premier military training institutions for Army leaders.
Its long, rich history is only matched by its commitment to growth and development, both for Cadets and the institution itself.
The application process is long and should be taken seriously. But if you are accepted and join the gray ranks of the Cadets at USMA, get ready for a challenge that will change your life.