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Guide to Military Colleges: Should You Attend One?

There are three primary options for students interested in receiving military training while also pursuing a college degree: service academies, senior military colleges, and military junior colleges. Each of these three options is unique, with different standards, requirements, and outcomes; consequently, they appeal to different types of students. 


If you’re interested in pursuing both military and educational goals in college, keep reading to discover which option is best for you. 


What Are Military Colleges?


Military colleges combine a traditional college experience—academics, sports, socializing, and extracurricular programs—with military training. Attending a military college also creates a path to a career in a branch of the military. In fact, many military colleges have a service requirement—that is, students are required to serve in the military for a set period of time following graduation. 


Different Types of Military Colleges


From distinct admission standards to varying commitments after graduation to different degrees offered, there are a multitude of ways the three primary types of military colleges differ from one another. Below is a summary of what makes each type of military college unique. 


Service Academies


There are five service academies, with each academy dedicated to a specific branch of the military. The five service academies are: 


Service Academy  Location Acceptance Rate
U.S. Military Academy West Point, NY 10%
U.S. Naval Academy Annapolis, MD 8%
U.S. Air Force Academy Colorado Springs, CO 11%
U.S. Coast Guard Academy New London, CT 20%
U.S. Merchant Marine Academy Kings Point, NY 15%


One of the big selling points of attending a service academy is the cost. Students pursuing a bachelor’s degree will have their tuition, books, board, medical, and dental all fully paid for while enrolled. (The exception is the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, which charges a small fee of $1,095 and doesn’t cover expenses like insurance.)


After earning a bachelor’s degree from a service academy, there is a service requirement. Graduates from the Military, Naval, and Air Force academies must serve at least eight years, five of which must be on active duty, while Coast Guard Academy graduates owe a five-year active-duty service commitment. Graduates from the Merchant Marine Academy can fulfill their service requirement in a variety of ways: they can serve for eight years with a reserve unit, serve five years on active duty in the armed forces, perform five years of service with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, serve five years as a Merchant Marine officer, or serve five years in a maritime-related profession.


Senior Military Colleges 


Senior military colleges are all four-year, degree-granting institutions with more immersive ROTC that are more closely related to life at a service academy than at a traditional college or university. There are six senior military colleges and one affiliated program in the U.S.:


Senior Military College  Location Acceptance Rate
Texas A&M College Station, TX 58%
Norwich University Northfield, VT 75%
Virginia Military Institute Lexington, VA 60%
The Citadel Charleston, SC 75%
Virginia Tech Blacksburg, VA  70%
University of North Georgia Dahlonega, GA 76%
Virginia Women’s Institute for Leadership at Mary Baldwin College Staunton, VA 100%


Senior military colleges have less competitive admissions and fewer requirements that need to be met than service academies. The most notable difference in the application process between service academies and senior military colleges is that applicants do not need a nomination for consideration at a senior military college. 


Another way that senior military colleges differ from service academies is cost—students attending senior military colleges do not receive the free tuition and other financial benefits that service academies get. However, there are a number of ROTC scholarships available to assist in covering the cost of college. 


Student experiences will vary depending on the senior military college attended. For example, at Norwich, every student must participate in the ROTC program, while roughly 2,500 students join the Corps of Cadets at Texas A&M, which is just a fraction of the nearly 70,000 students enrolled. 


There is no service requirement for students graduating from a senior military college (unless service is tied to an ROTC scholarship). For students interested in pursuing a career in the military, every school provides paths into the various branches of service. There is also the option to leave the service behind and pursue civilian life. 


Military Junior Colleges 


Military junior colleges are two-year, associate degree-granting schools with more immersive military training similar to that of a service academy or senior military college. There are four military junior colleges: 


Military Junior College  Location
Valley Forge Military Academy and College Wayne, Pennsylvania
Marion Military Institute Marion, Alabama
New Mexico Military Institute Roswell, New Mexico
Georgia Military College Milledgeville, Georgia


Military junior colleges provide a fast track for students who want to have a career in the service, although, unlike other programs, students are limited to career paths in just the Army and Air Force. 


Early Commissioning Programs are popular at military junior colleges. These programs allow graduating students to commission as officers in the Army Reserves, allowing them to receive the benefits of being an officer in the Army while completing their bachelor’s degree. Students participating in an Early Commissioning Program have a service obligation of either serving eight years in the Reserves or National Guard, or four years of active duty.


Service Academy Programs are another reason why students might choose to attend military junior colleges. These year-long programs help students prepare both physically and academically for the rigors of attending a service academy. It’s common for a service academy to agree to accept an applicant in advance under the condition that they complete a service program. 

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Applying to a Military College

Applying to a Service Academy 


As the acceptance rates at the service academies indicate (between 8%-20%), admission into them is extremely competitive. General requirements for admission into a service academy include: 


  • Being between the ages of 17-24 (age ranges vary by the academy)
  • A high school diploma
  • Passing a medical exam
  • A fitness assessment 
  • No dependents
  • Unmarried 


Other institution-dependent requirements include:


  • Not being pregnant
  • Being debt-free
  • An interview with a local representative (Naval Academy and Air Force Academy) 


The most challenging application requirement for many applicants is a Congressional, Vice Presidential, or Presidential nomination for admission—only the Coast Guard Academy doesn’t require a nomination, and the Merchant Marine Academy will only accept congressional nominations. Congressional nominations are the most common nomination—they account for about 75% of all appointments—there are a handful of other nominations available, including those for: 


  • Enlisted military personnel
  • ROTC and JROTC students
  • Children of military personnel who were killed in action, died while on active duty or were disabled while on active duty
  • Children of military personnel who are currently prisoners of war or missing in action
  • Children of Medal of Honor recipients


In addition to meeting the multitude of requirements, applying to a service academy is similar to applying to any other fiercely competitive college. Good grades and exemplary test scores are integral, as are extracurricular activities—especially those where you’ve held a leadership position. Similarly, athletic excellence is also a coveted characteristic in applicants; athletic achievement, along with a leadership role such as team captain, are particularly prized. 


Applying to a Senior Military College 


Applying to a senior military college is not all that different from applying to a traditional four-year college. Applicants are evaluated on grades, test scores, and extracurricular activities. 


Like any group of colleges, selectivity varies by the institution, with a school like Texas A&M having an acceptance rate of 58% and a school like The Citadel having an acceptance rate of 75%. 


It also is worth noting that schools like The Citadel overwhelmingly attract students with an interest in military service; other schools, like Texas A&M where the Corps of Cadets represents just a fraction of the overall student body, attract a more diverse student body. 


Applying to a Military Junior College


Military junior colleges are the least competitive of the military colleges. Completion of high school is a requirement and some colleges require standardized tests. However, Early Commissioning Programs are more selective—to qualify, it’s necessary to meet certain GPA and standardized test score thresholds, along with meeting other requirements such as a medical exam, passing a fitness test, and meeting height and weight standards. 


Is Attending a Military College Right for You?


There are a lot of fantastic benefits to attending a military college; however, it’s not the right path for everyone. If you’re on the fence about whether a military college is a good fit for you, here are some of the pros and cons of attending. 




  • Provides a pathway to a career in the service
  • Relatively low-cost when compared to traditional four-year colleges 
  • Will push a student both academically and physically 
  • Builds discipline and leadership 
  • Fosters an intense sense of community with other students 




  • Extremely challenging to get into a service academy 
  • Many paths lead to a service requirement or commission 
  • Not the traditional college experience many students think of 
  • A very regimented and busy schedule 


Wondering about your odds of acceptance at a service academy, school with a Corps of Cadets, or a traditional four-year college? CollegeVine’s free Admissions Calculator can tell you your real chances of getting into your dream school—including the service academies—and offer advice on how to improve them. Sign up for your free CollegeVine account to get a jumpstart on your college strategy today!

Short Bio
A graduate of Northeastern University with a degree in English, Tim Peck currently lives in Concord, New Hampshire, where he balances a freelance writing career with the needs of his two Australian Shepherds to play outside.