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The Top Ten Questions about Graduating from a US Service Academy

Every year, I have the honor of working out with more than 2000 high school students seeking acceptance into the Naval Academy during the Summer Seminar program.  Hundreds of emails each year concerning all of the Service Academy programs have prompted me to write the most frequently asked questions I receive.  These emails are from many of the young men and women seeking to serve their country as an officer in any of the services.

Here they are: 

1 - Do all of the services have their own academy?  If so how do you get into them?  This is a monster of a question so I recommend thorough research on the websites of the Service Academies below.  All services have their own academy however the US Naval Academy has around 20-30% of its class to join the Marine Corps.

Naval Academy - Annapolis MD - USNA

Air Force Academy - Colorado Springs CO - USAFA

Military Academy - West Point NY - USMA

Coast Guard Academy - New London CO - USCGA

Merchant Marine Academy - Kings Point NY - USMMA

2 - What are the Physical Fitness Tests at the Academy?  They are all similar and some identical but here are the actual tests they take before and during the Academy:

USNA - USAFA - USMA - All take the CFA - Candidate Fitness Assessment:

Basketball throw, pushups, situps, pullups, 1 mile run


USCGA - USMMA - pushups, situps, 1.5 mile run

All academies take a pushups, situps, 1.5 mile run every six months while attending the 4 year school.  However, West Point - (Army) does a 2 mile run.

3 - What is up with the basketball throw - where did they get this test?  Ha - good one.  It is actually part of an older exam called the PAE - Physical Aptitude Exam which basically measures one's potential to be a strong candidate / athlete.  The test does demonstrate athletic ability to a degree and shoulder girdle and torso rotational power as well.  I agree it is a bit different from ALL tests out there, but the Army, Navy, AF use it so who am I to argue?

4 - Can you fail the CFA?  Well, since the academies are very competitive, it helps to have good to great scores in EVERYTHING you can to set yourself apart from the other 10-12,000 or so applicants most academies receive.  Notice - there are no minimum standards!  I love this personally as striving for a minimum standard CANNOT be a part of your work ethic IF you want to get into and especially if you want to graduate.

5 - On average what are the numbers who apply / get accepted / graduate?

Using the Naval Academy as an example, in recent years around 10,000 -12,000 people apply, about 4,000 get nominations, and around 1,200-1,300 get accepted each year.  Usually, graduating classes drop to under 1000 after four years.  My class was 1350 and we graduated a little over 900.

6 - How do you become a Marine at the Naval Academy?  As with any service selection opportunity, you will be given a course to follow through your four years there that can take you directly to the graduating ranks of the USMC.  Usually, it requires a few summer training periods with Marine units, attending a summer program for midshipmen seeking USMC officer slots at Quantico, VA, taking the USMC PFT - pullups, situps, 3 mile run and of course keeping up with your academics and leadership experience positions as it is competitive to become a Marine officer.

7 - How do you become a SEAL from the USNA?  Very similar to the way you become a Marine.  You should attend the Navy SEAL PTs, join the extra curricular activity (ECA)  Spec Ops Team / Club, score extremely well on your BUDS PST:

500yd swim - sub 8 min (recommended competitive scores - though these are the average scores for most candidates)

pushups 100+

situps 100+

pullups  25+

1.5 mile run in boots / pants - sub 9 min

Also you will have to endure a 24-36 hour event called BUDS Screening which is run by the SEAL instructors at USNA and actual first phase BUDS instructors - basically it is all the tough events that occur during the six months training at BUDS compounded into a 24 -36 hour period.  This gets you a ticket to go to the SEAL Officer Assessment and Selection the Summer before your Senior year. 


Starting the Summer 2014, ALL officer candidates will get the opportunity to test themselves at BUDS. What used to be called mini-BUDS has been changed to an actual BUD/S Selection Program. Mini-BUDS was more of a summer camp compared to BUD Selection program as this program is not just a Midshipman Summer Cruise - it is a selection and screening course. USNA and Navy ROTC Midshipmen, qualified USAFA, or USMA cadets, and highly qualified OCS candidates all train together and are constantly screened by BUD/S instructors. The details of this program are limited and all candidates are required to sign a non-disclosure agreement. Just know that you will be tested in running, rucking, swimming, water skills, PT, log PT, small boat drills, and many more events. You will be graded at just about everything you do from push-ups to leadership skills. Interviews, psychological evaluations, and the two weeks of daily challenges will expose your personality, strengths, and weaknesses. The BUD/S recruiters and Officer Community Manager will determine who attends BUDS in the following months and candidates will learn later in the Fall the same year.

This training is no longer mini-BUDS.  It is very intimidating, but if you are prepared you will test out well.  Relax, be yourself, show confidence, not arrogance and you will be fine.  Have some knowledge of the SEAL Teams, read books on SEALs, etc as you will be asked many questions on your potential future profession.

8 - Can you join the military even if you go to the Merchant Marine Academy? YES - I know of several who have gone onto serve in the military, in fact a few have become Navy SEALs too.  SEALs also have a few billets each year coming from USMA and USAFA.  In fact, the COMNAVSPECWAR (1 star admiral in charge of all SEALs) is an USAFA graduate.

9 - Are the Service Academies "real" college?  Depends how you define real!  The answer is yes - they are accredited universities and actually very competitive with Ivy League schools with challenging curricula.  Now - will you have a "real" college experience?  Up to you, you get to leave on weekends and relax and have fun, but during the week, it is work - workout, go to school, do a sport, eat, study, sleep!

10 - Why did you choose the Naval Academy - why a service academy?  I knew I wanted to be in the military at about age 16. I just did not know what I wanted to do.  I figured if I can be in the military AND go to college that was even better so I looked into ROTC and Service Academies.  After some research (before internet) I noticed the Navy bases always were near a beach.  Being from Florida, that seemed nice.  After pondering pilot or Navy SEAL, I eventually came to the Navy SEAL decision after meeting several of them on campus.  Also five guys on my rugby team all became SEALs too.  So we were all workout buddies.  It just seemed to fit.

For best results, visit the Service Academy websites and read their frequently asked questions pages.  That will be your best source of information for the specifics of all the academies.

Thanks for all the emails that help me write weekly articles.  Keep them coming and I will answer them personally.  Email me at for any comments / questions on fitness.

The U.S. Service Academy Candidate Fitness Assessment Video - This 30 minute video will help you ace one of the most competitive fitness tests in the nation.  Getting into West Point, Naval Academy, Coast Guard Academy and the Air Force Academy is extremely tough to do.  Put your best foot forward by mastering the skills of the CFA: 
Run 1 mile, shuttle run, pullups, pushups, situps, and a basketball throw.  This DVD will walk you through the test and help you create a strategy for you to ace the assessment.  The CFA ebook is the workout and this is the video guide companion to the workout book and is FREE with the purchase of the book or ebook.

The Service Academy Workout (West Point, Navy, Air Force Academy) - Available in book / ebook


Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. If you are interested in starting a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle - check out the Fitness eBook store and the Stew Smith article archive at To contact Stew with your comments and questions, e-mail him at

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Published Books / DVDs

The Complete List of Stew Smith's eBooks:

Fitness for All Levels of Fitness

The 90 Day Beginner Guide to Fitness
The Advanced Maintenance and Recovery Program

Reclaim Your Life - The Erin O'Neill Program

Veteran's Fitness - Baby Boomer and a Flat Stomach

The Busy Executive Workout Routine
The TRX Workout
- Circuit Training 101 ebook

NEW Obstacle Course Race Ebook

The Special Forces Physical Fitness Workouts
 Combat Conditioning Workout

Navy SEAL Workout Phase 1  Beginner Weeks 1-9
Navy SEAL Workout Phase 2 - 3 - Intermediate Weeks 1-12
Navy SEAL Workout Phase 4  Grinder PT -  Four weeks before Hell Week

Navy SWCC Workout

The Army Special Forces / Ranger Workout 

The Army Air Assault School Workout

The Army Airborne Workout

The OCS, ROTC, Service Academy, & Bootcamp Workouts

New - Army PRT and CRT
Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard OCS Workout

The USMC IST and PFT Workout
USMC OCS / TBS Workout
The Service Academy Workout (West Point, Navy, Air Force Academy)
The Navy, Air Force, Marine Corp Bootcamp Workout

The Army OCS and PFT Workout
The PFT Bible - Military / Police Standard PFT


The Law Enforcement Physical Fitness Test Workouts

The FBI Academy / PFT Prep Workout

The DEA Prep Workout

The FLETC Prep Workout - Ace the PEB

The State / Local Police Academy Workout

The Fire Fighter Workout

TRX Train Like the Pros


Some Titles Above available in Print Softcover Format