In 2007, Karl Smith worked as the General Manager of the online home to three local newspapers. He took a chance and hired an unproven writer with nothing more than a personal blog and zero experience in journalism. That writer was Ronan Farrow.
I’m kidding. It was me.
I’ll forever be grateful for the chance.
Karl’s son Noah is now enrolled at the United States Naval Academy. He writes about Noah’s experience on his website, My Kid The Mid, and wrote a new book about the Naval Academy tradition. Here’s Karl’s advice to parents of future Midshipman.
The First Question, “Is Your Kid SURE About The Naval Academy?”
Like a lot of kids his age, when my son was a junior, he began drawing up a list of colleges.
He had a few basic criteria beyond academics, mainly that they have a good music program, a chance for him to play football and be located somewhere out West. Almost as an afterthought, he said he also wanted to apply to the United States Naval Academy.
It didn’t seem like a big deal at the time, because he hadn’t really expressed an interest in military service. But as the year wore on and he started his senior year, his interest intensified until it became his primary objective. And, to be quite honest, my wife and I started to panic a little.
We knew the Academy was prestigious, but not much beyond that. And we had never given a thought to our son serving in the military. But those feelings were soon subsumed by the overwhelming task of actually completing the application process. The military has a well-earned reputation for mounds of paperwork and red tape, and the application process for the Academy exceeds all of that.
It’ a long and complicated story, but he did it. He was among the 7% of applicants to earn an appointment to the Class of 2020. My wife and I have evolved from panic to cautious optimism.
A lot of people say we must be excited that he’s at the Academy. I respond that I am proud of him and excited for him. To be honest, I’m still not entirely comfortable with him being in the military, but it’s his path, not mine.
And getting on that path is a journey of its own. And I learned a few things along the way.
Honest Advice About The U.S. Naval Academy
There are several reasons a middle schooler or high schooler would consider an institution like the United States Naval Academy beyond the prestige, such as free tuition and a guaranteed job after graduation (or, in USNA terms, Commissioning).
Before going down that path, here are a few things to keep in mind.
It’s extremely competitive
Extremely. My son is in the Class of 2020, which started with 1,180 students. More than 17,000 applied. I’ll save you the math, that’s an acceptance rate just under 7 percent, which is a bit higher than Harvard but lower than MIT.
Graduates serve active duty
There’s no financial cost to the education, but attendees must serve at least 5 years active duty after Commissioning.
It’s not easy
And it’s hard. Really, really hard. In addition to the grueling academic load (most Midshipmen carry more than 20 hours per semester), there’s a ton of military training (and rules) and strict physical requirements.
If you have a kid who’s interested in being an officer, they should know that going the ROTC route leads to the same destination with the same price tag.
Naval Academy Requirements
Now, if there are dead set on attending the Naval Academy, there are three areas to focus on and three things to do (this is all aside from the daunting application process, which is a whole other story and blog post).
While the Academy isn’t strictly looking for brainiacs, most of these kids are pretty smart, finishing in the top 10% of their high school class. And the Class of 2020 had the highest SAT scores in Academy history, so the bar is set kinda high.
Athletics and fitness are key components of Academy life. More than 90% of the Class of 2020 were varsity athletes in high school. It’s about teamwork, commitment, and mental toughness. Oh, and 72% of that class were team captains, which brings us to …
Whether it’s JROTC, Boys Scouts, Girl Scouts, Civil Air Patrol or drum major in the marching band, the Academy is in the business of molding future leaders for the Navy, so kids who have that in their background move toward the front of the line.
Naval Academy Admissions & Acceptance
Aside from those three areas, here are some things a kid considering an Academy application should do.
Attend a USNA camp
And there are a lot of them, everything from STEM (75% of the Midshipmen major in STEM-related fields) to rowing. The camps are a great way to see the campus (referred to as The Yard) and get a peek into life at USNA.
For athletes, it’s a perfect way to catch the eye of a Navy coach. Recruited athletes move toward the front of the line.
High school juniors should apply to the Navy summer seminar, which is essentially a (very) light version of life at the Academy. Even if they aren’t accepted, applying to summer seminar begins the official application process.
This may sound simple, but in addition to reading about life at the Academy and watching YouTube videos, students should really get a firsthand look at the Academy and, while they are there, talk to anyone who will stop for a chat (which will be just about anyone).
It’s a long, long road to the Naval Academy and this just scratches the surface.
Karl Smith knew next to nothing about the US Naval Academy until his son earned an appointment to become part of the Class of 2020. Since then, he’s started a blog – My Kid The Mid – as a resource for parents as well as serving as an administrator for several USNA Class pages on Facebook. He also wrote the book Anchored In Tradition, an unofficial collection of fun, facts, and figures about life at the United States Naval Academy. When he’s not writing about life at the Academy, he works in marketing, communications and digital media.