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The United States service academies, also known as the United States military academies, are federal academies for the undergraduate education and training of commissioned officers for the United States Armed Forces.
There are five U.S. service academies:
Service academies can be used to refer to all of the academies collectively. However, in popular usage, this term is more often used for the academies of four branches of the military: those of the Army, Navy, and Air Force (under the Department of Defense); and that of the Coast Guard (under the Department of Homeland Security). These are the only four academies whose students are on active duty in the Armed Forces of the United States from the day they enter the Academy, with the rank of officer cadet or midshipman, and subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Students at these academies cannot, however, count this active duty time towards military active/retired pay and allowances nor can they claim the time for years of service for retirement. In the case of the Merchant Marine Academy, midshipmen may elect to receive an active duty or reserves commission in any branch of the uniformed services, including NOAA and the U.S. Public Health Service, most are commissioned into the Navy Reserve, Strategic Sealift Officer Program.
In the context of college football, the term "service academies" most often refers specifically to the grouping of Army, Navy, and Air Force, the three academies whose football teams compete in the top-level NCAA Division I FBS. The three schools compete annually for the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy. Coast Guard and Merchant Marine compete at the NCAA Division III level and play each other annually for the Secretaries Cup (formerly Secretary's Cup when both academies were under the Department of Transportation).
The United States Coast Guard, and therefore the Coast Guard Academy, is part of the United States Armed Forces, albeit under the Department of Homeland Security, but in time of war it can be placed under the Department of the Navy.
Applicants to all service academies, except the United States Coast Guard Academy, are required to obtain a nomination to the schools. Nominations may be made by Congressional Representatives, Senators, the Vice President and the President. Applicants to the Coast Guard Academy compete in a direct nationwide competitive process that has no by-state quotas.
The admissions process to the US service academies is an extensive and very competitive process. The US Military Academy at West Point, the US Naval Academy at Annapolis, and the US Air Force Academy at Colorado Springs all require an applicant to submit an on-line file and proceed through pre-candidate qualification before an application is provided. The US Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point New York requires an applicant to submit part 1 of the 3 part application prior to receiving a nomination. All these schools have an extremely competitive application process and are ranked annually by U.S. News & World Report and Forbes.com as some of the most selective colleges and universities in America. The average acceptance rate is between 8-17% for each of the schools.
Students at the United States Military Academy, the United States Air Force Academy, and the United States Coast Guard Academy are cadets. Students at the United States Naval Academy and the United States Merchant Marine Academy are midshipmen. All cadets and midshipmen receive taxable pay at a rate of 35% of O1 under 2 years of service (which can be used to pay for textbooks and uniforms), free room and board, and pay no tuition or fees, with the exception of USMMA who receive taxable pay at $1006.80 a month only during their required 300+ days at sea during their 4-year studies.
Upon graduation and the receipt of a Bachelor of Science degree, the former students become second lieutenants or ensigns and must serve a minimum term of duty, usually five years plus another three years in the Reserves. If the student's chosen occupation requires particularly extensive training (such as aviation or Special Operations), the service commitment may be longer.
With respect to the Merchant Marine Academy, midshipmen repay their service obligations through a variety of methods depending on their selected career path. On average, about one third of the graduating class each year will actively sail on their Coast Guard License as either Unlimited Third Mates or Third Assistant Engineers in the United States Merchant Marine, about one third will go to work in the civilian maritime industry ashore, and the remaining one third will enter active duty military service. A midshipman who enters active duty military service will typically assume a service obligation similar to those of cadets and midshipmen entering the military services from their respective service academies (i.e. a Merchant Marine midshipman entering the US Marine Corps would assume a similar obligation to a midshipman from the Naval Academy entering the Marine Corps). Merchant Marine midshipmen not entering active duty typically assume an eight-year obligation to the Naval Reserve Strategic Sealift Officer Program, unless they have elected to enter another reserve branch of the armed forces. In addition, midshipmen who do not see service on active duty are restricted from working outside the maritime industry or merchant marine for a period of five years following graduation and must seek annual MARAD approval for their employment.
These schools provide for strengthening of academic potential of candidates to each of the above-described United States service academies. Admission is restricted to those students who have applied to an academy, failed initially to qualify, either academically or physically, but who have demonstrated an ability to qualify during the initial admission selection process: