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    What Are American Military Universities? 

    By Gabriel Jimenez-Ekman

    Gabriel Jimenez-Ekman is a content editor and writer at Scholarships360. He has managed communications and written content for a diverse array of organizations, including a farmer’s market, a concert venue, a student farm, an environmental NGO, and a PR agency. Gabriel graduated from Kenyon College with a degree in sociology.

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    Learn about our editorial policies

    Updated: February 27th, 2024
    What Are American Military Universities? 

    American Military universities offer a hybrid curriculum of higher education and military training to students across the United States. They typically involve a rigorous and strict curriculum, and set students up for military positions after graduation. 

    For students interested in serving, this can be a great opportunity. Cadets graduate with the skills to serve in the army and with a degree that they can use to land other jobs if they decide not to continue with the service. What’s more, some American military universities pay the entirety of tuition, books, board, and medical expenses for all four years.

    That being said, they are certainly not a fit for everyone, and provide a dramatically different college experience than typical universities. In this guide, we’ll get into the experience of being a cadet and help you decide whether it’s the right choice for you. Let’s get into it:

    Don’t miss: What is ROTC and is it a good fit for you?

    What are American Military universities?

    American Military universities provide an education which simultaneously instills a traditional college education and a military education in its students. They often come with financial incentives, and sometimes, a commitment to serve after graduation for a certain period. 

    There are a wide range of American Military universities which train you for different branches of the military and have varying degrees of commitment requirements and skill focuses. We’ll get into each of the main types of American Military universities later on in this article.

    Lifestyle and student experience

    Although military universities offer a similar education to that at regular universities, they come with a drastically different experience. Cadets typically live strict and disciplined lifestyles, and between their military training and their classes, they are kept very busy. Most military universities have very strict rules regarding alcohol and drug use.

    Because students are receiving two forms of education in one, there is naturally less free time than in typical colleges. Summer breaks are often only a few weeks as opposed to 2-3 months. The time spent in school is also very intensive, and students often begin their studies as early as 6 AM in the morning and continue until late.

    Pros of American Military universities

    • In many cases, students receive a partially or fully-subsidized education
    • Cadets receive two forms of education in one degree, equipping them for military positions and other jobs down the line
    • Graduates often receive placements directly into a position in the military
    • Provides a strong sense of structure to keep cadets motivated and on-track

    Cons of American Military universities

    • Extensive curriculum leaves time for little else in cadets’ lives
    • Many academies require a commitment to serve, which is a big choice for young people to make
    • Some students might not enjoy the strict campus culture
    • Military education might distract students from their college education, and vice-versa

    Types of American Military universities

    There are several different types of American Military universities. They vary in their rigor, their military focus, and the service commitment which comes with attendance. Let’s get into details of each branch of universities:

    Service academies

    Admissions

    The five service academies are the most competitive of the American Military universities. Candidates must show great promise in their academics, their physical health, and their fitness. They also must demonstrate a strong commitment to military service. You’ll have to undergo a gamut of physical exams as well as an extensive written application.

    Service Commitment

    Students who pursue an education here should know beyond any doubt that they want to serve in the military – attendance comes with a five-year commitment to the service. This is a big choice for anyone to make, especially a student graduating high school, so it’s a good idea to weigh your decision very thoughtfully. 

    Focus

    Service academies are the most intensive option of the American Military universities. Because every student who attends these schools is sure of their commitment to the military, they focus on preparing every student for a role as an officer. This involves long and intensive days where students have little free time to themself.

    Cost

    Service academies come with the most generous financial support of any American Military university. In fact, cadets at these schools do not pay for tuition, board, insurance, or books. Essentially, every cadet at these schools has a full ride to college.

    List of service academies

    Related: How to get into Westpoint guide

    Senior military colleges

    Admissions

    In general, senior military colleges are less selective than service academies. Usually, the terms of evaluation are more similar to typical college admissions; they don’t entail the same intensive physical examination. GPA, test scores, and essays are the most important factors.

    Each school has different policies regarding the relationship between the main university and the cadet program. Some have a distinctly different cadet program application, whereas others utilize the same one. Make sure to check requirements at each school you’re considering in order to clarify this.

    Service Commitment

    Cadets at senior military colleges have no service commitment unless they receive an ROTC scholarship. So, if you are not receiving additional financial aid on the basis of being in the military program, you have no obligation to serve. The length and terms of commitments to serve for students with scholarship vary by individual scholarship.

    Focus

    Cadets at senior military colleges have a somewhat similar focus to those at service academies. However, their experience differs in that they are enrolled at a school with civilians. The academic programs they enroll in are not designed specifically with cadets in mind. Nonetheless, they maintain a similarly rigorous schedule which combines military training and academic education.

    Oftentimes, cadets at senior military colleges also live in cadet housing and follow a strict set of rules which the rest of the student population does not. So, although they are going to school with non-military students, their program remains distinct.

    Cost

    Unlike service academies, senior military colleges do not pay for your education. Tuition for cadets is typically the same as tuition for other undergraduates. However, students might qualify for ROTC scholarships to reduce their financial burden.

    Also see: What is Public Service Loan Forgiveness?

    List of senior military colleges

    Military junior colleges

    Admissions

    Military junior colleges have a more relaxed admissions policy than any of the other options. Some of the options do not look at test scores, and as long as you earned a high school GPA of 2.5 or above and pass an army fitness test (which is less rigorous than the ones at service academies),  you’ll be able to gain admission to them.

    Service Commitment

    Military junior colleges do not come with a service commitment, but some ROTC scholarships do. So, if you earn ROTC scholarships, make sure to check their terms. If they do require service, make sure that you either are 100% committed to serving, or that you can pay back the scholarship money if you decide against it.

    Focus

    Military junior colleges are a fast-track program to make students eligible to serve in the army reserve and to earn an associate degree. Unlike senior military colleges, these programs are filled strictly with cadets, so they are not integrated into a larger school. You will earn both an education credential and a license to serve, but you won’t be able to serve as a regular officer in active duty until you get a bachelor’s degree.

    Cost

    Similarly to senior military colleges, military junior colleges typically do not pay for your education. That being said, since these programs last two years rather than four, they are a much more affordable option in the short-term. You’ll pay less in tuition and find yourself in a position to start earning a salary quicker.

    List of military junior colleges

    Deciding between types of American Military universities

    Each type of American Military university is unique, so it’s a good idea to weigh them thoughtfully before making a choice. Students who are 100% committed to military service and can envision no situation in which they change their mind can consider service academies as the best option. These academies provide the best leg-up to a new military career, and they also pay for the entirety of your education.

    That being said, not every college-age student can be sure that they will remain committed to the military. Additionally, students who have not achieved the extremely competitive GPA, test score, and physical fitness requirements of service academies will have to look elsewhere. If you’re in this boat, don’t worry – you’ve got options.

    Senior military colleges are a great way to attend a school and root yourself in a military community while still going to school with civilians. What’s more, you’ll be able to stay at the same school for all four years of your education and you are not locked into any service commitments.

    Military junior colleges are a good option for students who want to fast-track their ability to serve. You can serve as a reserve officer after only two years of military junior college. After you earn your degree, you can transfer into a four-year program to complete your final years as well.

    Summing it up

    American Military universities allow students to obtain the military training they need while simultaneously earning a bachelor’s or associate degree. There are three main types of American Military academies: service academies, senior military colleges, and military junior colleges. 

    Service academies are the most prestigious and rigorous of the three, and they also come with a full ride. Senior military colleges earn you a bachelor’s and you usually take classes at a school with civilian students. Military junior colleges earn you an associate degree and are typically all-military.

    Choosing a military academy is a big choice, and it’s a good idea to carefully weigh your decisions and options before you commit to anything. Try talking to your friends, family, and loved ones to decide what the best route is for you. Good luck!

    Frequently asked questions about American Military universities

    Do I have to serve in the armed forces after attending an American Military university?

     Students who attend service academies sign a 5-year commitment to the armed forces. This means that you will have to serve for at least five years after graduating from a service academy. However, students at senior military colleges or military junior colleges are not under any obligation unless they receive a scholarship which stipulates otherwise.

    Do I have to attend an American Military university to join the military?

     You do not have to attend an American Military university to join the military, but you do need a bachelor’s degree to serve as a regular officer in active duty. To serve as a reserve member, you only need an associate degree. American Military universities help jump-start your military career, but they are not the only route to the military.

    Do I have to repay my tuition if I drop out of a service academy?

     If you drop out of a service academy within your first two years of education, you do not have to repay your education. However, if you drop out after that, you will have to repay the costs which the government has provided. So, if you are considering dropping out, be sure that you have reached a final consensus by the end of your second year.

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