The Best Military Colleges
Updated September 8, 2022
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If you're looking to make the most of your time in the military and after service, military academies are a great option.
Military academies can provide education that aligns with learners' educational and professional goals, including college preparation for high school students. Most military colleges offer traditional degree options with an infusion of military-influenced leadership training, often through Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) programs. Many schools, like maritime colleges, offer programs relevant to specific branches of the military, though some take a more general approach.
Federal military academies offer full-ride funding for students who commit to postgraduate service, while most private and public military academies do not require military commitments from students.
Federal Military Academies
Federal military academies provide learners with a complete postsecondary education and leadership training. In return for a four-year degree financially covered by the government, graduates commit to serving in the military after finishing their training. Enrollees also typically receive free room and board during their studies. Typical postgraduate obligations ask for five years of service.
Students can choose from five federal military academies, each representing a branch of the armed forces. While graduates tend to enlist with their academy's parent organization, they can also serve other segments of the military. To ensure they enroll only the top candidates, these academies have challenging admission requirements. Enrollees who do not complete their education or their service obligations typically need to repay their tuition to the government.
The five federal military academies vary in their application approaches and admission requirements. In general, applicants need strong academic achievements, physical capabilities, and leadership qualities. Along with academic training, enrollees participate in regular military training and preparation. Readers can find more information on the five federal military academies below.
U.S. Military Academy
Established in 1802, the U.S. Military Academy -- more commonly known as "Westpoint" -- prepares the next generation of leaders in the United States Army. The academy offers bachelor of science degrees in more than 35 majors, plus several available minors. Cadets also receive military and leadership training throughout their studies.
U.S. Naval Academy
The U.S. Naval Academy began offering four-year degrees to its enrollees in 1850. Current learners can pursue bachelor of science degrees in more than 25 majors, including several STEM disciplines. Enrollees enter the school as midshipmen and commit to five years of service with the Navy or Marines after graduation.
U.S. Air Force Academy
Established in 1954, the U.S. Air Force Academy offers four-year degrees in 27 different majors, primarily in STEM fields, along with some arts and humanities disciplines. Cadets must commit to a minimum of five years of service after graduation.
U.S. Merchant Marine Academy
Established in 1943, the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy provides students with a college degree and prepares them for maritime sector careers. Students can pursue bachelor of science degrees in subjects like humanities, transportation, marine engineering, science, and physical education. They also earn U.S. Coast Guard licenses.
U.S. Coast Guard Academy
The roots of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy date back to 1876, though it began offering four-year bachelor of science degrees in 1941. Current enrollees can choose from nine majors, including engineering, management, and cybersystems. Graduates commit to serving the country for a minimum of five years.
Senior Military Colleges
Aspiring armed forces personnel can pursue college degrees while receiving leadership training in senior military colleges. Unlike federal military academies, these schools offer traditional higher education programs. Enrollees pay tuition while attending senior military colleges, and they do not commit to postgraduate military service. They can, however, serve with the Navy, Army, or Air Force after graduation. Learners can access branch-specific training, but they do not have to work in that same branch after graduation.
In general, students attend these colleges for four years. They may receive financial aid through the standard channels, including federal financial aid, though some schools offer additional support for junior- and senior-level students.
Admission requirements and programs for each of the senior military colleges vary. Applicants generally need strong grades and leadership potential for entry. Once enrolled, students combine academic and military training, similar to federal military programs, though program rigor varies. The following list highlights the six available senior military colleges.
University of North Georgia
Founded in 1873, UNG enrolls approximately 20,000 students in over 100 programs annually. As members of a senior military college, students can join the Corps of Cadets, which can lead to careers in the Army or other leadership positions after graduation.
Founded in 1819, Norwich enrolls close to 4,000 students in more than 60 programs every year, including on-campus and online programs. The school also offers training for its Corps of Cadets, which is the oldest ROTC program in the country. Cadets acquire training specific to their desired branch of service, along with leadership training.
Texas A&M University
Texas A&M was the first public university in the state, opening in 1876, and it has prepared officers for the U.S. Army ever since. In addition to the more than 300 academic programs, enrollees can pursue Naval, Army, and Air Force ROTC programs.
The Citadel was founded in 1842 and offers undergraduate programs in 16 academic departments, plus 25 graduate programs. All undergraduates join the South Carolina Corps of Cadets and complete training in each of the four service branches. They also receive leadership training and can pursue ROTC programs.
Virginia Military Institute
The Virginia Military Institute was founded in 1839, making it the oldest state-sponsored military college in the country. The school offers undergraduate programs in engineering, social sciences, science, and liberal arts. Aspiring cadets can join ROTC programs for the Army, Air Force, and the Navy and Marines.
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
Opened in 1872, Virginia Tech enrolls over 4,000 students in more than 100 programs annually. In addition to the traditional academic training, enrollees can enter cadet ROTC programs in Army, Naval, Air Force, and citizen-leader tracks.
Junior Military Colleges
Junior military colleges provide students with access to associate degrees alongside military and leadership training, though some may also offer bachelor's programs. Enrollees typically attend these schools for two years and do not need to commit to postgraduate service.
Students at junior military colleges often pursue traditional financial aid pathways. For graduates who wish to serve in the military, most junior colleges offer branch-specific ROTC training in the Air Force, the Army, and the Navy. Students who want to serve with another branch after graduation can usually move between organizations.
The programs and admission requirements vary by school, but most junior colleges have flexible admission standards. Generally, applicants need a high school diploma or GED certificate, and some schools require SAT or ACT scores. These programs tend to combine traditional associate degree coursework with leadership and character-building training.
Georgia Military College
Established in 1879, GMC offers 26 associate degree majors and three bachelor's degree options for its more than 18,000 annual enrollees. While the school offers an ROTC program, students are not required to participate in the program or commit to postgraduate military service.
Marion Military Institute
MMI has offered military training since its founding in 1842. Today, the school offers an associate in science and an associate in arts, along with leadership training. There are zero postgraduate commitments for applicants pursuing the civilian pathway. For military-bound professionals, MMI offers Army officer, Marine, Air Force, and service academy tracks.
New Mexico Military Institute
Founded in 1891, NMMI enrolls approximately 1,000 students annually and offers associate of arts and associate of science degrees, along with a two-year ROTC program. While all enrollees receive cadet training and may pursue commission with any of the armed forces, they do not need to commit to postgraduate service.
Valley Forge Military Academy and College
Founded in 1928, VFMAC offers associate degrees and certificates. In addition to the academic pathway, enrollees can pursue military training, including Corps of Cadets character-building and leadership training. Top applicants who wish to pursue officer training may join the Army ROTC Early Commissioning Program.
Maritime colleges typically function like senior military colleges, but they emphasize maritime education and careers. Students can pursue bachelor's and master's degrees in shipping and transportation or take ROTC programs in various military branches. While some maritime colleges offer only Navy or Marine pathways, others also run ROTC programs for ground branches. The programs typically focus on maritime-related studies, often embedding leadership training and sea-term internships in the curricula.
Like other non-federal military colleges, maritime colleges do not offer government-covered tuition. Students can, however, access traditional financial aid options, or they can pursue commissioned pathways that may offer further financial support. While few maritime college programs have postgraduate service obligations, some may require service commitments, and others request that students participate in volunteer service after graduation.
Admission requirements typically align with other military colleges. An applicant typically needs a high school diploma or GED certificate, SAT or ACT scores, and professional letters of recommendation.
California State University Maritime Academy
Founded in 1929 as part of the California State University system, Cal Maritime enrolls more than 1,000 students annually and offers several bachelor's and master's degree options. While all learners gain leadership and accountability training, only a small percentage of graduates continue into commissioned officer service.
Great Lakes Maritime Academy
Since 1969, the Great Lakes Maritime Academy has trained aspiring naval officers and maritime professionals. The academy runs career-driven training, such as deck officer and engineering officer programs, along with the Naval Reserve program, which prepares students for service in the Navy.
Maine Maritime Academy
Founded in 1941, the Maine Maritime Academy enrolls approximately 1,000 students in programs in engineering, science, management, and transportation every year. Since 1972, it has also offered a Navy ROTC program. Learners can choose between a variety of commissioning programs to fit their career goals and desired postgraduate obligations.
Massachusetts Maritime Academy
Founded in 1891, the Massachusetts Maritime Academy offers maritime-related programs at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Some programs include sea-terms and experiential training, which can help lead to careers in the military, but only learners who volunteer for the commissioning programs must serve after graduation. The school also hosts an Army ROTC program.
State University of New York Maritime College
Established in 1875, SUNY Maritime College offers 11 undergraduate majors and graduate programs in maritime-related disciplines for nearly 2,000 students every year. Additionally, learners can pursue U.S. Coast Guard licenses in several career specializations. Enrollees can also earn bachelor of science or engineering degrees while on the Coast Guard track.
Texas A&M Maritime Academy
Since its inception in 1962, the Texas A&M Maritime Academy has trained students for careers in maritime professions and military branches. Learners can earn Merchant Marine Licenses, pursue careers as deck or engineering officers, or take the Navy ROTC track. Both options offer experiential training and sea-terms. Graduates may not need to serve in the military, though specific requirements vary by program.
College-Prep Military Schools
Like traditional high schools, college-prep military schools help students transition into college. College-prep military schools tend to offer rigorous academic and leadership training, emphasizing character-building and strict codes of conduct. Students typically attend these institutions for 4-5 years.
While enrollees may go on to serve in the military, these schools rarely require postgraduate commitments from students. College-prep military schools have demanding academic and character requirements for admission, but they can equip graduates with the skills and qualifications required to enter some of the nation's best military and traditional colleges. Some prep academies do offer commissioning options, which may require learners to commit to service or additional training after graduation.
Resources for Military Students
While the above information is a great starting point for aspiring military academy students, it is best to conduct your own research. The following resources offer more information about finding financial aid and transitioning between military or civilian careers.
Frequently Asked Questions
How Do You Get Into a Military Academy?
Admission into military academies typically requires a similar application process as admission to traditional colleges and universities. Most schools require applicants to submit high school transcripts, SAT or ACT scores, and letters of recommendation. The most prestigious academies have the most competitive admission standards.
Why Do People Go to Military Academies?
People attend military academies for many reasons. Some students attend these schools to prepare for military service, though not all academies require postgraduate service. Others are more interested in the free tuition offered by federal academies, which do require service after graduation. Many learners attend these schools with no military aspirations at all, instead choosing the institutions for their facilities, programs, or leadership training.
Can You Go to College and Be in the Military?
Many students attend college while in the military. Whether they attend military colleges or traditional schools, military professionals can receive an education whenever they like. Many pursue college before entering the military, but active-duty service members can also seek degrees, and individuals deployed in the armed forces can take online courses. It is also common for retired service members to pursue degrees.
Should I Finish College Before Joining the Military?
Finishing college before entering the military can allow students to pursue their intended professions while in the military, especially for roles like engineer. However, the military offers plenty of options for education during and after service. Service members can finish college before, during, or after joining the military and usually receive financial support for each pathway.
GI Bill® is a registered trademark of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). More information about education benefits offered by VA is available at the official U.S. government Web site at https://www.benefits.va.gov/gibill/.
Header Image Credit: SDI Productions | Getty Images
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