Imagine a school where each person is more than a student, where every individual is
a person of integrity, a leader of character, an honorable human being, and most importantly,
a member of the profession-of-arms. Imagine future writers, scientists, engineers, pilots,
administrators, doctors, nurses, astronauts, lawyers, communications experts, business professionals,
ambassadors, politicians—all of them current or former Air Force officers—interacting with each other both inside and outside
the classroom. Now imagine those same individuals
jumping out of airplanes, flying solo in gliders, leading
their peers, traveling to countries all over the
world, learning foreign languages, operating satellites,
and working in an undergraduate research center, all while participating in sports as
popular as Division I football or as diverse as “flickerball.” Most importantly, these men and
women have chosen to be a part of something bigger than themselves.
Sound like a challenge? That’s because it is. It’s just a snapshot of what makes the
United States Air Force Academy (USAFA) the Air Force’s premier institution for developing
leaders of character. Nestled against the Rocky Mountains, just north of Colorado
Springs, this academy creates an environment where cadets can pursue their personal goals,
while simultaneously achieving a Bachelor of Science degree in one of thirty-two majors
and a commission as a Second Lieutenant in the world’s greatest air, space, and cyberspace
force. Each year, just over one thousand young men and women graduate to then serve their
country in a number of different occupations.
Academics here are one-of-a-kind, and specifically catered toward the development
of each cadet. Due to its size, the student-faculty ratio is 8:1, providing cadets plenty
of specialized instruction regardless of the subject. Class sizes are small, with a cadet’s
largest class reaching no more than twenty-seven individuals. One-hundred percent of the
faculty are full-time and are all required to be in their offices for extra instruction when not
in class. Faculty members are a combination of active-duty military officers and civilians in
order to give students perspective in the classroom.
An average academic day at the academy consists
of mandatory breakfast and lunch, fifty-three minute
classes five days a week, mandatory
athletic activities, participation in intramurals or
intercollegiate athletics, studying in the late afternoon
and evening, preparing for inspections, and a
lights-out period. Each semester is seventeen weeks
long. Weekends may involve training, to include
studying, military exercises, attending parades, and
participating in white-glove inspections.
Regardless of their academic majors, cadets are required to complete a core curriculum
of 102 semester hours. Both technical and nontechnical majors take multiple levels of
engineering, science, math, English, history, foreign language, and a number of other courses.
With the core requirement, cadets are academically prepared to speak on a number of different
subjects and take on the many challenges that face them as Air Force Officers. In addition
to their majors, cadets may also minor in philosophy or a foreign language.
Every cadet is also a student-athlete. Whether it’s through participation in one
of 27 NCAA Division I teams, an athletic club, or intramural competition between
squadrons, cadets commit to physical development that results in a long-term happy,
healthy way of life. In addition, all cadets are required to take an aerobic fitness test and a
physical fitness test each semester.
A bachelor of science degree is awarded to each graduate, with 32 programs of study in technical fields such as physics, mechanical engineering, chemistry, and aeronautical engineering. The liberal arts are also represented with degrees in English, history, and the humanities available as well.
A typical course load each semester is between fifteen and eighteen credit hours.
Most semesters include classes within the cadet’s major, in addition to classes in core subject
areas. A cadet must also take a physical education class every semester. Required physical
education classes include physical development, boxing (men), self-defense (women),
basic swimming, water survival, two levels of unarmed combat, and a number of team and
The academy also offers cadets the opportunity for a number of graduate scholarships
following graduation. To date, USAFA has had thirty-five cadets win the Rhodes
Scholarship, an international scholarship that affords superior students the chance to
study at Oxford University, in its fifty-one year existence. In addition, graduates go on to win
the Fulbright-Hayes scholarship, JFK at Harvard, the Marshall scholarship, the Truman
scholarship, and the Alberta Bart Holaday scholarship.
Most Popular Fields of Study
Attendance begins with
a rigorous, six-week-long Basic Cadet Training,
in which cadets are introduced to military life.
This is the professional development that transitions
an individual from recent high school graduate to
military member. It is here that a cadet’s strength and leadership abilities are tested for the first time, both physically and
The basic cadets begin with three weeks in the cadet area (campus) dormitories,
where they are introduced to military customs and courtesies, marching, wearing of the uniform,
and military history. The final three weeks of basic training is spent in a training facility
located on the Air Force Academy grounds called Jacks Valley. In Jacks Valley, basic
cadets live in tents that they build and are more physically challenged. It is in this phase of
Basic Cadet Training that teamwork is highly emphasized, and cadets learn that they cannot
complete any part of the academy on their own. Upon completion of this summer training,
basic cadets are officially welcomed into the cadet wing, where the real four-year
journey begins. In addition, cadets will participate in a number of additional military training
events throughout their four years at USAFA. Commandant’s Challenge is a training event
completed by all four classes in the fall, with recognition occurring in the spring. After
cadets complete recognition, they are awarded the prop and wing device, which officially
recognizes them as members of the upper three classes.
The Honor Code/Oath
Most importantly, at the forefront of every cadet’s development as a future Air Force
Officer is taking the Cadet Honor Code on the second day of basic training. By promising
to abide by the honor code, cadets ensure that they are living examples of the Air Force
Core Values: Integrity First, Service Before Self, and Excellence in All We Do.
Admission into the academy isn’t easy. Thousands of men and women apply each year, with
only a small percentage of those accepted for admission. To be eligible to attend the academy
you must be
- a citizen of the United States
- unmarried with no dependents
- of good moral character
- meet high leadership, academic, physical, and medical standards
- at least 17, but less than 23 years of age by July 1 of the year you will enter
In addition, the academy looks at the “whole person,” that is, a student’s academic
performance, interviews, writing sample, test scores, extracurricular activities, physical
performance, and overall physical health. The application process is long and rigorous, and
requires an individual to begin the process as early as 31 January of his or her junior year.
In order to begin the application process, an interested student must have a social
security number. If that individual does not have a social security number, one can be
requested from the local Social Security Administration Office via form SSA-5. On the form,
evidence of date of birth, identity, and U.S. citizenship must be furnished.
The academic standards are some of
the highest in the country. Over half of academy
cadets graduated in the top ten percent of their
graduating classes, with a number of those students
graduating valedictorian/salutatorian. The average
ACT score is 30, with an average combined math/
verbal SAT score of 1290. The academy recommends
that any students interested in attending
take the SATs/ACTs early. Students should contact their guidance counselors as
soon as possible to begin to prepare for the application process. Interested applicants will
also have access to regional Air Force Academy Admissions Liaison Officers (ALOs) who
will guide and assist the applicant at the local level. Applicants are also required to interview
with ALOs as part of their admissions package.
A student must also receive a nomination to be considered for application to attend
USAFA. All high school students are eligible for one of four nominating sources: the
vice president, both U.S. senators from the state in which the student is domiciled, and the
U.S. representative from the district in which the student is domiciled. These applications
for the congressional nominations are different from the academy’s application, and can be
found at www.senate.gov and www.house.gov. The vice president nominates cadets for the
Air Force Academy from all over the nation. The deadline for requesting a vice presidential
nomination is 31 October of a student’s senior year.
In addition, some students whose parents have certain amounts of military service
may also be eligible for a presidential nomination. Details on the presidential nominating
process can be found online. Keep in mind that although an applicant needs only one
nomination in order to be considered, multiple nominations make a student more competitive
The application process to the Air Force Academy is different for enlisted airmen
currently serving in the United States Air Force. Contact a U.S. Air Force Base Education
Office or the Air Force Academy Admissions Office for more information.
Profile of a Typical Cadet Class
- Valedictorian/Salutatorian: 14%
- President/Vice President of
- Class or Student Body: 18%
- Top 10% of High School Class: 55%
- Athletic Letter Award: 83%
- Boys/Girls State or Nation: 14%
- National Honor Society: 26%
All expenses are covered by taxpayer dollars. What does this mean? Each
and every cadet is on a full-ride scholarship worth $415,000.
Cadets receive a small stipend each month while attending the academy. In addition, upon
commission, each cadet is guaranteed job security as an active-duty Air Force officer. As a
result, each cadet must serve in the active-duty Air Force a minimum of five years following
In addition to tuition and fees, room and board, books, uniform, and all other items
are paid for; cadets also receive full medical benefits since they are
considered members of the active-duty Air Force. Cadets are also eligible for special financial
opportunities, life insurance, and other benefits usually afforded to military members.
As noted previously, there is a five-year active duty service commitment. On the first day
of in-processing, appointees will sign an agreement stating that they will fulfill certain
service obligations. This service obligation applies to all cadets, except international students.
The obligations are an agreement to:
- complete the course of instruction at the academy (unless disenrolled).
- accept an appointment to serve as a commissioned officer in the Air Force for five years
active duty and three more as inactive reserve. A graduate from the Air Force Academy
is eligible to request a separation from the Air Force after five years of service.
Note: If a cadet leaves the academy before the first day of classes, his or her second class
(junior) year, then there is no commitment.
With the commitment, most cadets do not see it as a chore or a simple method of payback;
rather, deciding to serve in the military becomes a part of the individual, a way of life.
Like any other decision involving some kind of service, the decision to attend the Air Force
Academy is also a commitment to become an Air Force Officer, to serve something bigger
than an individual. As such, military members want to leave their country and the world
better than they found it.
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A typical cadet schedule is rigorous, but still leaves time for extracurricular activities.
In addition to the academy’s twenty-seven NCAA Division I athletic teams, cadets may also
participate in any of the eighty clubs available, which include a cadet chorale, a nationally
ranked debate team, and a number of additional recreational sports. With easy access to
the Rocky Mountains and a number of ski resorts, many cadets find time to ski in the local
area when given a free weekend.
Summers for cadets are unique. Instead of returning home for three months,
cadets participate in a number of activities, such as aviation programs, additional military
training, cultural immersion, and immersion into the active duty Air Force by attending
Air Force bases all around the world.
Soaring and Parachuting
The academy’s airmanship programs not only provide cadets the opportunity to fly, soar,
or parachute, they also afford them the chance to lead as an instructor pilot. In the soaring
program, cadets are instructed on how to operate a sail plane, with the opportunity to
eventually fly solo. The parachuting program (also known as “jump”) is the only parachuting
program available where a student’s first jump is solo and without the aid of a static line.
This is because cadets undergo an extensive, week-long ground training program prior to
their first jumps. Upon completion of their fifth successful jump, cadets are awarded basic
military jump wings. Both the soaring and jump programs can be completed during the summer
or taken during the fall or spring as a class. Powered flight programs are also available for cadets with flying experience prior to entering the academy.
Cadets also have the opportunity to fly aircraft simulators. The
“Project Fledgling” aviation program introduces cadets to a basic understanding of aviation
principles, and allows them to fly the T-6 simulators.
While in attendance at the academy, cadets are required to live in the dormitories all
four years. Cadets live with members of his/her squadron, which is a little over a hundred
cadets. Although the academy emphasizes cadet leadership during all four years, this
leadership is guided with oversight from active duty military members. In that vein, each squadron is assigned one Air Officer Commanding (AOC) and as many as two Academy
Military Trainers (AMTs). The AOC is a major or lieutenant colonel in the Air Force who
oversees the day-to-day and administrative responsibilities within the squadron. In order to
be an AOC, the officer must complete a master’s degree in counseling. AMTs are technical
sergeants or master sergeants who assist the AOC in these duties. The AOCs/AMTs are a
line of communication for the cadets throughout the four years, and can provide advice,
support, and counseling.
The academy supports and provides religious
accommodations for all of its cadets. The
Cadet Chapel, Colorado’s #1 man-made tourist attraction
and a unique religious landmark, provides a myriad
of services for multiple faith groups. In addition,
if a cadet’s religious needs cannot be met on base,
the academy will ensure that those needs are met
within the local area. Cadets also have the opportunity
to participate in a cadet religious council, to
help plan chapel programs for cadets at the academy.
Student Enrollment Demographics
Student Graduation Demographics
NCAA Division I Sports Teams
Soccer, Water Polo, Basketball,
Boxing, Hockey, Fencing, Gymnastics,
Indoor/Outdoor Track and Field, Rifle,
Swimming & Diving, Wrestling, Baseball,
Lacrosse, Tennis, and Golf.
Soccer, Basketball, Fencing,
Gymnastics, Indoor/Outdoor Track and
Field, Swimming & Diving, Rifle, Tennis.
- Karol J. Bobko, ’59, first graduate in space
- Fred D. Gregory, ’64, first African-
American to command any space
- Brigadier General R. Stephen Ritchie, ’64, Vietnam
- Captain Lance Sijan, ’65, awarded the Medal
of Honor for his courage during the
- Gregg Popvich, ’70, Head coach of the San
- Gary A. Grappo, ’72, US Ambassador to
- Susan J. Helms, ’80, first female
graduate in space
- Heather Wilson, ’82, first graduate elected
to the U.S. Congress
- Alonzo Babers, ’83, gold medal winner
(400m and 4×400 relay) at the 1984
- Chad Hennings, ’88, Member of the Dallas
Cowboys, winner of three Super Bowls
- Major Nicole Malachowski, ’96, first woman
to serve as an Air Force Thunderbird Pilot
Current White House Fellow
Additional School Information
The academy has disability services as well, so be sure to inquire about them if needed. In particular, the following programs are available: Alcohol/Substance Abuse Counseling, Campus Ministries/Chaplain, Freshman Orientation Program, Health Services, Legal Services and Personal Counseling.
Air Force Academy Prep School
The Air Force Academy is also home to its own preparatory school, known as the “Prep
School,” which is also located on the Academy Reservation. It is designed with the
opportunity to train and prepare young men and women for the rigorous curriculum. High school seniors cannot simply apply to the prep school; instead, approximately
240 individuals applying to the academy are identified as a better fit for the prep school and
offered a slot to the prep school instead of the academy. Only Air Force enlisted members
may apply directly to the prep school. Upon completion of the year-long prep school, cadet
candidates have a better chance of getting into the academy the following year, but are not
guaranteed admission. To be eligible, a student must
- be at least seventeen and have not passed his or her twenty-second birthday by July 1st
of the year he or she enters the prep school
- be eligible to be a U.S. citizen
- be unmarried and have no dependents
- meet specific medical standards for a commission in the United States Air Force.
While attending the prep school, cadet candidates are enlisted members of the
United States Air Force Reserve.
Preparation for Future Applicants
In preparation for selection into the academy,
high school students should take the following
courses at a minimum:
- four years of English
- four years of college-prep math
- four years of lab science
- three years of social studies
- two years of a foreign language
- one year of computer study.
Accreditation is provided by The Higher Learning Commission of The North
Central Association of Colleges and Schools.