Service Academy candidate with limited extracurriculars/no sports?

My daughter has expressed an interest in considering the service academies in the future. She’s still young (13), but very highly motivated, mature, resilient, and gifted. As a non-military family I have a few questions…

Most notably: she currently attends an unusual arts magnet school (public) that continues through 12th grade as a music student (she does not and has not ever wanted to pursue music professionally, she just really enjoys the opportunity to study music at basically a collegiate level now.) It’s a rigorous, extended school day, but there are zero athletics at the school, and while all academics are honors, there is a limited selection of AP courses. Also, virtually no opportunities for extracurriculars, as students at there are super-focused on their specialty.

So far, she has a perfect GPA so far, and a 7th grade 28 ACT score through a gifted program (which projects to about a 34 her junior year.)

Would this arts-focused high school experience put her out of the running for military academies if she opts to do so? If she continues to retain this interest, should we reconsider her remaining at this school through high school, or consider transferring her to a normal HS with the normal offerings?

The only other extracurricular she has time for with her intense music schedule, is Girl Scouts, and she does have the intention of earning her Gold Award. She was thinking of adding on another of the more advanced scouting programs… the only one we can find that might be doable with her schedule is a CAP Cadet program.

Every situation is different and there are always candidates who are selected for appointments that would not pass a normal first-glance as a competitive student. Your daughter sounds like she may be one of those.

Earning her GSA Gold award would be a huge plus for her. Does her school offer a rigorous math and science program to complement the arts focus? All of the Academies have a STEM focus and offer BS degrees, no BA degrees.

She would need to pass the Candidate Fitness Exam with very high scores to compensate for no athletics. I would suggest an athletic-oriented activity rather than CAP (not that CAP is bad, she just needs something athletic). Does she have any interest in martial arts or something like distance-running (weekend 5K or 10K events that she can excel in?)

Participation in athletics doesn’t have to be entirely school based. At 13, she can play community or club volleyball, soccer, softball, etc. Some sports camps this summer could help.

@oldpilot1972 - Right now, they have her 3 years single-subject accelerated in math; their acceleration plan places her AP Calc in 10th grade, followed by Discrete Mathematics and Dual Enroll math and/or AP Computer Science her senior year. No AP core science classes are offered (just honors) though her father is a physicist and feels he can coach her through taking the AP Physics exam anyways. One exception is AP Environmental Science which she can take as a science elective. (I guess they determined APES is a broadly accessible enough AP class to offer a school primarily comprised of arts students.) Right now she has zero interest in APES though… says she wants to take Astronomy (Calc-based, but not AP) and Forensic Science, which are also offered as science electives. (The reason for no APs is mostly the size of the school… just 350 students across 6 grades. While they are all selected for giftedness, they are not specifically selected for academic giftedness, so ‘honors’ is the standard they offer in their classes across the board as accessible to all.)

@CheddarcheeseMN - the problem with club sports, is that between having an extended school day (until 5 pm) and then living at a dorm, it makes extracurriculars challenging, both due to scheduling and transportation. The CAP Cadet program at least is later in the evening, which gives her time to finish school and eat dorm dinner (dinner is served 5-6 only). Even still I’d have to hire a taxi to get her there and back most of the time. (Something I am willing to do if she really wants to go that route.) I was wondering if the CAP Cadet program would bring enough physical activity to her life to ‘count’. She does have access to a small gym in the dorm she could use to meet any Cadet fitness goals.

I guess another question might be if the music achievement is anything that would be looked upon favorably by these kinds of schools? She’s becoming quite an accomplished musician (far beyond what most get out of a typical school band experience), and she enjoys it dearly, but insists her life goals do not involve being a musician at all. She’s just doing it for enjoyment in her youth. But it DOES teach her a lot about focus, discipline, working well with others, etc. Is that part of what attracts schools to the varsity athletes or is it about the athleticism mostly?

She needs to run and run and run some more. If she’s looking at the AFA, she needs to run even more because those first weeks at high altitude are killers.

I’d also suggest she apply for the summer programs. They are very hard to get into but worth it. Don’t forget the Coast Guard academy.

The Academies value diversity in their candidates, so her background will not inherently keep her from an appointment. However, as you describe it she will have an uphill battle.

Her science curriculum would be adequate but not as deep as most other candidates. Most successful candidates will have AP Calc, AP Bio, AP Physics, and AP Chemistry. It is not just about being coached through the exam, it is about taking the class and showing that you can handle the workload because at any of the Academies the workload will be that high, plus they will have military and athletic demands on their time as well. Anytime a candidate or parent says “He/She just doesn’t have time for all of that” I cringe because they need to be able to handle all of that and more when they are at USXA.

CAP will not provide enough athletic content to satisfy the Academies’ requirements. Excelling in varsity athletics shows several things that are critical to being successful as a military leader: Physical capability, teamwork, and commitment. Also, most successful candidates are team captains in their sports. That shows leadership.

I hear it from parents all the time that their kid’s band/music activities show dedication. I don’t disagree with that, but they need much more which is why athletics are so important to the Academies. This is, after all, the military. Their job is not to play in a band, it is to protect our country and if necessary “kill people and wreck their stuff”.

My post may seem discouraging, but I hope it isn’t. I hope it motivates you and your daughter to pursue the Academies because I think she would be a valuable contributor to the military branch of her choice. You just need to be realistic about what it will take to get there. You cannot attend without a nomination, and to get a nomination you will need to be competitive.

I appreciate the honest feedback, Pilot, that is why I posted! It’s stressful to have to think about these options for my 12 yr old, but the truth is she brought it up (the idea of the military or service academies) and she’s at a school right now, I fear might inhibit those options. It’s going to be something to think about /talk about through her 8th grade year as we decide whether she continues at that school or chooses another route.

I understand you cringing at “s/he doesn’t have time for that” but in this case, I have to say it’s legit… if she stays at this school the APs just flat out aren’t offered, and the unique school situation (living in a dorm over 100 miles from home, literally going to school 8 am - 5 pm or sometimes 6 pm, 3 hr orchestra rehearsals on Sundays, Girl Scouts on Saturdays… she’s literally working right now more than most adults with full time jobs. (We’re not just talking “band” - we’re talking she currently rehearses and performs with - 7 different ensembles and performs over 40 times a year, plus music theory study and private instruction. By 9th grade, she’s slated to rank as the best student on her instrument in the entire state.) I know there’s a music path in the military and I pointed that out to her and it was an immediate “nope” - whether military or civilian, she wants to work somehow in national security, or at least that’s where her head has been for about a year now.

The question is not whether she’s working enough or hard enough, but whether it’s the right kind of work.

By the same token, her rationale of wanting to go to this school is that since she doesn’t want to study music or be a musician professionally, she wants to take the opportunity to experience music seriously as a teen. And I respect that too, but she needs to know that it may remove some options from the table, if that is in fact the case.

Ugh, I accidentally deleted my reply.

No, your post doesn’t sound discouraging Pilot. I appreciate the honesty and it’s why I posted. She’s only in 7th grade, and we have time to correct course if this school will not serve her goals well long term.

I completely get why you cringe when parents say “s/he doesn’t have time for all that”. And not to be all snowflake, but my daughter really is in a very unusual school situation. Living in a dorm over 100 miles from home on an 8 am - 5 pm school schedule, playing in 7 different ensembles, advanced music theory, and nearly 50 performances a year, plus activities on both Saturdays (Girl Scouts) and Sundays (state youth symphony.) It’s not something that students living with their parents and going to a normal school experience.

The question is not whether she’s working long or hard enough, but whether it’s going to be the right kind of work. From what I am hearing, the answer is “no”.

Her rationale towards going to this school is that she has the opportunity to study as a serious musician now, and then move on to something else in her young adult life. I respected that and it didn’t occur to me that this school would close off ANY options before she brought up service academies… (even with the limited APs, top universities judge you by the context of what is offered at your particular school.) So it may be a matter of telling her, if you want to continue studying music at this school, and you want military experience, the option may be instead to go to a good university, get involved in ROTC or athletics there, and then go to officer school afterwards - if you want to consider a service academy, you’d be wise to leave the arts school after 8th grade and go to the ‘normal’ high school with broader offerings.

Interested areas of college study are, btw, mathematics and/or foreign language. Ultimately she’s saying right now she really wants to work in the FBI or NSA or something like that, as an analyst, but she looked stuff about how many people in those lines of work started out with military experience combined with education. Coast Guard Academy looks like it might be the best match for that goal in terms of service academy?

Well, hopefully I gave you some things to think about.

I am not as familiar with the Coast Guard Academy, but the billets from there are going to be much more limited. She would most likely be on a cutter (ship) after graduation unless she chooses to go aviation. Since it is much smaller than the other academies there are just less options. Regardless, lack of any athletics will be a factor.

If she really wants to stay at her current school and still desires entrance to an Academy she should at least take up running several days a week and get some weights to work out with to get in great shape. Being well-rounded is what they are looking for, and her school seems very focused on one thing. She will have to make her own opportunities.