The United States Naval Academy is not for everyone.You need a congressional recommendation to even beconsidered. The life there presents physical andmental challenges that far exceed the usualundergraduate rigors. Plus, you've got to get yourhair cut short.
Established in 1845, the academy prepares young menand women for careers as officers in the U.S. Navy --so the curriculum is not what you would find at yourtypical liberal arts institution. In addition to theusual round of courses in history, science and thelike, students also learn about small arms, seamanshipand navigation, naval weapons, leadership and ethics.Each summer, midshipmen train at naval bases and onships in the fleet.
In general, the course of study leans heavily towardthe technical. The class of 2004 could choose fromamong 18 possible majors, eight involveengineering and six focus on science, mathematics andcomputer science. Only five majors are available inthe humanities and social sciences.
Long an all-male bastion, the school bowed tocongressional mandate in 1976 with the acceptance ofits first female students. In 2003, women accounted forroughly 16 percent of the freshman class. The overallstudent body numbers roughly 4,000 young peoplerepresenting every state in the nation and more than adozen foreign countries. All live together in thebehemoth dormitory, Bancroft Hall.
An academy education focuses heavily on characterdevelopment, and the student body is expected toadhere to a strict honor system at all times, both onand off campus. Get caught in a lie: You're gone."Midshipmen are persons of integrity," reads thestudent pledge. "They stand for that which is right.They tell the truth and ensure that the full truth isknown. They do not lie. They embrace fairness in allactions. ..."
The academy's location is enviable. Situatedon the banks of the Severn River in historic downtownAnnapolis, The Yard (how the midshipmen refer to the campus) features tree-lined brick walks,French Renaissance and contemporary architecture andviews of the scenic Chesapeake Bay.
Students don't get much time to take in the visualgrandeur, however. Between the demands of athletics,academics and military training, they average lessthan six hours' sleep a night and have been known toliterally fall asleep standing up. Life at the academyis not easy.
A Naval Academy education costs nothing, and studentseven get some monthly spending money.
What's the catch? If you stay the course and graduate,you will be required to serve as a naval officer for five years (for most commitments, but aviators serve seven years after theycomplete their initial flight training). Drop out early, and you may owethe government a hefty sum in the form of backpayments for tuition and room-and-board charges.
Like we said: The Naval Academy is not for everyone.But with such distinguished alumni as Sen. John McCain, former President Jimmy Carter and America'sfirst astronaut Alan Shepard, the school continues toattract many of the nation's brightest and hardest-working undergraduates each year.