War Games? 10 Best Military Colleges in the U.S.

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Reviewed by Linda Weems I got started researching colleges and universities about 10 years ago while exploring a second career. While my second career ended up being exactly what I’m doing now, and I didn’t end up going to college, I try to put myself in your shoes every step of the way as I build out College Cliffs as a user-friendly resource for prospective students.

Updated: April 2, 2024, Reading time: 18 minutes

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Many Americans have this preconception that those people who decide to enter the armed services are compelled to do so since they lack other options; this is after the US military started becoming an all-voluntary force.

However, many Americans decide to join the army for a lot of reasons: for honor, for family, and for country. But recent studies revealed that the very core motivation why people enlist themselves is rather simple: for money.

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Research found that there are primarily two overlapping factors why people choose to enlist: occupational factors like job stability, professional development ,and institutional factors like duty and family.

Roughly 37% of the 81 military personnel surveyed stated that both occupational and institutional reasons pushed them to join the service, while 46% cited they enlisted because of occupational reasons. Only 9% said they are in the service for institutional reasons. The majority of the respondents joined for economic reasons.

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Nevertheless, joining the military can considerably help improve your character, shape your skill set, and aid you in the discipline! Here are ten of the top reasons why a move to enlist in the military is a good idea.

You feel it’s your calling. Whether you have a patriotic spirit or it’s a tradition in the family, there are instances when you can’t help but feel like you are called to serve the nation. Maybe you already realize this even at an early age, or you met a recruiter at the right time. No matter the circumstance, never ignore that inner urge to finally enlist.

You’re up for an adventure. If you love exploring and traveling to new areas, there’s no better lifestyle for that than to join the military. When in service, you often move from one duty location to the next. You see new places and meet new people. And the best part of it? The government pays you for that.

You wish to gain marketable job skills. No matter the length of your service, you are going to learn skills that you can put to good use once you are back in the civilian world. During your boot camp training, you get to learn new skills that will matter a lot in the outside world, like analytical and technical skills, as well as military history information.

Benefits after benefits. If you wish to have a job that will immediately take care of you the moment you ‘apply,’ then joining the military is your best option. From the day you sign up, you get to have full access to living quarters and medical facilities.

Later on, you can get retirement benefits, life insurance, and your GI Bill. And where can you find careers that offer you a 30-day paid vacation annually? The military, no doubt, can secure your lifestyle in ways more than one.

In addition, through your eligibility, your family may be able to attend college as well.

Job stability. Even if the country is in economic turmoil, the military will always be hiring. Finding jobs during the recession can be tricky; thus, joining the military might be a wise move. Paychecks are always on-time, and your next salary is nothing to worry about so long as you have an existing signed military contract.

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College is not for you. We have to admit that college is not for everybody. However, making a living is important, and this would sometimes mean enlisting in the military. While in service, you will learn critical trade skills that are even more intense than what you learn in college. But just the same, your military service and/or military studies are just as important as having a college degree today and in the coming years.

You see yourself having a college degree. On the other hand, military service can be your gateway toward attaining a degree, although this can be expensive. In-state tuition averages around $25,000, and private school tuition fees are expected to be higher.

If you plan on getting a degree, but cannot afford the hefty tuition fees, a short-term military contract is a good option. Once you complete your service, take advantage of the GI Bill and go back to school. You will also be provided with a stipend to help you with your living costs.

You’re born a leader. The military needs strong and competent leaders. Whether you are a commissioned officer or an enlisted recruit, having a positive can-do attitude will give you an edge. Armed with dedication, leadership, integrity, and the determination to improve professionally, you can easily work your way up to the top.

Early retirement is at the top of your plans. In any of the military branches, you are eligible for retirement after 20 years of service. If you enlist right after high school, you can retire by the time you’re about 40. This allows you more time to do another career, or maybe start your own business, or relax and focus on your family.

You seek positive changes. Sometimes, life calls for a major detour to make life-altering changes. And who knows, joining the military might be for you. Regardless of your reasons, whether you wish to boost your self-esteem, change your surroundings, or get in better shape, you can make a new path for yourself at any time.

Signing up to serve your country is one effective way to help you discover your true capacity. This will help you see your outlook from a different perspective.

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Suppose your gut feelings tell you to join the military, scout for recruiters, learn more about the skills that are in demand, and find out which branch of service best fits you. Keep in mind, though, that serving in the military is not for everybody. While it offers amazing opportunities and benefits, it’s best to look at military life as a whole and what it will do for you.

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Here are the top 10 US military schools that can help you jump-start your dreams of becoming a military serviceman.

College Cliffs is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

United States Military Academy

Popularly known as West Point, this premier military Academy is the oldest among all the service academies. Here, cadets receive the best education, partnering with intensive military and physical training and, most importantly, character development.

The core of the Academy’s 47-month schooling is its moral-ethical development, as explicitly mandated by the school’s mission statement. The personal character of each cadet supports West Point’s motto: Duty, Honor, Country”, and the ideals revolve around the seven core values of the army: loyalty, respect, duty, honor, integrity, and personal courage.

The Academic Program of West Point includes an undergraduate curriculum balancing engineering and physical sciences with social and behavioral sciences. The primary goal is to hone each graduate into being creative in expressing their ideas on both interpersonal and technological issues.

Their military program, on the other hand, offers an outstanding professional foundation focusing on teaching the American military ethics and army core values. Cadets also undergo intensive training in small-unit and individual leadership skills and are trained to commit to national services as army officers.

United States Merchant Marine Academy

Established in 1943, the USMMA, more popularly known as Kings Point, is a US service academy based in Kings Point, New York. This federal service academy teaches and trains its students to become leaders of exemplary character committed to serving marine transportation, national security, and the economic needs of the US. Graduates of this school live by their motto: “Acta Non Verba” (Deeds not Words), and they exude the concept of service above self.

USMMA is popular for its intensive academic program. Their baccalaureate degree requires more credit hours than all of the other federal service academies. This coursework is enhanced by the Academy’s Sea Year experience, affording midshipmen the chance to acquire real-world and hands-on experiences to work on military or commercial vessels that sail around the world.

Those who master this rigorous curriculum get a distinct combination of credentials like:

This is the reason why graduates from this Academy are highly in demand as merchant marine or military officers.

United States Naval Academy

This is the second oldest of the five US Service academies and was established in 1845 under then Navy Secretary George Bancroft. The school educates officers before they are commissioned into the United States Marine Corps or the United States Navy.

USNA, being an undergraduate college for the US Naval Service, gears young men and women to be professional officers of character, competence, and compassion. These students attend four long years in the Academy and graduate with Bachelor of Science degrees before they are commissioned as second lieutenants in the Marine Corps or navy ensigns in the Navy.

To qualify for admission, potential candidates have to apply to the Academy directly and receive nominations from a congress member. The students are called midshipmen, and the Navy fully funds their tuition, provided that after graduation, the student will serve on active duty in the Navy.

USNA has three academic departments: Division 1 (Engineering and Weapons), Division II (Mathematics and Science), and Division III (Humanities and Social Sciences). According to a US News and World Report in 2016, USNA ranked number 1 in public liberal arts and sciences. They are also on the 5th spot for the Best Undergraduate Engineering Program, where doctorates are not offered.

United States Coast Guard Academy

This is the smallest of the 5 US service academies and was established in 1876 to provide quality education to aspiring Coast Guard officers. Unlike most service academies, Coast Guard academy students are not required to have a congressional nomination for admission.

The students of USCGA are called cadets and are officers-in-training. They receive a Bachelor of Science degree upon graduation and are commissioned as ensigns in the US Coast Guard, required to serve on active duty for five years.

The Academy maintains a curriculum of professional development and science courses on top of other major-specific courses. A cadet spends two semesters of classes before they spend most of their time in military training, making them equipped with the necessary professional skills.

The most common courses include ethics, leadership, organizational behavior, and nautical science. Right after graduation, the cadets immediately report to their units, either shore units or afloat units. Some even have basic flight training, conducted by the US Navy, as student naval aviators

United States Air Force Academy

The United States Air Force Academy is one of the leading academic institutions in the country, charged with an essential mission to educate, train, and inspire men and women to become officers and leaders of character. An education at the Academy is provided at no cost to students – or cadets as they call them.

Each graduate earns a Bachelor of Science degree and commission as an officer in the U.S. Air Force or Space Force. The length of commitment depends on the chosen career path, but the benefits will last a lifetime.

Students from all over the United States compete for an appointment to the Academy, making admission tremendously selective. Once admitted, cadets are immersed in a rigorous program of academics, military training, athletics and character development – a world-class education that prepares them for careers as leaders in the most advanced air and space forces in the world.

Their graduates serve as pilots and engineers, cyber specialists and space operations officers, or in many other career fields where they can make an impact and shape the future of our military and our country.

Attending the United States Air Force Academy is a challenging but rewarding path of discipline and innovation, guided by a commitment to their core values of Integrity First, Service Before Self, and Excellence in All We Do.

It is an academic institution unlike any other, where cadets conduct cutting-edge research; design, test and fly satellites; jump out of airplanes; and fly gliders solo, thousands of feet above campus. Graduates leave ready to serve and to lead our Air and Space Forces into an increasingly complex future.*

* Information provided by the featured school

Texas A & M

The Texas A&M University Corps of Cadets is a student military organization established in Texas A&M University way back in 1876, making it the oldest student group on the campus.

Those who plan to join the Corps are required to join the mandatory ROTC training and courses during the first three semesters on campus. It’s also mandatory for cadets to join leadership classes in the campus School of Military Science organized by the Commandant’s office.

Around 45% of the Cadet Corps members continue with the ROTC curriculum. Once completed, they are secured with military contracts and become commissioned officers in the US Armed Forces. Seniors and juniors who fail to make military contracts but still want to remain Cadet Corps members are called “Drill and Ceremonies (D&C) cadets.

Based on federal law, the Texas A&M University Corps of Cadet is one of the six US colleges classified as senior military colleges.

Being one of the biggest uniformed student bodies in the US providing hands-on leadership experience and world-class education, the Texas A&M Cadet Corps experience is no doubt the ultimate Aggie experience. The Corps understands that successful and strong leaders should do well academically, and where else can you hone your skill than in a world-class university with more than 140 years of success and tradition?

Norwich University

Norwich University—The Military College of Vermont, is the oldest private military college in the US. Founded in 1819, this private university in Northfield, Vermont, is the oldest of the six major senior military colleges. The US Department of Defense also recognizes this university as the Birthplace of ROTC.

Commanding the Corps of Cadets are both non-commissioned officers and cadet officers. They are duty-bound for the daily operation, administration, training, and discipline of the whole Corps. Because they are duly recognized as a military college, eligible ROTC graduates can opt to apply for active duty service if they want to.

By 2018, the Corps was made as a regiment led by a cadet colonel. It comprised five battalions, each led by a cadet lieutenant colonel, while a cadet major led the Headquarters company.

This military college also has different special units handled by federal ROTC units. Another special unit, the Army Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, houses the Norwich Artillery Battery, the Ranger Challenge team, the Norwich Ranger Company, and the Mountain Cold Weather Company.

The Citadel: The Military College in South Carolina

Popularly known as the Citadel, this public college in Charleston, South Carolina, was established in 1842 and is recognized as one of the six senior military colleges in the US. This college has 18 academic departments with 23 majors and 38 minors.

The South Carolina Corps of Cadets is the military component of the Citadel student body. This program is the only residential, full-time undergraduate program of the school and has about 2,300 enrollees, making it one of the biggest uniformed bodies in the whole of the US. It combines physical challenges, academics, and military discipline, and all members need to participate in the school’s ROTC program.

In the class system, cadets have to go through a four-year structure to identify their leadership position eligibility. All the cadets are also allowed to participate in several school activities like varsity sports, the newspaper, and other programs to help enhance the military, academic, ethical/spiritual, and physical growth of each cadet.

They also should strictly abide by the Honor Code that states, “A Cadet does not lie, cheat, or steal, nor tolerate those who do. The Cadet system, furthermore, is run by a cadet Honor Court, which handles trials and investigations, and, when needed, recommends sanctions.

Virginia Military Institute

This public military college in Lexington, Virginia, is the very first public senior college in the US. To keep up with its founding principles, this military school only accepts cadets, and its baccalaureate degrees are exclusively awarded. VMI is very strict with its students, all of whom are cadets.

They implement strict military discipline coupled with an academically and physically demanding environment. VMI grants degrees in 14 disciplines in science, engineering, or the liberal arts. Also, all enrollees are compelled to join in ROTC.

The Virginia Military Institute is dubbed the “West Point of the South.” However, this school is a far cry from the federal military service academies. VMI had 1,722 enrollees in 2019. While all the students are required to join the ROTC program of the US Armed Forces, they are still given the flexibility of accepting an officer’s commission or going back to their civilian endeavors.

The eligibility for VMI is not necessarily for Virginia residents only. However, being a non-resident proved to be more difficult to gain an appointment because the school only accommodates 35% of non-resident enrollees. Like most state-sponsored schools, Virginia residents are provided with tuition discounts.

VMI was also the last US military college that excluded women in their Corps until 1997. The US Department of Justice filed a discrimination lawsuit against VMI in 1990 for its all-male admission policy. As the case was pending, the state-sponsored Virginia Women’s Institute for Leadership was opened as a military program for women. Finally, in June 1996, after several appeals, the court ordered VMI to allow women in their cadet corps.

Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets

This is the military component of the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. Here, cadets are required to live together in assigned residence halls, wear a prescribed uniform, attend morning formations, and receive intensive leadership and military educational experience like those of the US service academies. From the time it existed, the program has been recognized as a senior military college as per federal law.

All their cadets are provided with two of their leadership training programs: the military-leader track for the ROTC programs and the Citizen-leader track for those who want to continue careers in the civilian sector. Cadets who undergo the military-leader track can continue with the program until they become commissioned officers in the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, or Air Force.

In the fall of 1973, VTCC started to accept women cadets through a single unit called the L Squadron. Six years later, women started to integrate into the program’s line companies, although they were still living separately from their male counterparts. In 1981, the residence halls eventually became co-ed, and in 1987, the very first female Regimental Commanding Officer was appointed.

To this day, the Cadet Corps now has four female commanding officers, and at least 20% of its female population hold key positions in the Corps.

Pepperdine University

Are you considering related careers in government and other sectors following your military service?

Pepperdine University offers a focused and flexible Master of Public Policy Degree program for military members and veterans pursuing or advancing careers in a variety of policy-related businesses and think-tank settings, as well as in the government, foreign service, and nonprofit sectors. It is also a springboard for the pursuit of Ph.D. objectives and specializations and presents students with dual-degree opportunities.

Offered through the Pepperdine School of Public Policy, a veteran-supported campus, Pepperdine’s MPP program values “viewpoint diversity” and political perspectives. It is a 50-unit coursework that takes two years to complete, with three to four unit courses taken each semester.

As students of the top-ranking university in the West, eligible Pepperdine MPP students can become recipients of the Yellow Ribbon Program, which covers half or the entirety of their tuition. Military personnel and veterans must meet the qualifications under Chapter 33 of the GI Bill to receive the Yellow Ribbon funding.

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