15 Best Military Colleges in the US – 2024
December 5, 2023
Reasons for enrolling in one of the U.S.’s best military colleges may vary. Yet all graduates will obtain a retinue of life skills, tons of discipline, and a sense of duty. But before we go any further, let’s define what exactly it means to be a service academy, senior military college, or military junior college.
What are Military Colleges?
Merriam-Webster offers us this definition: “a civilian college where the students habitually wear uniforms and follow military routine.” Perhaps that may look like the gist of it to outsiders. However, there’s actually a lot more that goes into an education at one of the best military colleges.
First off, by “college” we’re talking specifically about higher education: Academies, Senior Military Colleges, and Military Junior Colleges. (We’ll get into the specifics of each soon.) Note that this list will not be covering military high schools or graduate-only schools. Furthermore, we’re talking about educational programs that offer academic study in traditional fields, particularly in STEM subjects. (At the United States Naval Academy, for example, you can study everything from Arabic to Ocean Engineering). Beyond academics, military colleges provide leadership and armed services training. Students go by the term “cadet,” and yes, they do wear uniforms while adhering to a strict daily routine.
For high schoolers who feel certain they’ll enlist, attending military college still offers extra perks than going straight into service. First, graduating with a college degree will likely allow someone to enter the army at a higher rank. It will also give them more career options within and after service. Plus, federal military academies offer full-ride funding for students who commit to postgraduate service. Meanwhile, other private and public military academies will offer students a taste of future service, while not enforcing a military commitment. Let’s take a closer look at the three types of military colleges before delving into our best military colleges list.
Differentiating the Three Types of Military Colleges?
As mentioned above, federal service academies offer free tuition with a caveat: students must dedicate five years of service to their respective military branch post-graduation. Upon applying, students will choose between the five army branches: military, navy, air force, coast guard, and merchant marine. They’ll graduate with a Bachelor of Science (BS). These schools, while extremely rigorous, are quite prestigious. The free tuition, stellar academics, and monthly stipend make for competitive entrance. On top of typical college application requirements, applicants must undergo a medical and fitness exam. They must also submit a congressional letter of recommendation.
As for senior military colleges, the U.S. boasts six. At most of these colleges, students choose either the regular civilian track, or else become a cadet. As a cadet, they join both Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) and the Corps of Cadets. For cadets, college life resembles that at service academies, with strict training schedules and rigorous physical requirements. Tuition typically ranges from 20-50k annually, unless you receive an ROTC scholarship, in which case post-graduation service becomes mandatory.
The four military junior colleges differ from service academies and senior military colleges in that they only last two years. Upon graduation, cadets become commissioned officers in the Army Reserves (through the Early Commissioning Program). Meanwhile, cadets are still required to get a bachelor’s degree, yet they can do so while advancing in their military careers by serving as reserve officers. A few other programs exist alongside the Early Commissioning Program, such as the Service Academy Preparation Program, which allows students to transfer to a service academy after a year of preparation. Tuition typically ranges from 16-20k annually at military junior colleges, and the application process involves fewer requirements.
Which Among the Best Military Colleges is the Best Fit for You?
After reading about the three types of military colleges, you may have an idea of which type fits your goals. If you’re not prepared to commit to service yet, then you should think twice before applying to a service academy, for example. Applying to a range of schools will, naturally, give you more chances of getting in. It will also give you more time to weight the various factors that will help you make a decision.
Questions you’re probably considering at this point include: how committed am I to serving my country? Just how sure am I? Do I want to be surrounded by cadets in the same situation as me, and take full advantage of the military camaraderie? Or, would I prefer a little more diversity in my student body demographic by learning alongside civilian students? Do I think of military training as essential? Or is it more like an extra? How competitive is my application? What are my financial constraints?
However, we shouldn’t simply reduce the best military colleges to their types. Each individual college will offer a unique experience. Next up, let’s take a look at each and every one of the best military colleges in America.
Best Military Colleges: Service Academies
1) US Military Academy
The US Military Academy, in West Point, NY—called “West Point”—trains cadets for a future as an army officer. It’s known for its extremely rigorous routine and strict rules. (If you’re looking for commentary on the severity of the program’s discipline, watch the film The Pale Blue Eye. This fictional story depicts a string of murders that Edgar Allan Poe, a cadet on campus, must unravel.) At a glance, West Point’s acceptance rate is 11%, while an average GPA is 3.9. Students receive a Bachelor of Science and can choose from over 35 majors.
2) US Naval Academy
The US Naval Academy, in Annapolis, MD, prepares cadets to go into the Navy and Marine Corps. (Here I would not recommend watching the film Annapolis, which flopped in part because of its false portrayal of the academy.) Founded in 1845, the school offers around 25 majors for its midshipman (the rank at which cadets enter). At a glance, the academy’s acceptance rate is lower than West Point, at 7%, while an average GPA is 3.88.
3) US Air Force Academy
The US Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, CO trains cadets for a career in the Air Force. Here, too, the school’s reputation in terms of rigor precedes it. (A high school friend of mine attended this academy. He was spotted in the airport during his freshman holiday break, holding his heavy luggage out at arm’s length. Apparently, even during Christmastime, first-year cadets are forced to strengthen their muscles through this challenging posture.) Academically, the academy offers 27 majors, and a chance to join their winning Cyber Competition team. Last year the acceptance rate was 12%, while the average GPA is 3.86.
Best Military Colleges: Service Academies (continued)
4) US Coast Guard Academy
The US Coast Guard Academy in New London, CT offers its cadets nine majors to choose from, partly due to its small size. Undergraduate enrollment is roughly 1,050, about a quarter the size of other service academies. Students who wish to enter the coast guard upon graduation and appreciate a higher teacher-to-student ratio will appreciate this academy. At a glance, the acceptance rate is 13%, while an average GPA is 3.92.
5) US Merchant Marine Academy
Last but not least, the US Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, NY provides training for future Merchant Marine Officers. While most people are pretty familiar with the duties of the Navy, this branch of the military is less understood. Essentially, the Merchant Marine comprises civilian mariners and U.S. civilian and federally owned merchant vessels, which transport domestic and international cargo and passengers during peacetime. During times of war, the Merchant Marine reinforces the Navy. To prepare for this career, cadets take part in a “Sea Year,” in which they train on sea vessels around the world. Here the acceptance rate is 16%, while an average GPA is 3.6.
And while that’s it for the best military colleges with free tuition and obligatory service, there are many more military colleges beyond the academies that readers should consider.
Best Military Colleges: Senior Military Colleges
6) Texas A&M
Texas A&M in College Station, TX (halfway between Austin and Houston) is one of, if not the largest colleges in the U.S. Within the school itself, its Corps of Cadets has around 2,500 members, who can choose from among four major units. These units include the Air Force Wing, the Army Brigade, the Navy/Marine Regiment, and the Fightin’ Texas Aggie Band. This band’s choreography is so sophisticated that members will often step between each other’s feet to complete various marching maneuvers.
7) Norwich University
Norwich University in Northfield, VT boasts the oldest ROTC program in the country. This may be due in part to its overall old age. Norwich is the oldest private and senior military college in the U.S. The university was founded in 1819. Academically, the school offers 29 majors, including a very popular criminal justice option.
8) Virginia Military Institute
The Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, VA was once dubbed “the West Point of the South” by President Abraham Lincoln. Both schools do have startlingly beautiful fortress-style architecture. Another commonality? Unlike the other senior military colleges, every student who attends VMI is a cadet. Perhaps one of its more unique features involves its minors, which include liberal arts options, such as Literary Studies, Philosophy, and Art History and Visual Culture.
Best Military Colleges: Senior Military Colleges (Continued)
9) The Citadel
The Citadel in Charleston, SC, besides having the coolest name among senior military colleges, is known for its size. It boasts 2,300 members in its Corps of Cadets. All cadets receive mandatory ROTC training, and can choose from five schools of academics, Business, Education, Engineering, Humanities and Social Sciences, and Science and Mathematics. While entering cadets may feel beaten down by the notorious “Hell Week,” perks abound. Take, for example, the Checkerboard Quadrangle in the Padgett-Thomas Barracks, whose Alice-In-Wonderland style lifts cadet spirits.
10) Virginia Tech
Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, VA, boasts a Corps of Cadets who integrate into the larger student body academically and socially. However, these cadets must undergo additional training. One such component is the Caldwell March, a 13-mile march that happens in both the fall and spring semesters. ROTC is optional. Cadets who choose to participate in this specific “military-leader track” become commissionable in the Marines, Air Force, Navy, or Army.
11) University of North Georgia
University of North Georgia actually has five locations in Georgia. The Drill Field is both central to the cadet experience and located at the heart of the Dahlonega Campus. Cadets rise at 6:15 AM, though civilian students across campus will hear the famous bugle call. Like at The Citadel, incoming cadets experience “Frog Week,” a memorable orientation. The school boasts over 100 academic programs, and cadets can find extra resources in the Military Resources center.
Best Military Colleges: Military Junior Colleges
12) Valley Forge Military Academy and College
Valley Forge Military Academy and College in Wayne, PA has a unique Corps of Cadets. It is completely student-run. Furthermore, it is the only military organization in the U.S. that has maintained British rank, drill, customs, and ceremonies. Nowhere else in America will you find a traditional mounted battalion, containing both a cavalry troop and artillery battery. One notable alumnus includes the writer J. D. Salinger.
13) Marion Military Institute
Marion Military Institute in Marion, AL is the country’s oldest military junior college. Academically, the college offers students associates in science and arts. While the school’s sports mascot is the Tigers, the school’s motto is “Truth, Honor, Service.”
14) New Mexico Military Institute
New Mexico Military Institute in Roswell, NM is a small school, limiting enrollment to around 1,000 cadets annually. Along with the two-year ROTC program, students can choose from a number of academic specialties before obtaining their associate degree. All students receive cadet training, which takes place around the Hagerman Barracks. This impressive buff-colored brick masterpiece was built in the Gothic Revival style.
Best Military Colleges: Military Junior Colleges (Continued)
15) Georgia Military College
Georgia Military College in Milledgeville, GA, on the other hand, enrolls over 18,000 students annually. Offering several bachelor’s degree options alongside its associate degrees, cadets may find more academic options here. While ROTC is optional, cadets who opt-in will have the chance to participate in the ranger challenge competition. This competition brings together 9-member ROTC teams from various colleges.
As you can see, choosing between the best military colleges involves quite a few factors to consider. There’s size, prestige, rigor, academics, extracurriculars, and post-college obligations. While we hope this article has given prospective cadets food for thought, you’ll also want to check out our related articles: How to Get Into West Point, Naval Academy, Air Force Academy.