How to Get Into the U.S. Air Force Academy: Admissions Data & Strategies

May 5, 2021

Guided by the values of “Integrity First. Service Before Self. Excellence in All We Do,” the United States Air Force Academy (USAFA) is presently home to 4,307 undergraduate students who receive four years of education valued at an estimated $416,000 completely free of charge. The idea for this institution was first conceived after World War II and in 1954, its Colorado Springs location was selected. By 1959, the youngest of the five U.S. service academies had already graduated its first class.

The US Air Force Academy of the 2020s is a highly-selective, prestigious four-year university that accepts just over 10% of those who apply—a similar figure to Cornell, Tufts, USC, or Rice University. In addition to the fact that almost 90% of applicants are ultimately rejected, high school students seeking admittance into the US Air Force Academy also need to understand that they face a different type of admissions maze than encountered by applicants to other uber-selective universities. To help guide you through the complex gauntlet that awaits, we will cover:

  • The Air Force Academy’s Class of 2024 acceptance rate
  • SAT, GPA, and class rank of accepted Air Force Academy applicants
  • Admissions trends from the Class of 2024
  • The Air Force Academy’s unique nomination/application elements
  • When to apply for nomination
  • A look at the demographics of current the Air Force Academy undergraduates
  • The percent of accepted students that attend the Air Force Academy (yield rate)
  • Tips for applying to the Air Force Academy
  • USAFA essay tips
  • How to assess whether applying to the Air Force Academy worth the immense effort

Let’s begin with an examination of the most recent admissions data.

USAFA Class of 2024 Acceptance Rate

Out of the 10,747 applicants seeking a spot in the Air Force Academy’s Class of 2024, a total of 9,197 made it into the candidate pool, only 2,588 made it to “Qualified Candidate” status, and just 1,416 were ultimately admitted into the USAFA. This calculates to a 10.7% acceptance rate. The previous year, Class of 2023 hopefuls were admitted at an almost identical rate.

SAT, ACT, GPA, and class rank of accepted Air Force Academy applicants

The mid-50% SAT range for entering members of the Class of 2024 was 1220-1420; the ACT range was 29-33. The mean SAT score was a 1,364. Looking at class rank, 54.6% finished in the top decile of their high school class, 81.6% were in the top quartile, and 97.5% placed in the top half. The average unweighted GPA was 3.86 with 24.4% earning a perfect 4.0.

Admissions Trends & Notes – Class of 2024

  • 6% of the Class of 2024 were the sons or daughters of service academy graduates.
  • 730 of the 1,145 attending 2020-21 first-year cadets are non-minorities.
  • 276 members of the Class of 2024 were recruited athletes.
  • 181 entering cadets were first-generation college students.
  • Women represented 30.2% of the incoming class, up from 26.5% five years ago.
  • 8% of those attending were the valedictorian of their high school class and another 4% were salutatorian.

The Air Force Academy’s Unique Nomination/Application Requirements

Those seeking admission to Stanford’s Computer Science program do not need to seek the formal endorsement of Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, or Google-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin. That would just be strange, right? Well, when applying to the Air Force Academy all applicants must actually seek a formal “nomination” from one of the following sources:

  • A member of the U.S. Senate
  • A member of the U.S. House of Representatives
  • The President of the United States (for children of active duty, reserve, retired military parents only)
  • The Vice-President of the United States
  • Your AFROTC or AFJROTC Unit
  • Your commander (for active service members)
  • Through being a child of a deceased/disabled veteran

While getting more than one Congressional nomination will not benefit you, it behooves applicants to apply to both of their Senators as well as their local House of Representatives member, as doing so will increase the overall odds of obtaining a singular nomination. Each House member and Senator can have five constituents attending the Air Force Academy at any one time (which averages out to just over one per year).

When to apply for an Air Force Academy nomination

While the Air Force Academy doesn’t need your nomination paperwork until the 31st of January during your senior year, it is advisable to start the process of reaching out to your Members of Congress (MOC) during 11th grade. The online Vice Presidential nomination application opens on March 1st and closes the following January 31st. All MOC nominating offices have their own deadlines. Some members of the HOR and the Senate have application deadlines in September of senior year while others have a later November deadline; most will allow you to submit your applications as early as the second-semester of your junior year.

Who actually gets into The Air Force Academy?

Let’s look at the demographics of USAFA Class of 2024, beginning with ethnicity:

  • Caucasian/White: 62.7%
  • Asian American: 13.6% (including those who identify as two or more races)
  • Hispanic: 13.6%
  • African American: 9% (including those who identify as two or more races)

A look at the gender split reveals that university enrolls far more men than women:

  • Men: 70%
  • Women: 30%

The 2020-21 freshman class participated in the following extracurricular activities during high school:

  • Student Body President: 10%
  • School Publication: 12%
  • Debate: 7%
  • Drama: 10%
  • Boy/Girl Scouts: 19%
  • Varsity Athletics: 81%
  • Music: 29%
  • Civil Air Patrol: 10%
  • JROTC: 15%
  • National Honor Society: 67%

Geographically, cadets in the Class of 2024 hailed from all 50 U.S. states; there were also 15 international students admitted.

The United States Air Force Academy’s “Yield Rate”

Very few people apply to the U.S. Air Force Academy (or any service academy) if they are not extremely serious about attending. As a result, The Air Force Academy’s yield rate—the percentage of accepted students who elect to enroll, divided by the total number of students who are admitted is 81%. This figure is comparable to those of other high yield institutions such as Harvard (83%) or MIT (78%). In short, very few people go through The Air Force Academy’s harrowing and lengthy admissions process and ultimately enroll somewhere else.

Tips for Applying to the Air Force Academy  

If you plan on joining the nearly 11,000 USAFA hopefuls for the next admissions cycle, you should know the following:

  • The USAFA values eleven factors above all others: rigor of your coursework, GPA, class rank, standardized test scores, application essays, recommendations, the interview, extracurricular activities, character/personal qualities, geographical residence and an applicant’s level of demonstrated interest.
  • Talent/ability and volunteer work are also considered “important” to the admissions committee when evaluating applicants.
  • Interviews are mandatory and a critical component of any application. Interviews are conducted with an Air Force Academy Liaison Officer (ALO).
  • During the interview, the ALO will be assessing your level of interest, leadership potential, core values, interest in the Air Force, communication skills, organizational ability, self-confidence, among other similar attributes. You should come prepared to talk about the institutional honor code and demonstrate that you have done your homework as to why the Academy is the perfect postsecondary home for you.
  • The Air Force Academy does strongly consider “demonstrated interest” so you will be judged on contacts with your ALO, member of Congress, etc.
  • Begin the Preliminary Application as early as mid-March of your junior year. This can be submitted until December 31, at the latest.
  • The USAFA gives you an opportunity to apply for the Summer Seminar after your junior year of high school. While not a required part of the application process, it is recommended. The deadline for submitting an application to the Summer Seminar is January 15.
  • You will need to arrange for and pass a Candidate Fitness Assessment which can be administered by your gym teacher, JROTC instructor, or Service Academy Liaison Officer. This involves push-ups, a one-mile run, abdominal crunches, a 40-yard shuttle run, pull-ups, and a basketball throw from a kneeling position.
  • You must also meet the basic medical requirements for consideration.
  • Make sure to dedicate sufficient time and effort to the essays required by United States Air Force Academy. In the 2020-21 cycle, the prompts were as follows:

 (1) Describe a setback or ethical dilemma that you have faced. How did you resolve it? How did the outcome affect you? Most importantly, what did you learn about yourself and how would you handle a similar situation in the future? (400 to 500 words, 3000 characters max)

(2) What attributes, life experiences, unique perspectives, and/or special talents do you possess that would contribute to the classroom, student body, and/or Air Force Academy? (400 to 500 words, 3000 characters max) 

(3) Please provide any additional information or background you believe will be of assistance in evaluating your application. (400 to 500 words, 3000 characters max)  

College Transitions’ USAFA Essay Tips

One of the best ways to prepare for writing these essays is to self-reflect on why you are making this career/life choice and what being an Air Force officer means to you. It is best to speak with current and past service members, mentors, teachers, and your family as you develop these answers. The goal is not to be highly-creative with your responses, but rather to leave an unmistakable impression that you are a mature and committed young man or woman, who understands the responsibility and sacrifice that lie ahead. The stories you share about setbacks/ethical dilemmas and your unique life experiences/talents should be 100% based in reality—no need for hyperbole or grandiosity.

Should I Apply to The Air Force Academy?

There are good reasons for the long line jockeying for a position inside of the Air Force Academy. The USAFA boasts an outstanding 6:1 cadet-to-faculty ratio and a collection of dedicated professors that are routinely voted among the most accessible of any institution in the country. There are 32 majors to choose from including seven with the word “engineering” in the title. This works out well, as the Air Force Academy runs one of the premier undergraduate engineering programs in the entire country.

Of course, it goes without saying that all teens applying to a school of the USAFA’s caliber also need to also have a proper mix or “target” and “safety” schools on their college list. More on creating a balanced college list can be found here.