#070 Military Service Academies with Lisa Rielage Transcript



Lisa Marker Robbins  01:03

The military service academy college option offers a unique blend of academic and military training that can help students develop leadership and discipline skills needed to succeed as military officers. And a big bonus is tuition and other expenses are typically covered by the government. While it sounds like a fantastic option, service academies aren’t for everyone. And the path to gain appointment is rigorous and the runway is long. My guest Lisa relog is a Naval Academy graduate, a military spouse, and today is an expert advisor to students interested in this path. I’m Lisa marker Robbins, and I want to welcome you to College and Career Clarity, a flourish coaching production. Let’s dive right in to a great conversation. Lisa, welcome.


Lisa Rielage  02:05

Thank you. I’m so excited to be here. I am to


Lisa Marker Robbins  02:09

this is. I mean, in all honesty, I’ve got such base awareness of this, I know that I’m going to learn almost as much as our listeners are going to learn today. So we are very fortunate to have you.


Lisa Rielage  02:22

I’m looking forward to it.


Lisa Marker Robbins  02:23

So let’s just start with a basic definition. What are military service academies? How would you define them? For us?


Lisa Rielage  02:32

That is a super place to start because there’s this misconception that this is something students do instead of going to college. But in reality, the service academies are both a military training facility and a college so students graduate with a Bachelor of Science degree. They spent four years there, variety of majors, but at the same time, they’re immersed in a full military environment, there is a military hierarchy, rank based privileges, a chain of command to follow uniforms, all those bells and whistles.


Lisa Marker Robbins  03:10

So right of way I was it my brains going. Again, that sounds very, very busy for a college student.


Lisa Rielage  03:18

It is incredibly busy. So you mentioned I was a naval academy graduate. Once just as an academic exercise, my friends, and I totaled up all of the coursework we were doing, and all the little extra things that might be contributing to a minor or a PE credit. And I think we came up with something like 35 credit hours worth of mandatory items were doing during a semester.


Lisa Marker Robbins  03:44

And not even to say, just like I was even thinking like sleeping like are these kids sleeping?


Lisa Rielage  03:48

They are there is a taps. So there is a point in the evening when people are supposed to be in their rooms, they might have permission to continue studying. Or they might have a lights out that they’re having to observe it’s going to depend on if they’re a first year or a fourth year student. It’s not as much sleep as they would like. But what I would say is you don’t typically have the model that you might see in a civilian college where a student is staying up till three o’clock in the morning, and then sleeping till noon. That’s not going to happen because there’s probably a bell ringing in the passageway round about six o’clock in the morning, rousting them out of bed, getting them ready for their first inspections of the day in their first formations.


Lisa Marker Robbins  04:35

So if we did with your friends, and you did, we’re calculating up all the time and the hours, like okay, you might get as much sleep or maybe even more than those kids staying up till 3am and then not getting great sleep. But it’s going to be at very regimented your schedules sounds very regimented, but that


Lisa Rielage  04:54

schedule is disciplined. Time management is super important. You’re not going to get through In the military service academy curriculum with all of the co curricular responsibilities without being a master of time management, and if you’re not a master of time management coming in, we’ll be going out


Lisa Marker Robbins  05:16

that I was just thinking like, high school students time management, this should be a skill that if you’re thinking about this path at all that we probably should start honing in on while we’re in high school.


Lisa Rielage  05:29

I it is, I think, less painful if you have some of those skill sets already in hand. The easier transition. Yeah. Well, let’s


Lisa Marker Robbins  05:38

talk about other than academics, you know, like, what does student life look like, like, outside of that piece?


Lisa Rielage  05:47

Sure. So you’re living on a military base. Each of the academies has a walled campus, students typically live in not a barracks, it’s not like full metal jacket or some Old Barracks Bay video, they have typically a 234 person room. dining halls are often done and mass. So the meals, breakfast, lunch and dinner, are served to the entire regiment or brigade at the same time. That’s really a sight to see. I was at West Point A couple of weeks ago, and they have 15 minutes to eat lunch, when I’d never seen anything quite like it. There is a regimental system at most of the academies where the freshmen or fourth class cadets, they have fewer privileges, more obligations, and I don’t mean that they’re being hazed. But I mean that they’re responsible for learning their initial sets of professional knowledge and demonstrating that professional knowledge to the upper class cadets and midshipmen who are responsible for training them. Almost every student is an athlete of some type. So West Point says Every cadet is an athlete and every athlete is served at their appropriate levels. So there’s varsity sports clubs, sports, intramural or company to company sports. Students are probably familiar with the Army Navy football game or the great Air Force Academy football team, the Coast Guard Academy and the Merchant Marine Academy or division three, they also have lots of sports going on. Their equivalent of the Army Navy game is the Secretary’s cup, because they fall under the Secretary of Transportation and the Secretary of Homeland Defense. And the Secretary has come to the game. Students, cadets are Midshipman. They have a parade season in the fall, and in the spring, where they are marching in parades, they are practicing for parades, because the military never does anything without practicing for it first. So that’s a time occupying activity. And then there’s also clubs and activities, whether they’re professional or related to student’s ethnic background or related to an academic study. So recently, I heard


Lisa Marker Robbins  08:12

some of those like typical, those are typically college campus.


Lisa Rielage  08:16

Yeah, any college campus. So you would see things like there’s a National Eagle Scout Association at several of the academies. You see cyberdefense clubs, a Glee Club, where the students are going, and they meet every couple of days to practice their repertoire. And then they put on concerts. I think, some other examples, that’s maybe your salary and use one. So there’s just lots of stuff going on. So


Lisa Marker Robbins  08:44

you know, when we think of maybe on typical college campus, students having freedom on the weekends to go out and I have a daughter who’s officially now a senior in college, so it means I’ve got two more payments to make. And I’m celebrating for her that she’s a senior. So yes, this my youngest, so we’re about done. So I’m thinking about like her weekends and you know, going to the football game and going out with friends and things like that, do they have that level of freedom on the weekends,


Lisa Rielage  09:16

it’s gonna again, depend on what year they are at the academy. So fourth class or freshmen are going to have less freedom, they might not have permission to go out and do overnight weekends, for example, but they’re going to have Saturday liberty, where they can either go out on post, or go off post off the grounds of the academy to whatever town is in the nearby area. And overnight weekend. Each year, you get the right to a few more of those. And you might take that overnight pass and go visit friends at another college. If you’re at West Point, you might go to New York City. If you’re at Annapolis, you might go to Washington, DC or to Baltimore. So there is a lot of that happening. Students by go and watch a sports team compete at another college. So that’s another way of going out and seeing things other places.


Lisa Marker Robbins  10:14

So a little less of that freshman year. And as a progress, there’s going to be a greater level of freedom,


Lisa Rielage  10:21

there is a greater level of freedom, always within the context of Do you have satisfactory grades? So a civilian college, and I have a college student, myself and two graduates, at a civilian college, it’s going to be up to the student to decide, do I stay in and study? Or do I go out and party on the weekend, at an academy, they’re going to look at your grades. And if your grades are not sat, you aren’t going to have that overnight pass. And you might have some mandatory study sessions that you have to do and report on. And then that also, there’s a conduct system where there’s rules to follow. And if you choose not to follow those rules, you can have consequences for that as well, which are often in the form of restriction from those liberty, and overnight passes. Okay, yep, that makes sense. Now, as you know, I’m somewhat obsessed with equipping students around college majors and careers and helping them you know, really know themselves and what their options are and what aligns so that we’re making informed decisions.


Lisa Marker Robbins  11:32

I always have a curiosity, because I say to kids, like a just because a school offers a major doesn’t mean like, they are reputable or fantastic at that major. And you should always know if they have the major set you’re wired for, and you’re seeking out. So I get curious around like, what majors are available or emphasized at the various military academies?


Lisa Rielage  12:00

Okay, so that is a great question. Let’s go back in history a little bit. West Point. Its primary purpose when it was founded in the 1800s, under Thomas Jefferson’s administration, was to produce engineers for the RBA. So the Army Corps of Engineers that exploration corps, that was West Point graduates doing that, and engineering is still very important at West Point it civil engineering is the oldest major there. Engineering is very important at the Naval Academy, because there are operations requirements to have sufficient officers to operate nuclear submarines, nuclear aircraft carriers, so they also emphasize stem and particular engineering and add an academy. Their engineering programs are abet accredited, just like you would find out it at Purdue, or Virginia Tech. That’s not all that they do. But you’re not going to find the full gamut that you might find at a really big flagship university. So there are humanities majors, English, political science, international affairs, there are majors that fall in the middle in that science math computer route. I would say computer science, specially cyber and operations research. Those are growing concerns at all of the academies. The Naval Academy, just a couple years ago, opened up the new Hopper Center, which is their cybersecurity facility, and it’s absolutely stunning and gorgeous. Some other examples, a few of the academies have broader opportunities, the Coast Guard Academy, their largest majors seems to be Business Administration. Okay, which surprised me a little bit, but it’s one of very few majors that they have. So they also have electrical and mechanical engineering, civil engineering, naval architecture, cyber, and then that operations research that I was talking about, at West Point, they have life sciences, they have kinesiology, those are their two Capt. majors, because those are the majors that cadets typically are in if they’re interested in going on to med school in the army. And then the Merchant Marine Academy, which is kind of a specialty Academy because you don’t have to commission as an officer in the military out of the Merchant Marine Academy. You have your choice of commissioning as an officer, or serving out your service commitment, working in the US maritime industry, with the transportation company at a shipyard with a naval architecture firm those types of business actually,


Lisa Marker Robbins  14:49

that makes me think we should go back to let’s go back to our first point about what are these we know what they’re preparing them for, but they’re so what I’m hearing as other than Merchant Marine, if you go to one of the others, you will be serving.


Lisa Rielage  15:07

Yes. So when you graduate, you graduate with a Bachelor of Science degree. And you commission into a branch of the military, Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, Space Force, or Coast Guard, according to what you attended, so the Naval Academy has both Navy and Marine Corps officers and the Air Force Academy has now Air Force and Space Force officers for their graduates


Lisa Marker Robbins  15:34

that say, new to me on space for us, I knew I was going to learn stuff today.


Lisa Rielage  15:38

And your service commitment is going to vary according to what you go on and do in your branch. In particular, if you’re doing aviation, because the training pipeline is longer, and the need for pilots or aviators is significant, that service commitment is a little bit longer, roughly 10 years, where other folks, it’s five on active duty. And then a couple more in the reserves.


Lisa Marker Robbins  16:06

One of my former students is wrapping up, she had gone to West Point. And so she’s wrapping up. So I did not realize it could be 10 years depending on what you do. But that completely makes sense. Because we want those people to train that are going to be flying.


Lisa Rielage  16:22

But it is it’s think of it as job placement. So gets 10 years of employment in the military, you’re getting all of the pay and benefits that any officer gets. So it’s not unpaid work for those five years.


Lisa Marker Robbins  16:37

Yeah, that is true. Everybody, we do want to say that. Okay, so I, I mean, I’m already hearing like, it is complicated. It’s there are some similarities to civilian college, there are great differences. So if at this point, somebody’s listening, they’re like, Okay, I still think this could be a really great option for our teen. Like, what do you advise? At what age should they start pursuing? Like early preparation? What is this path look like?


Lisa Rielage  17:07

So I think one, I think early in high school is a great time to get started thinking about this, because it gives students the runway use that word and in the intro, the runway to make changes to their habits, so that they develop those time management skills, so that they do in fact, get rigorous coursework into their schedule, they are going to want to be taking math classes, and be progressing to calculus senior year, or at the very minimum precalculus. They want to be getting chemistry, physics, the Air Force Academy highly recommends a computer science class. And if they’re currently stumbling a little bit in their academics, they want the time to meet with their teachers to learn those study skills, and to build that foundation that they’re going to need to build on. The second thing is they want to be demonstrating leadership. Other colleges look heavily at academics, grades, test scores, at the curriculum in context of what is available, students school, and Academy’s absolutely do that. Academics are the biggest single part of the application. But they’re not only considering the student as a scholar, but also as a leader and as an athlete. So the student needs to be able to point to areas where they served as leaders. That doesn’t mean they’re the high school student body president. It could mean I was the person who produced the school play. I was the person who saw this thing wasn’t being done and took the initiative to make sure it was being done. I coached the powderpuff football team, in addition to being team captain myself,


Lisa Marker Robbins  18:54

there’s great examples, lots of


Lisa Rielage  18:56

ways of being a leader. And I tell students, it’s not about the job with capital letters. It’s about where did you take initiative, and demonstrate your skills of organizing people to get something done?


Lisa Marker Robbins  19:11

I love that because you’re very concrete examples right there. I feel like it takes the pressure off because people hear that word leadership. And they’re thinking like, I do have to be the student class president or I have to start the club and be the president of the club and or I have to, you know, make massive change. And you’re like, No,


Lisa Rielage  19:32

no, and I would also, I would encourage students to remember that their activities are not only things that the school lays out for them as clubs and sports and activities, volunteering, family responsibilities, work. Those are also activities in which they can be demonstrating leadership or responsibility. And when I was in a position of doing interviews for the Naval Academy, the leadership class shins and the responsibility questions, those were very closely tied together. So it was as noteworthy that a student had responsibility for caring for younger siblings or an older family member as that they had some Presidency of a club at school.


Lisa Marker Robbins  20:21

Let me ask you, so I love those concrete examples on the leadership piece when you reference student athletes, which I know it’s important that that’s an important piece of this puzzle that these individuals are student athletes. Do they have to be the star quarterback? Like? How much does that level of athletic aptitude and achievement matter?


Lisa Rielage  20:43

Right, so every student at an Academy is an athlete at some level, even if they were not highly involved in athletics in high school, they are going to be doing at least an intramural sport, if not a varsity sport. And the numbers when you look at the class profile, somewhere around 90 plus percent, were in a varsity sport of some kind. They were not all team captains, the numbers don’t work, right, there’s only a couple team cabinets. So being in a sport can be the route through which a student is displaying their leadership. But it doesn’t have to be. And sports also demonstrate the students fitness. And there is an we’ll talk later, there’s an overt fitness test as part of the application. It demonstrates their trainability. And I talk about how it demonstrates their willingness to do hard things, simply because that hard thing has to be done. It’s that grit and perseverance that because you want yeah, no, I woke up this morning and thought, hey, 430 in the morning, sounds like a great time to go swim. But yeah, Monday, Wednesday, Friday, 430 is swimming. And I’m gonna go and do that, whether I feel like it or not. So let’s talk


Lisa Marker Robbins  22:00

about this. The admission process, like actually, and I know is complicated and the runways long, and you’re gonna tell us those steps. But I’m glad we took the bulk of our time together to really focus on like, what’s this experience like? And what should you be doing freshman, sophomore, junior year. So now let’s hop into Okay, we’re gonna we know we want to do this. How do we go for it?


Lisa Rielage  22:25

Okay, so the admissions process, that application process starts earlier for an academy than it does for other colleges. But I don’t want to scare students off with that. Because it’s opening up a why students going to be working hard on it in spring of junior year. But a student could still learn about an academy, the end of junior year, summer before senior year, put their nose to the grindstone, and have a successful application. I think that students do get scared off, they get told oh, you’re really starting this too late. A student who’s been a high flyer in high school has built that foundation, even if there was not a goal of an academy in front of them. So some things they need to think about. Four of the five academies have a summer program for rising seniors. The applications for those range from November of junior year through April of junior year, those summer programs do two things. One, they are an immersive introduction to what that Academy is like. And if it is not the right fit for a student, learning that in one week in a summer is way more efficient, and learning it through a year of a plead experience.


Lisa Marker Robbins  23:41

Totally. It’s the same reason I say, Go do job shadows and informational interviews where you’re figuring out your major, right? Absolutely way better to go job shadow, you know, and an attorney’s office and go, that was the most boring thing ever.


Lisa Rielage  23:58

You’re either gonna walk away thinking this is exactly what I was looking for, or is no way, no substitute


Lisa Marker Robbins  24:04

for curated experiences. But


Lisa Rielage  24:07

even students who are not accepted to the summer program and they are very competitive. Priority tends to go to students who come from areas that don’t send many people to the academy or that are geographically distant from the academy and can’t come in easily to a candidate visit during the school year. That application to the summer program also serves as the preliminary application to the academy so they’re doing that first early application, junior year, summer between junior and senior year. They need to be looking at the nomination requirement. Airforce West Point Naval Academy all require nominations. Merchant Marine Academy requires nominations but allows fewer categories of them Coast Guard doesn’t care they don’t use that system nomination is an endorsement is a four formal endorsement by a qualified nominator, which is usually one of your senators or your representative. So your member of Congress, or the Vice President, military connected students can have some additional pots of nominations they’re eligible for. There’s all sorts of limitations and lots of baths. We’re not going to get into here, Matt, is it? It’s not something under the students control. So I hope students don’t obsess over what those numbers are. Every nomination you’re eligible for, you should apply for it. Yep, and those nominations are combat processes completely controlled by the nominators office. So your senator may have a different requirements set than your representative and a different requirements set from your second senator. So you need to look at what their requirements are on their website and follow their guidelines for each individual one, including early deadlines. I’ve seen them this last year as early as the beginning of September. So a student who hasn’t thought about a service academy until November, December, that could be when it’s too late. It’s possible, they’re not going to get a nomination. I mentioned fitness tests earlier on, there is a multi event fitness test requirement of the student takes wherever they live. And since the scores into the academy, what I recommend here, and this goes again, to that early preparation, students need to realize that the rest period is timed. The whole thing is a very explicit time to test. And it surprises students, that when they get to the run, at the end, they’re more tired than they think they should be. Because they have done sit ups, pull ups, a shuttle run all the other events, and then when they get to that final run, they’re really blown out. And so if you are only practicing one event on Monday, a different event on Wednesday, you’re gonna find that that’s going to be a struggle,


Lisa Marker Robbins  27:03

almost like when you know, when kids are preparing for the AC t, you know, practicing a reading section of the test, you know, practicing math, but I always tell students, and it’s, you know, it’s like a marathon, you need to do it all at once. Section testing only? Well, yeah, there’s benefits to that. There’s also an endurance piece to the whole. Yeah,


Lisa Rielage  27:26

that is a great analogy to it. Yeah. And since you mentioned tests, that’s another thing within the admissions process, where academies are different from civilian colleges, they do really prize the test scores. The position that they tend to express is that since they have nationwide applications from students who attend very different high schools with very different curriculum, it’s not really possible for them to evaluate a student just on grades, you have IB programs, AP may be none of the above. So they find that the test scores for them, for their purposes, are indicative of future success of the academy. Well, and I think,


Lisa Marker Robbins  28:11

too, I mean, we’re in a landscape right now where we’re seeing some colleges reverting back. And I mean, I advise all students prepare, take the test, try to get scores, you’re going to have some schools that are going to want to err and have some schools that will be open to not having them and then make your decision later. Right. Right.


Lisa Rielage  28:34

I think that’s a great suggestion. The timeline I would recommend for a student who knows they’re interested in a military academy is probably early on junior year you want to be testing, and that’s going to put you earlier than a lot of your peers.


Lisa Marker Robbins  28:48

Yep. You don’t want to be pushing it out so that you can’t probably push it out. So they call back


Lisa Rielage  28:53

late. Well, they will continue to accept them a little later than some other colleges might, because they will continue to review a package as new info comes in. But I encounter students that get in a bind, they think they can test their test gets cancelled, they get sick, there’s a snowstorm, and then they’re stuck. So don’t get stuck.


Lisa Marker Robbins  29:15

So when just as we wrap up here, when will students find out if they have a nomination if they’re in what that final decision piece of this look like for students?


Lisa Rielage  29:28

Great question. So the nominations from members of Congress have to be reported the Academy’s by the end of January. So that is the last deadline where the student would know they have received or not received a nomination. The process of applying to the Academy, students who are selected for an appointment were offered an appointment they’ll find that out as the offer is paid, but if you haven’t been selected yet, then you’ll just sit there It’s not like a civilian college where there is a definitive decision date in a rolling basis. So you’re not going to get told no till the end of the road, which is typically the 15th of April for most of the academies. So by the 15th of April, senior year, you would know, you have been offered an appointment, or you were not offered an appointment this year. And let me say that again this year, because it’s possible to reapply to an academy. And somewhere around 100 150 students every year, go into the big academies, the Department of Defense academies from some other college, so they’ve gone and done college classes somewhere else. And applied from that setting, maybe had a better academic foundation, maybe done more leadership, spent the time learning how to do pull ups, and they have a stronger application. And they’ve demonstrated the persistence, and the grit that the academies are looking for. Well said,


Lisa Marker Robbins  31:00

well, thank you. I knew I was gonna learn stuff. So our families for sure did. fantastic advice. And families. I know you have a blog, and people can look at and I’ve seen, I’ve read it myself. So you’re posting new information updates. Interesting things there. So if families want to work with you or keep in touch, is that the best place? Or how else can they go to is a


Lisa Rielage  31:26

great place. So my website is admissions decrypted.com. So you can go there the show notes for her read what I write I do try to answer some of the common questions in my blog post and there’s a contact form. Right there.


Lisa Marker Robbins  31:39

Okay, well, thank you, Lisa. We’ll definitely have you back.


Lisa Rielage  31:43

Awesome. I’m looking forward to it.


Lisa Marker Robbins  31:50

Do I learn a lot from Lisa and I hope that you did too. If you made it this far, in this particular episode, I’m going to guess that your team or perhaps you if you are the team is interested in possibly applying to a service academy and serving our country. If your teen is considering this option, I highly recommend you listen to this episode together. And then your weekly college bound challenge is to check out the admissions page for any academies in which you’re interested. That information that you’ll find on their website will build on what Lisa shared, it can help you chart your path. Remember, the process is a marathon, not a sprint. If today’s episode was helpful to you, please share by snapping a screenshot of the episode on your device and then sharing it on social media. You can tag me at morish coaching CO that flourish coaching CO on all social. By doing so you are helping me fulfill my mission to resource more students to launch into a successful future. Thank you for listening to the College and Career Clarity podcast, where I help your family move from overwhelmed, confused to motivated, clear and confident about your team’s future.