School Profile: What You Can Expect as a Cadet in the US Air Force Academy

The United States Air Force Academy, is ranked #42 among schools on the Veritas Prep Elite College Rankings. Located just north of Colorado Springs, Colorado, it is the third most visited tourist attraction in the state. The pine-covered 18,000 acre campus offers stunning views of the Rocky Mountains at an elevation of 7,258 feet; visitors can also often see cadets dotting the bright blue skies as they practice parachuting. Frequent maneuverings of Thunderbird jets during their practices offer yet another breathtaking experience. The 10th and the larger Air Force installation, including firefighting, medical support, security, civil engineering, and logistical support.

Students admitted to the US Air Force Academy are referred to as Cadets; instead of freshmen through seniors, they are fourth class (freshmen) through first class (seniors). All students attend Basic Cadet Training for six weeks before their first year of study. The core curriculum leans heavily toward science, engineering, and technology. There are 21 departments in four academic divisions – basic sciences, engineering, social sciences, and humanities offering a number of majors. All students graduate with Bachelor of Science degrees due to the rigor of the core curriculum. Cadets can participate in a number of research projects associated with their majors at one of the Academy research centers that include the Eisenhower Center for Space and Defense Studies, the Institute for National Security Studies, the Institute for Information Technology Applications, and many more. When cadets graduate from the Academy, each student is sworn in as a commissioned officer to the Air Force during the ceremony. Following graduation, newly commissioned officers begin their military service.

The Cadet Area of the Academy is the student campus. Student dormitories, the dining hall, the academic building—which houses classrooms, a library, and the Aeronautics Research annex, anchored by the Cadet Chapel, are all situated around a pavilion called the Terrazzo. The campus is a model of American modernist architecture with many buildings sporting gleaming aluminum exteriors that mirror the exterior of an aircraft. The unique Cadet Chapel is the showpiece of the Cadet Area with 17 silver spires that reach 150 feet into the air; it has been designated a National Historic Landmark. The Cadet Chapel houses sacred spaces for Protestant, Catholic, Buddhist, Islamic, and Jewish cadets to practice their faith. Campus life is strictly regimented by the school’s Honor Code Handbook. Because every student is a future officer in the Air Force, a rigorous curriculum of character and leadership defines social interactions and regulates the college scene. Beyond academic and military activities, the remaining free time is directed toward athletics. Arnold Hall, outside the Cadet Area, provides lounges, recreation facilities, a theater, and a ballroom for occasional downtime.

All Air Force cadets are required to participate in intramural athletics; if they are on competitive intercollegiate teams, they must still participate in their off-seasons. All cadets are fitness tested every semester; those who fail are put into rigorous physical fitness training until they are able to pass the test. There are 17 men’s and 10 women’s varsity teams competing at the NCAA Division I level in the Mountain West Conference. Some teams compete in other conferences based on the sport. The USAFA Falcons have traditional football rivalries with Army and Navy, as well as Colorado State University; they’ve also made regular appearances in football bowl games. The men’s and women’s rugby teams and boxing team have all won multiple national championships.

Although the United States Air Force Academy is the youngest of the three US military academies, it still has developed important traditions like the Prop and Wings, an honor given to fourth class cadets (freshmen) at the end of their first year in Academy. Cadet sabres are worn to distinguish first class cadets in command positions. Class rings are presented to third class cadets at the Ring Dance during the fourth class graduation week. The tradition is for the rings to be placed in glasses of champagne, then caught with the teeth after a toast. Cadets wear their rings with the class crest on the ring facing the cadet and after their own graduation, they’re changed to facing outward. Fourth class cadets are  awarded their shoulder boards and take the Honor Oath during Parents Weekend following Basic Cadet Training. There are many more formal traditions at the Academy, plus a nearly equal number of informal traditions that have developed over the years.

If you have an interest in applying to the United States Air Force Academy, you will have to secure a nomination from a U.S. Senator or member of the U.S. House of Representatives; plan to start the admission process your junior year of high school.

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By Colleen Hill