While there are just as many reasons for going to college as there are majors available, nearly everyone who enrolls in an institution of higher learning does so for the same reason.
They want to improve themselves, and they want to make the world a better place.
Few forms of higher education meet those goals better than military schools.
To be sure, there are several different types of military schools, including high schools, junior colleges, and graduate-only schools with a military focus.
But colleges with a military focus are something special, a unique combination of four-year educational programs and armed services training.
Federal Service Academies, Senior Military Colleges, and Maritime Colleges all prepare their students for active-duty service while providing the best college experience.
In most cases, students are called “cadets,” and they perform activities that will prepare them for military life, such as wearing a uniform and completing assigned duties.
But they also provide access to some of the best teachers in the world, through whom they can receive a liberal arts education that will help them in their military and civilian careers.
This list looks at the ten best American military schools without focusing on a single branch of the Armed Forces. The schools are ranked according to the acceptance rates available at the time of this writing, with any tiebreakers determined by College Gazette.
With this list, you’ll be sure to find the right school for you and start your journey toward serving the country and improving yourself.
Here are the 10 best military schools in the US.
10. SUNY Maritime College (New York, NY)
The nation’s first federally approved maritime school, the State University of New York Maritime College was founded in 1874 to prepare students for nautical careers.
Initially, the school was designed to bolster the maritime economy, which had diminished during the Civil War.
Today, SUNY Maritime College’s degree offerings include U.S. Coast Guard licensing.
Coast Guard students complete their studies through a process called “INDOC.” This training includes a ten-day introduction to basic leadership and seamanship.
The first year of study is known as the “Mariner Under Guidance” year, during which they stand at attention when upper-level students are present, undergo daily inspections of their room, and wear assigned uniforms.
The SUNY Maritime College breaks its cadet classes into regiments. Each regimen includes a band, an honor guard, and a security company. These groups participate in special events, preparing them for the formal aspects of Coast Guard duty.
Acceptance Rate: 73%
9. Texas A&M – Galveston (Galveston, TX)
Located on Pelican Island, the Texas A&M University at Galveston takes full advantage of its position on the ocean. The school houses the Texas A&M Maritime Academy, one of only seven maritime academies in the United States. For those looking to enter the military, Texas A&M – Galveston offers several paths to service.
As part of the Naval Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, students work to gain a commission as a Naval officer. The Strategic Sealift Officer Program licenses cadets working to achieve a commission in the U.S. Navy Reserve corps as strategic sealift officers.
Students can also enter the U.S. Coast Guard via the Maritime Academy Graduate Direct Commission Officer Program, which can lead to a three-year commitment as an officer.
No matter which program they choose, all students in the Texas A&M Maritime Academy work on the USTS General Rudder, a decommissioned Navy surveillance ship that now serves as a training vessel. On General Rudder, students gain hands-on experience developing the skills they’ll need for regular service.
Acceptance Rate: 67%
8. Texas A&M – College Station (College Station, TX)
The flagship campus of its university system, Texas A&M University at College Station boasts the largest student body in the United States of any public university.
Part of its service to those students is the Texas A&M University Corps of Cadets, the school’s oldest student organization and a designation that makes the University the nation’s largest senior military college.
For their first three semesters, Corps of Cadets members participate in the ROTC program, with the option to continue in later years. In addition, students take leadership classes in the School of Military Science.
Within the Corps, the school offers several special units in which cadets can participate.
The official Honor Guard for the Texas Governor, the Ross Volunteer Company, is the oldest student organization in the state. Each year, 72 new cadets are added to the ranks, chosen from the pool of juniors and seniors, and selected according to their honor, humility, and character.
Acceptance Rate: 67%
7. Virginia Tech (Blacksburg, VA)
The military component of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets has existed since the founding of the school.
In addition to a track designed for cadets who plan to graduate to civilian sector careers, the Corps offers a military leader track for those in ROTC programs.
Graduates on the military-leader track are eligible for a commission in the Marines, Air Force, Navy, or Army.
Through the ROTC program, cadets earn a scholarship that pays for tuition and fees, as well as a monthly stipend.
Although cadets are integrated into the student body at Virginia Tech and participate in the same activities as any other student, they also engage in various additional exercises. Cadets take the Caldwell March each year, beginning with a 13-mile in the fall and another in the spring.
Acceptance Rate: 66%
6. Virginia Military Institute (Lexington, VA)
Nicknamed by Abraham Lincoln “the West Point of the South,” the Virginia Military Institute was established in 1839 and is the country’s oldest public sector senior military college.
A true military institute, VMI enrolls only cadets and requires them all to enroll in the ROTC. Although the school adheres to strict military discipline, VMI also grants degrees in a range of disciplines, including the liberal arts.
Over the years, VMI has trained winners of some of the world’s highest honors. Its alumni include seven Medal of Honor recipients, thirteen Rhodes Scholars, and numerous officers and holders of public offices.
After graduating from VMI in 1901, George C. Marshall served as Secretary of Defense and Secretary of State, eventually winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 1953.
1933 graduate Frank McCarthy was not only secretary of the general staff for the war department in World War II, but also a film producer who won an Oscar for the 1970 film Patton.
Acceptance Rate: 53%
5. United States Merchant Marine Academy (Kings Point, NY)
Upon graduating from the United States Merchant Marine Academy, cadets receive a bachelor of science degree, an unlimited merchant marine officer license in the U.S. Coast Guard, and a commission as an ensign in either the U.S. Navy reserve strategic sealift officer program or as an ensign in active duty for the U.S. Navy or Coast Guard.
Some graduates can even go into active duty as a 2nd lieutenant in the Marine Corps, Army, Air Force, or Space Force.
Such distinguished honors do not come easily. Graduates must commit to serving in a variety of ways. While that can include work in civilian fields, including sailing in the Merchant Marine, everyone must maintain their commission in the U.S. Navy for at least eight years.
Approximately 1/3 of the school’s graduates choose to enter the armed forces as active-duty commissioned officers, most often in the Navy. These graduates use their training to become submarine officers, naval flight officers, and even SEALs.
Acceptance Rate: 22%
4. United States Coast Guard Academy (New London, CT)
Those who plan to enter into the Coast Guard branch of the U.S. military can receive the most thorough training at the United States Coast Guard Academy.
While at the academy, students gain hands-on experience learning the skills they’ll need to succeed in their service. Upon graduation, cadets become commissioned ensigns in the Coast Guard and must serve in active duty for at least five years.
Throughout its nearly 150-year history, the Coast Guard Academy has accrued its share of traditions.
One such tradition is known as “hiding the chain,” in which freshmen cadets take and hide the historic chain links displayed outside the cadet library.
During the homecoming football game, junior cadets attempt to find the hidden chains before half-time, otherwise, the freshmen gain some upper-classmen privileges.
Acceptance Rate: 18%
3. United States Air Force Academy (Colorado Springs, CO)
Anyone looking to join the newest branch of the armed services would do well to consider attending the United States Air Force Academy. Graduates of the Airforce Academy earn commissions in either the Air Force or in the Space Force.
As a highly-competitive military school, the Air Force Academy limits incoming cadets to only a few from each Congressional district.
Those who are accepted have their tuition and room and board supplied by the Air Force, and they also receive a monthly stipend. With the support comes a commitment to serve in the Air Force or Space Force for at least five years.
In addition to the standard academic and military training one expects of such a school, the Air Force Academy also prepares its students for new forms of defense with its Cyber Competition team. The team runs scenarios in competition against those from other armed forces academies.
Acceptance Rate: 13%
2. United States Naval Academy (Annapolis, MD)
Founded in 1845, the U.S. Naval Academy is the country’s second-oldest service academy.
It exists to train officers of the U.S. Navy or Marine Corps, providing them with rigorous academic and military instruction.
Like the other top four service academies, the Naval Academy is highly competitive. Most candidates must be nominated by a sitting member of Congress, and each member can only nominate a handful of potential candidates each year.
In return for a five-year service commitment, cadets receive a scholarship covering tuition and room and board and often receive a stipend.
But make no mistake, it is hard work. During their first year, cadets must go through the “Plebe Summer.” The rigorous seven-week program is a mentally and physically taxing crash course in military life, intended to strip away unhelpful civilian habits.
Acceptance Rate: 9%
1. United States Military Academy (West Point, NY)
The most famous, and challenging, military school in the country, the United States Military Academy has been training American soldiers for over two centuries.
Founded in 1802 by President Thomas Jefferson, the Military Academy trains Army officers on a historic campus.
The Military Academy is one of the most exclusive military schools in the United States, and successful applicants generally need a nomination from a sitting member of Congress or the president or vice president.
The program is famous for its rigorous standards, which is why an average of only 1,000 of the 1,300 cadets accepted each year graduate.
With such a long history, it’s no surprise that the Military Academy has developed some unique traditions.
One such tradition involves the rotating spurs on a bronze statue of Union General John Sedgwick. According to the legend, failing students visit the statue in their full-dress parade uniform and spin the spurs at the stroke of midnight, guaranteeing that they will pass their exams the next day.
Acceptance Rate: 9%