image of sailor manning a boat

From the fleet to “The Yard”
Prior Enlisted Sailors Bring Fleet Experience to the Naval Academy

by Seaman Recruit Matthew Ebarb, USN

Each June, approximately 1,200 young men and women report to the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., hoping to succeed in one of the country’s most challenging academic environments. This year, over 90 of those incoming midshipmen already have an idea what they’re getting into, because they come from the fleet as prior enlisted Sailors and Marines.

The Academy produces between 900 and 1,000 ensigns and second lieutenants every year. Making it to that top tier is a long and challenging road, specifically designed to weed out those who aren’t truly dedicated and committed.

The United States Naval Academy’s selection process is very stringent. More than 11,000 prospective midshipmen apply each year. Of that number, only about 4,000 receive official nominations. For enlisted applicants, an official nomination can come from the Secretary of the Navy. A sample request form can be found in OPNAV Instruction 1420.1.

Of those initial 4,000 nominations, approximately 1,800 applicants are deemed to be scholastically, medically, and physically qualified candidates. Approximately 1,500 are given offers of admission, with roughly 1,200 accepting an appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy.

Senior Chief Petty Officer (SW) Ephriam Maxwell is assigned to the admissions department at the Naval Academy. He serves as the designated point of contact for enlisted Sailors navigating the application process.

“The main things we look at are your transcripts, military service, and your commanding officer’s recommendation,” Maxwell explained. “We want the top performers, people who have been recognized for something like Sailor or Junior Sailor of the Quarter. People in leadership positions, especially in combat, have an edge.”

The average midshipman tends to be from the top 20 percent of his or her high school graduating class. Standardized Academic Test (SAT) scores must be above 500 in critical reading and 550 in math with a combined score of at least 1050. Candidates who took the Academic Comprehension Test (ACT) must yield a composite score of 22 in English and 24 in mathematics. The results for either the SAT or ACT must not be more than two years old, or a retest will be required. However, if an applicant decides to retake either test to improve his or her score, the higher of the two scores will be counted.

A curriculum featuring mathematics, English, chemistry, physics, history, and foreign language is strongly recommended. This background helps prepare candidates for the Academy’s heavy concentration in math and science.

If an otherwise promising candidate falls a bit short of the academic requirements, they may be offered a seat at the Naval Academy Preparatory School (NAPS). NAPS is a year-long academic program that helps candidates strengthen their skills in the core curriculum areas of chemistry, physics, English, and calculus.

The admissions board also looks at demonstrated leadership at present and past commands; top 20 percent performers in their respective “A” schools or “C” schools are encouraged to apply.

“Say you have a 90 percent or above in your respective ‘A’ school, especially in the top ten ranked graduates of Nuclear Power School – that makes you really competitive as a candidate,” said Maxwell. “The most common misconception among prior service applicants is that you have to have been in the fleet to apply. This isn’t true.”

Applicants must be under the age of 23 as of July 1st of the year of admission to the Academy. The applicant must have the recommendation of his or her commanding officer, be able to exceed Physical Readiness Test standards, cannot be married, and cannot have legal dependents. Moral character is a must, including no disciplinary actions under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) article 15 and no convictions by civilian courts during the three years prior to application.

The Academy’s physical fitness requirements are more rigorous than the fleet standards. Whereas the “60-60-12” rule (60 push-ups, 60 sit-ups, 12 minute 1.5 mile) will guarantee a pass in the fleet, the Academy’s Candidate Fitness Assessment (CFA) imposes higher standards on the midshipmen.

The CFA consists of a basketball throw, shuttle run, modified sit-ups, push-ups, and a one-mile run. The performances in each event are recorded and then rated on a scale. The scale contains three levels: competitive, slightly competitive, and not competitive. The midshipmen’s Physical Readiness Test standards are slightly higher as well. The minimum requirement for the biannual PRT for a 19-year-old male is 70 sit-ups, 65 pushups, and a 10:30 mile and a half.

After earning a commission as an ensign or Marine Corps second lieutenant, Naval Academy graduates have a minimum five year service requirement, which may be longer for certain fields of specialty. For prior enlisted Sailors, any time they have left on their current enlistment is absorbed into that minimum service requirement.

The United States Naval Academy’s mission is to develop midshipmen morally, mentally, and physically to prepare them to be the next generation of leaders in the fleet. A Sailor with high hopes might wonder how they could get their shot at a commission through the Academy. It starts with dedication, hard work, and perseverance.

Marine Corps 2nd Lt. Timothy Schmitz graduated in the Class of 2006. Schmitz serves as an example for all enlisted personnel with the desire to push themselves forward.

Schmitz dropped out of high school as a junior. He enlisted in the Marine Corps at 17. He was a corporal, the equivalent of a third class petty officer, by the time he was 18, taking computer courses at a local community college in his spare time. When he initially applied to the Naval Academy, he was denied because he didn’t have a diploma, but when a space became available at NAPS, Schmitz was given the opportunity on the condition that he earn his GED.

Once at the Academy, Schmitz flourished. When he graduated four years later, he was second in his class with a double major in economics and political science. He learned to speak Japanese, and was one of only 32 college students nationwide selected for the prestigious Rhodes Scholar program at the University of Oxford in England.

Midshipman 2nd Class Andy West, a junior at the Academy, was a petty officer third class at the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Training Unit in Ballston Spa, N.Y. “I wanted to come to the Naval Academy to be an officer. I wanted to further advance myself in my career and have the opportunity to lead,” West said.

West credits his status as a student of the Navy’s Nuclear Power School for helping him meet the Academy’s high admission requirements. “Success in nuke school definitely helps when you’re trying to get in,” said West.

West is now an oceanography major and intends to serve the fleet as a Surface Warfare Officer. However, he recently got the opportunity to put his enlisted experience to use. West spent a few weeks aboard USS Alexandria (SSN-757) for his summer cruise, a period of time when midshipmen are attached to various commands throughout the fleet to get a taste of what that community has to offer.

“It was a great experience. I really loved it,” said West. “I got to apply a lot of the skills I acquired in engineering school.”

When asked about his experience at the U.S. Naval Academy, West said, “It’s been a challenge. I’ve definitely learned a lot more about leadership here than I could’ve ever learned anywhere else.”

According to West, there are many things Sailors in the fleet can do to improve their chances of being selected. “The main thing that’s going to help someone applying from the fleet is showing initiative. The initiative to learn and initiative to lead are imperative,” West said.

West believes that initiative must start from the day a junior Sailor reports to his or her command, even if that Sailor starts as an E-1. “Stay at the top of your division. Volunteer. Take classes and training every chance you get. You come to the Academy to become a leader. The more you show how much you want to do just that, the better your chances of getting in.”

Midshipman 3rd Class Kara Kamuda was previously a petty officer third class stationed in Bethesda, Md. In her three years of service she went through the hospital’s intensive care unit, cross-trained to cardiac intensive care, and ultimately wound up on President George W. Bush’s Medical Evaluation Treatment Unit (METU).

“I had always wanted to become an officer,” said Kamuda. “I saw midshipmen pass through the hospital on a regular basis. It’s when I began to wonder who these people in the strange uniforms were that it began. I realized I wanted to do more in the Navy.”

For Kamuda, the application process took longer, so perseverance and dedication are essential. “I think the time between when I submitted my application and the time it all actually got processed was around a year and a half.”

Kamuda says it was worth the wait, and is now an English major at the Academy. She is looking at going back to her medical roots once commissioned. To those considering applying to the Academy, she offers her advice.

“Know what you are coming into,” Kamuda said. “The Academy produces officers, and subsequently leaders. Be sure that you want to be an officer. It takes dedication, and being humble. You’ll be answering to people who are sort of new to the leadership position as well. In a sense, you’re taking a step backward, but when it’s all said and done you’ll be making up for it with a giant leap forward.”

For questions regarding applications, the Academy, and how to get started on your track to becoming a midshipman, write to:

U.S. Naval Academy
Candidate Guidance Office
117 Decatur Road
Annapolis, MD 21402-5018
Or e-mail Senior Chief Maxwell at

Seaman Recruit Matthew Ebarb is assigned to the public affairs staff at the U.S. Naval Academy, where he serves as a journalist and photographer for the Naval Academy newspaper The Trident.


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