During my summer tour on Eagle, I had the opportunity to lead a tour of prospective applicants around as part of a recruiting mission. At the end of the tour, one of the parents asked me, “So what exactly do they look for on the applications? What should my son be doing to get ready to apply?” These are great questions. The application process is very long and comprehensive, and I believe there are four general parts to an application: the measurable aspects, the character, multitasking ability, and the intangible qualities of an applicant.
The measurable part of the process is easy to explain. First, GPA is a baseline measurement for an applicant. If you have a good GPA, you are more likely to get in. If you are applying now and need to raise your GPA a few points, try your best this year and send the Academy your report cards/progress reports. This shows that you can bring your grades up and you aren’t slacking during senior year. Also, it shows hard work and a determination to succeed.
The second measurable quality of an applicant is test scores (SAT/ACT). According to the USCGA website, “successful candidates usually scored an 1100 combined Critical Reading (Verbal) and Math on the SAT, or have an ACT Composite of at least 24”. If you find yourself slightly above or below these baseline scores, I recommend retaking the SAT or ACT. You may submit your highest scores on each section, and retaking the test usually results in higher scores. Having higher than average test scores will serve you well when applying.
The final measurable quality is the Physical Fitness Examination (PFE) score. I recommend seriously preparing for the PFE. It is the same test you take at least nine times at the Academy. In addition, the PFE carries weight in the application process. If you put the time in to prepare and do well, it will help you.
Your character plays a pivotal role in acceptance. The Academy is looking for future officers of the Coast Guard, and they want officers with good character. So how do you demonstrate your character? First, carefully consider who is writing your recommendations. The people that know you the best will be able to speak to your character, and show the Academy that you can be the type of officer they are looking for.
The most important tools you have to convey your character are your essays. The essays are challenging. They are very broad, open-ended topics, with very few words to convey what you want to say. Start writing your essays early, and make them unique to your experiences. Write multiple drafts, and have people review them. A great essay can make a huge difference. It shows that you have the ability to convey complex ideas in concise statements. If you can use your recommendations and essays to effectively show that you belong in the Coast Guard as an officer, you have a great advantage.
Another important quality to show on an application is time management ability. The easiest way to show what you’ve done is to create a resume that includes all of your work experience, volunteer service, and club/activity involvement. In the Coast Guard, in the Academy especially, good time management skills are paramount. The academic workload here is overwhelming by itself, but cadets are also tasked militarily and athletically. If you can show that you have the ability to effectively manage your time, you are showing that you can handle the pressure of performing at the Academy.
Finally, the most abstract factor the application process is the intangible qualities of an applicant. The “it” factor, as some people call it, is very important. People with high grades, high fitness, good time management, and even good leadership skills may not have the “it” factor. In my experience, the “it” factor is passion and perseverance. It is impossible to measure those qualities in a person, but through an interview, a phone call, or email correspondence, you can show your passion to be in the Coast Guard.
I do not believe that the Academy is only for smart people. In high school, I was never the smartest person in school. However, I was well rounded on my application. I spent hours working on it, revising my essays, and preparing for the PFE. I put forth my best effort to represent myself to the Academy, and it paid off.
If you have any questions, please feel free to email me at Hunter.D.Stowes@uscga.edu. Good luck with applications!
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