If you want to be one of our nation’s front-line agents who enforce America’s laws at sea, protect the marine environment, and saves the lives of those who find themselves in danger at sea, then a career as a United States Coast Guard officer is the right choice. As a “Guardian,” you will be part of a wide-ranging network of lifeboats, search and rescue stations, ships, and aircraft that protect and safeguard the shores of the U.S. and beyond.
How do you become an officer in the Coast Guard? The best way is to attend the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut. To help you coast into your future as a cadet, we have gathered helpful information on sailing across the Coast Guard Academy application process. From creating your “Bear’s Den” account to life as a cadet, read on to see if you have what it takes to become a commissioned officer in the United States Coast Guard.
The Coast Guard Academy At A Glance
Located in historic New London, Connecticut, the Coast Guard Academy is home to 300 students who make up the Cadet Regiment. The U.S. Coast Guard was established by Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton in 1790 when the first Congress authorized ten vessels to be built to enforce federal tariffs and trade laws and prevent smuggling. As our country grew, the Coast Guard expanded in size and responsibility. They got their present name in 1915, when Congress merged the Revenue Cutter Service with the Life-Saving Service, providing America with a single maritime service dedicated to saving life at sea and enforcing the nation’s maritime laws.
In 1876, the first Coast Guard Academy of nine cadets was held aboard the schooner Dobbin in New Bedford, Massachusetts. The Coast Guard Academy was operated onboard ships until 1900, when the first land-based campus was established in Curtis Bay, Maryland. After completing a summer cruise in 1910, the Corps of Cadets sailed the Lake-class cutter Itasca to Fort Trumbull, a Revolutionary War fort in New London, Connecticut. Fort Trumbull was the new location of the Academy until 1932, when the citizens of New London donated land to the Treasury Department. This is the present site of the Academy. In 1941, the Academy received authority to grant a Bachelor of Science degree and commission cadets as ensigns in the Coast Guard. The cutter Barque Eagle arrived in New London in 1946 and has served as a sail training platform for cadets ever since.
At the Coast Guard Academy, you can choose from more than nine majors ranging from Electrical Engineering to Cyber Systems to Marine and Environmental Science. Small classes allow you in-depth discussion and hands-on learning, providing opportunities for critical thinking and engagement. Classes are very demanding, and in addition to courses required for your academic major, you will get training in leadership and maritime life. You’ll also be judged on your military performance and physical fitness. After graduation, you will be commissioned as an Ensign in the U.S. Coast Guard. After commissioning, you will serve a minimum of five years on active duty, but 85 percent of cadets stay on longer. Becoming a Cadet at the USCGA is the first step to a life of service to the Coast Guard and your country.
What Does It Take To Get Into The USCGA?
The United States Coast Guard Academy has very specific eligibility requirements. The best place to start is to see if you meet the basic admissions criteria.
You must be:
- a United States citizen
- between 17 and 22 years of age
- unmarried with no dependents
- of excellent moral character
- academically and medically qualified
- physically fit enough to pass the Physical Fitness Examination (PFE)
Here is a crow’s nest view of what you need to compete for a slot at the Academy:
- Attend their Academy Introduction Mission (AIM) Summer Program.
- Attend the Coast Guard Academy Scholars Program (if you are not quite ready to apply).
- Schedule a visit to check out the campus and talk to cadets.
- Excel academically (GPA, SAT/ACT scores, and class rank).
- Participate in extracurricular activities and sports.
- Pass a full medical exam and physical fitness test.
Even if you crush all of these tasks, you may still fall short. The USCGA acceptance rate is just 15%.
How Can I Prepare?
The earlier you start, the greater your potential of being accepted and earning an appointment to the UCGA.
If you are in high school:
- Study hard (especially in English, math, and science).
- Join a sports team and participate in courses that help you learn to express yourself, like drama, public speaking, or debate.
- Be a tutor.
- Become a leader by joining a scouting program or a local or school club. Take on leadership positions like club president or secretary.
- Demonstrate character by helping others or getting involved with the National Honor Society, church groups, or other organizations that support your community.
- Create a Bear’s Den account (it gives you information on starting the process) and then complete the online application.
- During the summer of your junior year, attend Academy Introduction Mission (AIM) Summer Program. This one-week summer program will introduce you to life at the Academy, where you will experience first-class academic, athletic, and professional training. Space is limited, and it’s highly competitive, so apply early.
How Do I Know If I Qualify?
In addition to the basic requirements, you will need to meet the following specific requirements:
To compete academically, you should have at least:
- SAT score of 1260 (composite) or,
- ACT score of 29 (composite) and,
- GPA of 3.81.
Many applicants have taken advanced science and math courses in high school, including Calculus, Chemistry, and Physics. Also, applicants have taken Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, or college credit courses as high school students. These courses will help make you stand out on your application.
In addition to academic performance and physical fitness, you will need to show your strength of character and leadership potential. The USCGA will use the following to assess your character:
- Teacher’s evaluation
- Letters of Recommendation
- Background Review
Physical Training (PT) is a big part of the Academy, and satisfactory completion of Physical Fitness Examination (PFE) is a required part of the admissions process. The PFE is a 300 point test consisting of cadence push-ups, two-minute sit-ups, and a 1.5-mile run. It will help determine if you possess the stamina needed to complete the physical program at the Academy. Your examination must be administered by a coach, physical education instructor, personal trainer, or active duty military member.
You must the medical and weight standards for a commission in the United States Coast Guard. You’ll get a letter or email after you submit your application. Follow the instructions to schedule your exam and track your results. You won’t be eligible if your exam is not done by April 15, or your qualifications are still uncertain by May 1.
How Do I Apply?
You can begin the application process in your junior year in high school. All application materials provided by candidates are done through an online portal. Applications open in July of your junior year and are due by the end of January in your senior year.
The following steps will give you all you need to know to apply to the USCGA.
Step 1. Request Information
Create a login for your personalized student portal (the Bears Den). This will enable the Academy to communicate with you and provide you information about the Academy experience.
Step 2. Apply Online
Complete the online application. The application opens in mid-July and closes in late January on the Regular Admission deadline. All the forms you need are available online as you complete the application.
All of the required information must be sent in by Jan. 29 of the year of admittance (Oct. 15 of the year prior to entry, for Early Action consideration).
Here is what you need to get done/send in:
- Online Application
- Standardized Test Scores
- High school transcript(s)
- Math instructor letter of recommendation
- English instructor letter of recommendation
- Guidance counselor letter of recommendation
- Medical Examination
- Physical Fitness Examination
- Interview – when requested by Admissions
Step 3. Await your results
Once you’ve completed your application, you’ll hear whether you will be offered an appointment. If you are considered an Early Action candidate, you’ll get notified by Dec. 23 of your senior year. If you are a Regular Admissions applicant, you’ll hear by early May.
Jim spent 22 years on active duty, climbing the ranks from Airman Basic to a decorated Air Force Major. Stationed all over the world, he held many high-level posts, including Chief of Foreign Military Sales at the U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Jim earned his Ph.D. through the Montgomery Era GI Bill and spent 13 years teaching African Studies in Pennsylvania. Jim is also an award-winning travel writer.
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