There are many different important aspects to Service Academy admissions. This is one of the most crucial parts of earning an appointment that you must understand – being well-rounded. 

It’s easy to focus on strengths and ignore weaknesses. 

Students must take a realistic look at their profile and have an honest internal conversation about where they should be applying effort. 

This is very difficult to do for most students in the 16-17 year old range

In the Air Force Academy Class of 2026, there were 8,234 candidates. Of those, only 1,775 were qualified for an appointment. 

This means that nearly 6,500 students who applied to the class were not qualified. That’s over 78%. 

However, if you were one of those “lucky” 1,775 qualified candidates, you had a 77% chance of being offered an appointment. We realize luck has nothing to do with it. Our goal is to showcase how to become qualified, but more importantly, how to be one of the 77%.

The question becomes: How do you become one of the 22% of candidates who WERE qualified?

First, we must start by explaining what qualified is. 

Let’s look at this through the lens of a student we recently coached who successfully earned an Air Force Academy appointment. 

Fully Qualified Air Force Academy Candidate:

  • Academically qualified

  • Physically qualified

  • Medically qualified

In addition to being fully qualified, you must also have a nomination.

Let’s break down how “Candidate Smith” fits into the above criteria…

Background: We worked with Candidate Smith over the Air Force Academy Class of 2027 application cycle.

Academic Qualification

Candidate Smith goes to a competitive high school and gets good grades with mostly A’s and a few B’s. He has pushed himself throughout high school, taking both honors and AP classes. (C’s and D’s, especially later on in high school, are unsat and will require explanation.)

He’s in the top 10% of his class.

He’s taken or is planning to take all the Academy recommended courses:

  • Four years of English (with a college preparatory class in writing)
  • Four years of math – strong background in geometry, algebra, trigonometry and precalculus
  • Four years of science – lab-based and should include biology, chemistry and physics
  • Three years of social studies (to include a course in U.S. history)
  • Two years of a modern foreign language – modern foreign languages with an emphasis on strategic languages such as Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Spanish, German, French, Portuguese and Russian. While not a modern foreign language, Latin is acceptable. American Sign Language is also an acceptable course.
  • One year of computer study – Computer Science course or related courses that focus on coding, programming and web development

When we first started working with Candidate Smith, he wanted to know whether he should take Honors or AP Calculus during senior year.

After looking over his profile, this was the wrong question to ask.

Candidate Smith had SAT scores of a 620 Math and 650 Verbal, putting him at a 1270 composite.

Compared to Air Force Academy appointees, Candidate Smith is well below the 25th percentile for SAT Math, and at the 25th percentile for Verbal.

It’s critical he keeps testing.

And while testing is important, he actually needs to progress to higher scores. This means not just testing over and over again with no preparation in-between exams.

Since the SAT takes up about 40% of the Selection Composite Score, focusing on raising that score up takes a much higher priority over calculus.

Not that calculus isn’t important, but we would rather Candidate Smith take regular calculus and spend his extra time studying for the SAT.

Many students don’t want to hear this, but your SAT/ACT scores (especially math) are the single most important factor you have direct control over.

We advised Candidate Smith to focus on his SAT over the next 10 months. He kept testing every cycle into the last December test he could take before the testing cutoff, and eventually raised his SAT math score up to a 750, a game changer when it came to earning his appointment.

Academically Qualified: YES

Technically, Candidate Smith would have been qualified academically whether or not we worked with him, even with a 1270 SAT.

Whether or not he would have earned the appointment? Highly unlikely. More on that below.

Physical Qualification

When we first met Candidate Smith, he was already a Varsity athlete.

Many athletes make the mistake of assuming since they perform at such a high level, they will ace the Candidate Fitness Assessment.

There is definitely a correlation between athletic involvement and higher CFA scores. However, many athletes don’t realize their weaknesses.

When you put all six CFA events together:

  • Basketball Throw
  • Pull-ups/Flexed Arm Hang
  • Shuttle Run
  • Modified Sit-ups (crunches)
  • Push-ups
  • One-mile Run

Usually, one or more is lacking. Not always, but why risk it.

We immediately recommended that Candidate Smith go out and take a practice Candidate Fitness Assessment.

The sooner you can do this the better, as it gives you an idea of where you’re at, but more importantly, the necessary time to make improvements.

For Candidate Smith, his sport meant he had a lot of upper body strength and did fine on pull-ups and push-ups, however, his run time needed a lot of work.

Also, even with all of that upper body strength, his basketball throw started off at 40 feet.

An often overlooked aspect of the test is when you put all six events together with only several minutes rest between, they can be extremely tiring.

Note you can fail in two separate ways:

  1. Your overall composite score is too low
  2. You failed one or more event minimums

Candidates who fail the CFA are given 30 days to retest.

However, we want you to pass the first time you submit your scores (we’ll go into more detail below on why). We’ve broken down scores into what’s passing and what’s failing in our CFA Calculator.

Physically Qualified: NO

Had Candidate Smith submitted his initial 9:30 run time and 40 foot basketball throw, he would have failed the CFA.

Medical Qualification

Navigating the Department of Defense Medical Examination Review Board (DoDMERB) is a pivotal step in the journey to becoming a qualified candidate for the Air Force Academy.

The medical clearance process, overseen by DoDMERB, ensures that candidates meet the stringent health and fitness standards required for military service.

A lot of students wonder if they “meet standards” or not. Candidate Smith had these same questions. He’d torn a ligament in his knee a few years back.

There is only one source you need to determine whether or not you “meet standards”:

Department of Defense Instruction 6130.03

(or DoDI6130.03 for short)

Here’s a copy, but if in doubt, google this and pull the most recent version from the White House website.

This comprehensive examination encompasses a detailed medical history review and physical examinations, including vision and hearing tests, to ascertain a candidate’s medical fitness.

For Candidate Smith, the DoDMERB process was fairly straight forward. Is it not always this way.

Initially, he was concerned about potential disqualification with his knee. We referred him to the verbiage from DoDI6130.03. Here’s the section relevant to his knee:

(3) Complete anterior cruciate ligament tear that has not been surgically corrected.

(4) History of surgical reconstruction of knee ligaments within the previous12 months, or which is symptomatic or unstable or shows signs of thigh or calf atrophy.

He did not meet these “DQ” criteria. He sent in additional information to DoDMERB, and was officially “Qualified”.

Notably, Candidate Smith’s proactive approach and diligent follow-up on the required medical documentation helped him get to his Q quicker.

To get to the DoDMERB process, candidates must complete their Air Force Academy application by submitting the Candidate Kit.

Medically Qualified: YES

Candidate Smith had a minor injury that required additional medical information submitted to DoDMERB, but was not Disqualified by DoDMERB and did not require a USAFA waiver.

Qualified or Not?

Now that you understand the basics of qualification, you can look at your own profile to determine your own status.

You may not be fully qualified right now, but with a little time and effort, you can get there – just like Candidate Smith did, raising his CFA score.

What we DID NOT mention, are several items:

  1. You must receive a nomination
  2. You must have some leadership potential
  3. Being “Qualified” often isn’t good enough, you need to beat the competition in your Congressional district

Identify Weaknesses in Your Application

Once you understand the basics on Air Force Academy admissions, focus on improving your scholar, athlete, leader profile where it needs it most.

Use our Air Force Academy Selection Composite Score calculator to see how you perform.

  • What areas are you weakest in?
  • Within those areas, do you realistically have enough time to improve?
    • If so, what will you focus on?
    • If not, how will you counter that in admissions (think: interviews)

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Trisha Dach

Former Air Force Captain Trisha Dach served as an Intelligence Officer from 2011-2018. A graduate of the Air Force Academy, Trisha has helped hundreds of candidates earn a service academy appointment or ROTC scholarships, with over a 90% success rate with clients. Click here to learn more about Captain Dach.

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