If you are applying to a Service Academy, chances are you need a Congressional nomination!
In this post we break down what a Congressional nomination is and how Members of Congress choose who to nominate. You can find more resources for applying for a Congressional nomination at the bottom of this post. Note we do not discuss service-connected nominations in this post, which is an additional option for candidates.
In order to be offered an appointment to one of the following Service Academies, you need a nomination!
Congressional nominations can come from one of your two State Senators or your local State Representative (or any MoC in your state for the USMMA).
This means for USAFA, USNA, and USMA you have three Members of Congress who can nominate you.
You may be extremely well qualified, but unless you have a nomination from one of these Members of Congress, in general you won’t be offered an appointment (or granted admission).
What does this really mean? Why does it matter to you?
In order to understand the implications of getting a Congressional Nomination, we have to look at how many nominations Members of Congress are authorized.
1. Each Member of Congress (MoC) is authorized five slots at each Service Academy.
This means that typically, each MoC has 1 cadet or midshipman in each class year at a Service Academy and 1-2 spots for incoming applicants. With each Member of Congress, you are probably competing for one open vacancy.
2. Each MoC can submit up to 10 candidates for a single vacancy in one of their five slots. If they have two vacancies, they could submit up to 20 candidates.
3. There are three different methods that MoCs use for nominations:
- Competitive Nomination
- Principal Nominee
- Principal Nominee with Numbered Alternates
MoC can either be extremely directive to each Service Academy on exactly who they choose to nominate OR they can send a group of prospective appointees to each Service Academy admissions board and let the Service Academy admissions board decide who to nominate.
Although Members of Congress can send up to 10 names per vacancy in each Service Academy, rarely do representatives send the full 10 unless in competitive districts. Senators often send 10 names.
Option 1: Least Restrictive – The Competitive Nomination
The MoC does not choose a favorite candidate, but instead chooses 2-10 qualified candidates and lets the Service Academy admissions team choose. West Point and the Air Force Academy use the Whole Candidate Score and Selection Composite Score to choose the most qualified candidates. You can use our calculators to estimate your WCS and SCS respectively.
Option 2: Principal Nominee
If the MoC chooses a principal nominee, this candidate is the first person from the district offered an appointment assuming they are deemed fully qualified by the Service Academy. If the principal is not fully qualified, then the Service Academy can choose from the alternates.
Option 3: Most Restrictive – Principal Nominee with Numbered Alternates
The Member of Congress specifies explicitly which order the Service Academy must go through to find the vacancy winner.
Why it Matters How Members of Congress Nominate Candidates
If you live in an extremely competitive Congressional District, you could be competing against many other well-qualified candidates.
Think excellence in academics with strong SAT/ACT scores and among the top of their class. Think leaders in the community and athletes with accolades.
You may be a well-qualified candidate yourself but if the competition in your district is intense, you may not receive a nomination. If you get nominated but not chosen to fill the vacancy, you could be put on the National Waiting List.
If you impress your interview board, they may choose you as the principal nominee – virtually guaranteeing an appointment assuming you are fully qualified.
Statistics on Congressional Nominations
The Merchant Marine Academy is the least competitive for nominations.
- Last year only 75% of all Members of Congress nominated at least one candidate to the USMMA. On the other hand, 99% of MoC nominated to USAFA and USNA.
Here’s How to Beat the Odds and Win that Nomination
Excel during your Congressional Interview
The Congressional interview is your chance to shine. What you lack on paper, make up for in charisma and your ability to demonstrate your strong desire to attend the Service Academy of your choosing. This is especially true if you live in a district where the Representative submits nominations as Principal with Numbered Alternates as if you are their principal the admissions board “must” offer you an appointment if you are fully qualified.
Come Prepared to Discuss and Counter Weaknesses
During the interview, highlight your shortcomings and your plan to overcome them when asked about them. This demonstrates self-awareness and the type of foresight that the Service Academies are looking for.
Apply for ALL Possible Nominations
You should exhaust all options when it comes to the nomination process. This means all three Members of Congress for your district for the Air Force Academy, Naval Academy, and West Point. You are eligible to receive a nomination from ANY Member of Congress from your state if you are applying to the Merchant Marine Academy.
The Merchant Marine Academy Nomination Process is Different
If you are interested in the USMMA, keep in mind that the nomination process is slightly different. You can learn more about the differences for the Merchant Marine Academy here.
USMMA Fills Nominations by State, not by Congressional District
Each state has a number of vacancies to fill each year, based on the proportion of representation in Congress. USMMA uses these slots to fill vacancies until around April and then begins to offer appointments to candidates on the National Waiting List, slightly veering off from the state vacancies. If you are on the NWL applying to USMMA you probably will not get an offer of appointment until after 1 April.
USMMA Only Uses Congressional Nominations
You are not eligible for service-connected nominations or the Vice Presidential nomination.
Any Member of Congress From Your State Can Nominate You for the USMMA
This means you shouldn’t limit yourself to only three MoC, apply to all Representatives in your state.
What Happens If You Don’t Receive a Congressional Nomination?
If you have dreams of attending a Service Academy but don’t receive a nomination, there are still other opportunities to serve in the military. We would also suggest that if you are firm on a Service Academy, you re-apply the following year. It is possible to attend a year of college and then re-apply for a Service Academy, either from ROTC to a Service Academy or as a civilian.
This is why we recommend having a backup plan for attending a Service Academy. We recommend applying for an ROTC scholarship at the very minimum. This also demonstrates your dedication to commissioning into the U.S. Armed Forces.
Resources for Congressional Nominations
We can help you curate a strategy just for your student based on your Congressional District. Book an hour strategy session with us to discuss your best way ahead.
Listen to our podcast episode on the Congressional nomination process! Candidates (and parents) often confuse the difference between a nomination and an appointment to a Service Academy, especially if candidates are otherwise fully qualified. In this episode, we will look at gaining a nomination through a Member of Congress.