The following is a guest post from our friend, Sean Kim, USAFA Class of 2025 Appointee. Sean also won a Navy ROTC-Marine Corps Option and an Army ROTC scholarship.  We asked him to blog on his thoughts on the applicant-parent dynamic and what he and others have experienced while navigating the Service Academy admission process

Takeaways:

  1. The Applicant-Parent dynamic falls into several categories.  Issues arise when parents and students are out of alignment. 
  2. Having unsupportive parents is difficult to overcome for most applicants.
  3. Sean’s personal journey is somewhat unique but he did learn many lessons about how to overcome obstacles including working through resistance from a parent.
  4. Parents should not pressure their children to apply to Service Academies or ROTC scholarship programs.
  5. There are concrete steps for an applicant to take if parents are skeptical. 
  6. In the end, open communication is the key to bridge the differences between parents and applicants.

Eager Students, Skeptical Parents

What is meant by that is some parents are reluctant to let their kids apply to SAs or ROTC programs for various reasons. I have personally encountered many cases where a student is eager but parents are skeptical. Most of these parents fear their child getting deployed to a hostile area upon commission. 

These “skepticism” towards SAs and ROTC are all on a spectrum ranging from parents that are lukewarm, discouraging, and even strongly against. 

One example is one of my friends whose one of his grandparents was in the military and his whole family suffered some issues because of that which made their parents extremely negative towards the whole concept of military service. However, he is still applying to multiple SAs and ROTC programs despite his parents’ objections.

Passionate Parents, Lukewarm Students

Some on the other hand are the other way around. Parents are driven by the prestige, opportunities, and financial benefits of attending a SA and urge their kids to apply but the kid is reluctant. 

I personally know some of these students. A friend of mine was skilled enough to play D1 soccer and was contacted by a West Point soccer coach. Most people, including his parents, strongly encouraged him to finish the application process for West Point as he would automatically get the nomination provided by the academy if he wanted to attend West Point. 

However, he virtually “declined” the free way into the academy since he simply didn’t want to serve in the military upon graduation. I told him that he made the right decision as Service Academies are not for those who simply want prestige and financial benefits, but for those who truly want to become an elite military officer and a fine leader.

My Personal Application Journey

I was a 13-year-old going through 5th grade living in South Korea when I first knew about Service Academies. To be more accurate, I first found out about West Point back then. 

To provide a bit of my own background, I was always interested in the military, wars, weapons, and military history in general. I was one of those military brats who read and watched WWII books, documentaries, and movies whenever I had time, doodled U.S. Army rank insignia on my notebook at school, and did a ton of research on recent war history and specific battles for fun. 

My parents knew that and first, they thought I would simply move onto other areas soon which I didn’t. 

Furthermore, it was when my patriotic values began to form alongside war research that I absolutely want to give back to my country what I owe by serving as a military officer. 

I knew that I wouldn’t be enjoying my freedom if it weren’t for the U.S. troops that sacrificed during the Korean War that protected South Korea from communist invasion. I knew that as a Korean descendant, my ancestors wouldn’t have been liberated from the Japanese during WWII if it weren’t for the U.S.

So beyond just serving my country, my ambition of becoming a part of the U.S. military was about paying back what I owe my country as a Korean American.

I remember impressing my parents with that kind of mindset at the age of 13 which led to my dad suggesting West Point to me saying that I could become a “military strategist” if I attend West Point but it is virtually impossible to get in. That sparked me and I did some research on West Point which soon became my dream school. 

Realistically I thought there were a ton of barriers as though I was an American, I was living in Seoul, South Korea at the time and furthermore, my grades weren’t stellar either. 

Additionally, the notion that I need to get nominated by a politician absolutely devastated me. I had to somehow move back to the U.S. whatever the cost, get crazy stats, and then start the application. 

Both of my parents were absolutely supportive but there were simply too many realistic barriers that seemed to block me from attending the academy. 

However, I was blessed enough to have supportive parents who gave me the opportunity to move back to America alone at the age of 16 to start my venture. 

I took that chance and started living with a host family in Columbus, Ohio, and ultimately alone once I turned 18. I excelled at school and extracurriculars with that goal in mind that I want to serve and protect this country at all cost by attending SAs and in my junior year, with competitive stats that I have earned for the past year and a half, I started a preliminary application for USAFA, USMA, USNA, and USMMA. 

The application process was absolutely challenging, not only because of the number of processes I had to go through but more because of the waiting game. 

I started the application in December 2019 for the academies, submitted my nomination applications by July 2020, and didn’t hear back from the nominating sources until December 2020. 

Not only that, it took months for the academies to get back to me since the nomination.

I remember being absolutely exhausted mentally due to the waiting but whenever I felt discouraged, my parents reminded me of how much I have gone through as well as my passion towards SAs that existed since 2013 nonstop. Those kept me going.

However, the results were discouraging. 

On March 3, I got a rejection letter from USMA followed by a USAFA rejection letter on April 15. 

I had already pulled my application from USMMA and for USNA, I didn’t get a nomination. I had no choice but to go down the Army ROTC path at Vanderbilt University. I thought that academies weren’t destined for me as nothing worked out.

But on May 20, I got a call from my congressman and learned that I had been appointed to USAFA. Someone must have declined their offer in my district. 

I can only remember how thrilled and grateful I was that day. Not only did my 17 months of suffering pay off, but my 8-year-old dream of becoming a cadet at the academy also totally paid off.

Though it is true I put in a lot of work to get the nominations and get appointed, all of these wouldn’t have been possible if it weren’t for my parents’ effort to give me a chance to move back here alone to America where I was born to pursue my dreams.

Having Supportive Parents is a Blessing

I think back and wonder what would have happened if my parents weren’t supportive of me becoming an officer in the military. 

Though I myself fit into the category of the kids that are wanting to join the military from a young age, if my parents were against or at least skeptical about the idea, they would have discouraged me throughout the entire process which would have possibly led me to quit prematurely. 

In the worst-case scenario, they might have not even let me move back to America alone which most parents wouldn’t in the first place. 

Without that decision, none of my accomplishments here would be present and I give my parents a lot of credit for supporting me both financially and mentally throughout the process.

Applicant’s Passion and Effort is What Really Determines Everything

Hypothetically let’s say my parents were eager to send me back to the states but I wasn’t passionate about the academies. 

That would have not worked either since academies are not schools that you get in just with good grades and decent essays. It requires commitment and those who are not fit to endure the long journey of application, probably won’t make it. 

So bottom line, it would be ideal if both parents and the applicant are fully committed to getting into the academy and furthermore serving as an officer in the United States military. 

If one side is hesitant, the tough journey becomes even tougher as there will be many situations where the applicants will be extremely discouraged by the lengthy and painstaking process of academy admissions. 

However, if one side has to be skeptical or lukewarm about the application, I believe it is rather better than it is the parent side, not the applicant. Keep in mind, it is the applicant that is going through the entire journey of application, not the parent. 

As long as the applicants themselves are passionate, they will do whatever it takes to get into one of the SAs, and their parents’ objections and skepticism may even serve as a motivation for them. 

But on the other hand, if it is the applicant that is forced to apply to SAs, he or she will never make it as they will be weeded out long before the actual application and even if they make it to the interview, they won’t be able to impress the interviewers. 

So parents, keep in mind it is your son or daughters’ commitment, passion, and patriotism that gets them in–not your desire.

Dad’s “Skepticism”

I am not going to lie about my dad’s skepticism when I was applying. 

Though he was 100% supportive of what I wanted to do, he always had this notion that the academy education, while high quality and worthy, may turn me into a rigid and narrow-minded individual. 

Furthermore, he was concerned about the disconnection from the civilian world once I entered the academy. While I did not disagree with him, I knew that I had to sacrifice some of the potential “cost” that I may have to pay to achieve my high-minded goals. 

I was able to further convince him that all of his concerns are really up to the individual, not the circumstances that dictate. 

As time progressed, his skepticism got alleviated and now he doesn’t seem to worry that much.

Importance of Communicating with Parents 

Like my own experience, I think it is essential for applicants to convince their parents first before they take action. Such effort will have to entail hours of conversation: which I did, deep research with parents, and future career planning after the academy. 

There are so many applicants that are willing to attend the academy just because of the prestige, free education, and name value. 

If they can reveal their true reason of why they want to attend the academy to their parents, through the right guidance, a lot of “unfit” applicants won’t be applying in the first place and obviously won’t be taking slots of those who are actually “fit” to go through 4 years of the academy and are applying for the right reason. 

I believe lack of conversation between parents and applicants is the biggest reason why they fail and even if they make it to the academy, they are more prone to drop out. After all, your parents are always on your side, and whatever they do they will do it to support you.

Conclusion

So for those seeking academy admissions, please keep in mind that once you become a cadet or midshipman at one of the Service Academies, you are there to first and foremost be trained to serve your nation at the highest level as possible. 

The financial incentives and the prestige should come later on the list on “why you want to attend SAs”. 

If you attend SAs for the wrong reason, I can promise you that you will not enjoy your time there and are likely to quit as you cannot withstand the rigors of the academy.

I wish you and your parents both agree that you are a good fit at the academy and more importantly know the right reason to attend such an institution. It will serve you well both short and long term.

We hope you enjoyed this guest post! If you are interested in learning more about Service Academy admissions, read more on each Service Academy below:

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