United States Air Force Academy
United States Air Force Academy - Comments and Student Experiences|
Be prepared to work. Hard. If you don't want to be an Air Force officer, don't stay there. There is no shame in realizing the military is not for you.
If you actually look at the grades that I've given USAFA, you may notice that I look at it pretty favorably. I really do. Maybe I'm far enough away from it that I can look at it pretty objectively, but even though I nearly hated it when I was there, I don't think I would make a different decision. This is the advice I would give to 18-year-old me: enjoy the view you wake up to every day, there isn't another campus like it; love your friends; don't take yourself too seriously.
The faculty availability is the best in the country, bar none, except maybe the other military academies. Instead of helping grad students or doing research, civilian faculty - nearly all of whom have Ph.D.s and usually have some connection to the military - are required to be there during duty hours, just like the military instructors. They will help, you just have to ask. Most will even give you their cell phone number the first day of class.
(By the way, my "busy work" grade applies to all non-academic stuff they have you do - parades, inspections, computer based training; not that these things don't have their place or purpose, but they do suck a lot of time out of your already-full schedule.)
I was challenged by the coursework, and even though I didn't really want to take civil engineering or astronautical engineering at the time, the true liberal education I received prepared me so well for the real world, especially as a public affairs officer (and now a civilian media relations officer). The DF realizes that you could end up being anything in the Air Force and leading people in any number of career fields, and they don't want you to fail at what they're supposed to be preparing you for. Most of the graduates are well-prepared for graduate studies. Even as a 'fuzzy' (not tehnical) major, you have a leg up with your bachelor of science. If you want to be a non-language but non-tech major, ROTC may not give you a scholarship. Keep that in mind.
(I was a humanities major, which they apparently they no longer have, or put on the dropdown list on this site, for that matter, so I picked history. Tragic, as I loved my interdisciplinary studies. The fact they don't offer it anymore/don't see value in it as a major is why I rated it at A-; I had a wonderful experience with the faculty within the division of humanities.)
To those looking to attend but not become pilots: half of the grads become pilots. It is the default. I've heard stories of cadets being called in to their AOC (air officer commanding, the officer in charge of the cadet squadron) to explain why they weren't asking to be a pilot if they were pilot qualified. It's expected. Though I wish I had paid more attention in professional military education, I realized that various statements would attach the caveat, "You probably won't need this for a while, but..." Let me be clear: a lot of those statements mean "PILOTS won't need this for a while, but..." If you intend on being anything other than a pilot, it's up to you to ask questions. Many of the military instructors aren't pilots and have AF experience in a lot of career fields; ask around, you'll find someone who can help.
Get to know your Academy Military Trainer, the enlisted people assigned to your squadron. They are usually a fount of knowledge and don't want to see you go on to be a typecast jerk LT from the Academy. Change the stereotype. Care about your people and don't walk away from your four years of hell by thinking you know everything. Absorb as much information about the Air Force and the military as you can while you're there.
C-Springs: I am from Arizona. I did not necessarily appreciate the cold, or that the most popular weekend activity in the winter months was skiing/snowboarding. The town itself can be cool if you find the right places, and Denver has a great arts scene if you're into that. Just be aware there are some places that are off-limits (do they still have the 'octagon of shame'?) and other places that are hostile to cadets. Most people love Colorado, though.
Join clubs. They seem kind of small and dinky at the time, but if you want to make friends outside of your squadron, that's a great way to do it. They have everything from flying to theater to religious groups. Find something that you can use as a solace, to de-stress. I hope you love your squadron, but you'll appreciate making the contacts.
Will I always wonder what it would be like to have gone somewhere else? Yes. But I have been undeniably shaped by my experiences at USAFA, and I don't think I would be the same person today had I attended another university. It will push you to physical, mental and emotional limits. It's supposed to suck. But make the most of it and you'll (probably) remember it fondly.
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