A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Ship, by Heart Cross Ranch


I have a daughter who flies helicopters. Big helicopters. The ones that make you think of Blackhawk Down. The Navy calls them Knighthawks or the MH-60S. They are BIG helicopters.

The Knighthawk is a multi-purpose platform, capable of search & rescue, Special Forces support, anti-submarine operations, and even recovering space capsules.

How did my girl ever end up doing that?

It started with a chance encounter on the 4th of July in Paris under the Eiffel Tower. My daughter was overseas with Hillsdale College studying, “Their Finest Hour: Churchill and WWII.” She saw several elderly gentlemen in WWII Army uniforms and recognized them as Sgt. Malarkey and Lt. Compton of “Band of Brothers” fame. She introduced herself and they had a lovely visit. A few weeks later, Malarkey mentioned on NPR how touched he was that high school students were excited to meet them. Little did he know that he had profoundly touched my daughter. She came home determined to live up to the “Greatest Generation.” And thus began our journey down the military academy path.

Warning:  the academy application process is not one for faint hearts. It’s time consuming, nit-picking, and headache-producing. But when they raise their hands and swear to “defend the Constitution from all enemies, foreign and domestic,” and your heart swells with pride, it’s all worth it.

A general overview of a typical academy prep for homeschoolers can be found here: Academy Admissions Advice for Homeschoolers.

I’ll address the rest of this article to the student/candidate as they should be the ones who complete the majority of the application process.

The process begins at Christmas time of the junior year with Summer Seminar applications. There are five service academies: United States Air Force Academy, United States Merchant Marine Academy, United States Military Academy (West Point), United States Naval Academy (Annapolis), and the United States Coast Guard Academy. Of those five, four offer rising seniors a chance to spend a week in the summer, getting a taste of academy life. Since USMMA is on a trimester system, they don’t have such a program. Enrollment in all four Summer Seminars (called different things for each academy) is very competitive, and most students apply for more than one. Who gets chosen to attend? All four are looking for similar things: high ACT/SATs, high GPA, involvement in sports, community service, and leadership, leadership, leadership. Since the process begins so early, it behooves the aspiring candidate to take the SAT and ACT early, in order to have those scores available. The academies are also looking to ensure geographic diversity, so they are eager to bring in prospects from every state. While not getting into Summer Seminar doesn’t mean you won’t get an Appointment, attending Summer Seminar does show interest and can help in the process later. Each academy’s summer program has a different flavor, but all involve an introduction to military life and some really cool classes. You might find yourself lined up on the bulkhead being “counseled” right before working on glider design. You’ll be making your “rack” correctly, memorizing page after page of “knowledge,” marching in formation and keeping your “eyes in the boat.” You might find yourself trying to take over the world in a political science scenario and then participating in team-building exercises. Each seminar runs about $400, plus airfare. You’ll come home with enough t-shirts for the rest of your life!

Some of the academies use the Summer Seminar process as a preliminary application for the academies themselves; others do not. But once your SS application is in, it’s time to start thinking nominations!  All but the Coast Guard Academy require a Congressional, Vice-Presidential, or Presidential nomination. That process requires attention to detail and a lot of stamina. The best advice we were given was to buy a good scanning copier. You’ll need it. Another piece of good advice is to create a separate email address, (one that you will check many times a day) specifically for academy admissions. Time to dump the “partyheartygirl at springbreak.com” address. Clean up your Facebook page; it WILL be perused. You’ll need to have letters of recommendation lined up, and most Members of Congress will want them submitted online.

This is where it gets tricky for homeschoolers and is something to consider as the high school years are planned out. Many Members want to see recommendations from science, English, and math teachers, as well as from outside sources.. We’ve had good success with using college professors from dual enrollment classes. A consistent question comes up:  “As a homeschooler, how will you function as a member of a group? How will you handle classroom learning?” Another constant is the class rank requirement, which a homeschooler obviously won’t have. Most MOC will be content with extrapolating class rank from the student’s ACT/SAT national percentile. Many MOC will close their nomination applications in early fall, some as early as September 15th—don’t be caught napping! Give yourself time to get those letters in and all transcripts sent. Most MOCs have a spot for course descriptions, school profile, guidance counselor letter, and resume. You’ll be doing separate interviews with your representative and two senators’ boards.

While the nomination process is well underway, it’s time to think about the physical tests. You  may have already done a CFA (Candidate Fitness Assessment) at Summer Seminar, but be aware that some academies will allow you to update them, and some will not. They each have running, pull-ups, pushups, and a weird kneeling basketball throw. You need to be in good shape, along with just practicing the skills. Run and then run some more. However, don’t run within 24 hours of your medical exam as it could skew the urine test results!

Next up—the DODMERB, Department of Defense Medical Exam Review Board! If you haven’t figured it out yet, you’re going to learn to speak in acronyms. There are twenty-four pages listed as disqualifications here: Disqualification Codes.  You  should read through these and see if you fall under any of the concerns. There are SOME waivers granted, but as the process becomes more and more competitive, those waivers are harder to obtain. Give yourself enough time to work through a remedial or waiver process; it takes time.

Once you are found qualified, you’ll be notified of your interview. Each academy does them a bit differently. Navy calls your interviewer a Blue & Gold Officer; West Point calls him a MALO; and the Air Force Academy, an ALO. They all want to get to know your motivation, your knowledge of the academies, and your confidence level. Now is not the time to show up in the t-shirt and flip-flops. If the interview is held at your house, a button-down shirt and khakis are in order. If at the officer’s office, it’s time to break out the blazer. Be early—15 minutes early is “on time” in the military.

I could write a whole book here, but someone else already has: The Naval Academy Candidate Book

There are books for AFA and West Point too.  Aspiring Midshipmen will also find these useful: Brief Points and Building a Midshipman.

Throughout this process, it’s important to have a strong Plan B in place. The majority of military officers go through ROTC, not the academies. The process for those scholarships is outlined here: How to Win ROTC Scholarships.

So, you’ve read the books, earned your Eagle, lettered in Varsity sports, interviewed, taken the SAT numerous times, been poked and prodded, produced voluminous paperwork, and now you wait. You may be blessed with an LOA (Letter of Assurance) or Early Action, or you may still be waiting in April. Or, you may take a different route, if you’re offered a prep year. Four of the five academies offer prep school years. Some are offered by the academies themselves, and some from alumni organizations. You’ll take a typical year of freshman courses and you’ll learn how to march and how to make your bed. At the end of that year, if you keep your grades up, and you secure another nomination, you’ll be raising your hand in the Oath that next summer.

The big day comes. You’ve said goodbye to Mom, Dad, and the dog. You’ll survive Plebe Summer, Doolie Summer, Beast Barracks, or Swab Summer. You’ll be tired and sore and wondering WHY you ever wanted to do this. The next four years will go by in a flash, and you’ll be tossing your cover in the air! And then the adventure REALLY begins!

Heartheart_cross Cross Ranch–Heart Cross Ranch is the mom of five children, three of whom have graduated. She is in her 26th year of homeschooling, with just three left to go! She lives high up in the Colorado mountains, in the nation’s icebox, on a cattle and sheep ranch. She enjoys being heavily involved with Boy Scouts, taking sports photos for the local paper, and anything chocolate. She confesses that much of her “homeschooling” consists of throwing interesting books at her children.

Our Journey Down the Dual Enrollment Path, by Heart Cross Ranch


This semester marked a milestone for our family: all five of our children have either graduated or are currently in college. It’s been an interesting journey.

We started thirteen years ago, when our oldest daughter was a sophomore in high school. We had no idea what we were doing, and neither did the college. We decided it was wise to begin with a class where our student knew most of the material, in order to learn “classroom”. We hit on “Fundamentals of Music,” basic music theory. Then it got complicated. We started with SAT/ACT scores (which were high enough for admittance to the college) and a homemade transcript, and I trudged up the stairs to the registrar on the third floor. I was told she needed instructor permission as she was underage. I tracked down the professor – not too hard as he was her orchestra director – and then trudged back up the stairs. Then I was told that we needed this and that, and I swear, I lost ten pounds on those stairs! The final straw was being told, “The school won’t pay for it; she’s not a junior.” I whipped out my checkbook and exclaimed, “HER school will pay for it. Do you want this money or not? If not, I’ll be speaking to the college president.” The tune changed dramatically. We finally got her accepted and registered, and the college figured out how to put her in the computer.

All was good: she had the highest grade in the class; and she learned how to deal with folks wanting to borrow notes and other students trying to cheat off of her. She went on to graduate high school with over 31 credits, all of which transferred when she began her undergraduate degree at Hillsdale College. Hillsdale even helped design her senior year to insure credit transference. It allowed her to graduate with Honors in four years.

We learned something new with daughter #2: to be cautious with the college as, unexpectedly, they matriculated her (i.e. they declared her a high school graduate and a degree-seeking student). This made her ineligible for high school sports and could also have fouled up NCAA eligibility. We learned to check EACH year that they hadn’t graduated her, again. We ran into another unforeseen question: if she was a full-time college student,  would she be ineligible for high school sports? We could not get a response in writing from the high school athletics association, so she dropped a class. We also navigated placement tests with this daughter, as she wanted to take math classes. She took some music theory, several science courses, battled some calculus, and took a bunny trail of several architectural classes.

She added something new to the mix: several overseas classes from Hillsdale College. The course on WWII was a life-changer. She was standing under the Eiffel Tower on the 4th of July when she recognized Sgt. Malarkey of “Band of Brothers” fame. That chance encounter set her on a new path, one that lead to appointments at the Naval Academy, the Air Force Academy, and the Coast Guard Academy. She chose to sing “Anchors Aweigh” and now flies helicopters for the US Navy. None of her dual enrollment credits transferred, as the academies don’t accept outside credits, but we were told her 45 DE credits were what got her accepted.

Our middle child’s interests did not lie in academic pursuits, but in more hands-on experiences. With that in mind, she began her college career with Lifeguard Training. Again, we picked a course where she could excel as she was a strong swimmer. It was a tough first semester, with 3 hours of swimming for lifeguarding, coupled with 2 hours a day of high school swim team, along with an hour per day of diving. We could smell the chlorine on her from across the room. She did some academic classes, such as science, writing, and programming, but she much preferred Emergency Response and Firefighter I. Again, we kept a close eye on matriculation status. She graduated with 29 credits, most of which transferred to the University of Wyoming.

Our son has thrived in the college setting, taking such things as academic writing, three physics classes, four programming classes, three math classes, Emergency Response, and the ever-popular Lifeguard Training. He will be just under full-time status this final semester. Again, the university matriculated him. With a change in how high school students are registered, we are now paying far less per semester hour than previously. That’s a relief, as he’ll graduate with 47 credits. We found that having a wide range of professors to write recommendation letters is a very good thing. We purposely chose our son’s courses so as to have English, science, and math teachers. He also took the WWII class from Hillsdale College, and again, it was a profound experience. He wrote one of his college application essays on his thoughts while standing in the American cemetery at Normandy Beach.

This brings us to our youngest. She’s begun her college career at 14 with Music Fundamentals, earning the highest grade in the class. She’ll tackle Lifeguard Training next semester, keeping up the tradition of reeking of chlorine. Next fall, she’ll jump into computer applications. From there  we’ll see where her interests lie.

The kids have learned a wide range of subjects and have been taught by some leading experts in their fields. It’s exciting to hear my son come home jazzed about the presentation from his physics professor or the latest cool trick from his computer science professor. They’ve learned time management skills, group dynamics, deadlines, and organization. As parents, we’ve learned to have early ACT/SATs, to have strong up-to-date transcripts, to pick the first few professors carefully, and to keep on top of the registrar. We’ve learned to be flexible with home school courses during college midterms and finals. I’ve been there to show the kids how to navigate a college bookstore, explained the importance of keeping the syllabus, and what prerequisites mean.

Dual enrollment has been a very successful part of our homeschool journey, and we’re grateful that our children have had a chance to experience it.

Heart Cross Ranch is the mom of five children, three of whom have graduated. She is in her 26th year of homeschooling, with just three left to go! She lives high up in the Colorado mountains, in the nation’s icebox, on a cattle and sheep ranch. She enjoys being heavily involved with Boy Scouts, taking sports photos for the local paper, and anything chocolate. She confesses that much of her “homeschooling” consists of throwing interesting books at her children.