What is it Like to Attend the United States Naval Academy?

Cole is an Atlanta-based tutor specializing in math tutoring, science tutoring, and a number of other subjects. He earned his bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering from the United States Naval Academy in 2015. See what he had to say about his experience there below:

Describe the campus setting and transportation options.

Cole: Navigating the United States Naval Academy’s campus—or better known as Yard—is easy due to the relatively small size of the campus. The Naval Academy is considered a military installation, so gates surround the property; however, the campus is only a short walk from the heart of downtown Annapolis, Maryland. Due to the small size of the campus, academic buildings are within a ten minute walk from the dormitory, which makes cars and bikes unnecessary for students.  

How available are the professors, academic advisers, and teaching assistants?

Cole: The Naval Academy is fairly unique in that professors are hired to teach as opposed to completing research. This means that the emphasis remains on the students, which is reflected by their dedication to aid students’ success. At about a 20:1 student-teacher ratio, class sizes are very small in comparison to normal colleges. In addition to the class sizes, teachers are flexible with their schedules and will work with students to actively correct any deficiencies. These two qualities enhance the undergraduate learning experience. As is similar with many colleges, the role of academic adviser is performed by teachers. Another great quality about the academics is the fact that no teaching assistants are hired. Furthermore, a student can communicate directly with a teacher about any problems.

How would you describe the dorm life—rooms, dining options, location, socialization opportunities with other students?

Cole: The academic and military aspects of the Academy are very different. Students will be expected to effectively juggle military and academic responsibilities. That being said, dorm life is vastly different than many civilian colleges. All students must reside in the main dormitory named Bancroft Hall. The layout of the dorms is probably fairly similar to civilian dormitories; however, students are required to reside in Bancroft the entire four years. Because the school is government-funded, students will be expected to attend breakfast, lunch, and dinner in the main dining hall. Students will also be required to attend other military obligations that occur sporadically throughout the week. While this all may seem strict, there are still plenty of opportunities for students to socialize; many clubs meet during the evening. Unfortunately, students are not allowed to leave the campus during the week, so socialization is confined within the gated area (it is still relatively large).

Which majors/programs are best represented and supported?

Cole: While STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) majors are the most supported at the Academy, many pursue Humanities degrees. Prospective students should keep in mind that everyone graduating from the Academy will fulfill the requirements for a Bachelor’s of Science; furthermore, regardless of your declared major, a student will be required to take several STEM related courses. These include: calculus, physics, engineering, and computer science. I personally studied Aerospace Engineering (AE) because I wanted to become an engineer and thought that AE was a unique challenge. I would say that, overall, the STEM programs are exemplary compared to other colleges. From the caliber of the teaching staff to the available technology, I was impressed by my academic experience.

How easy or difficult was it for you to meet people and make friends as a freshman? Does Greek life play a significant role in the campus social life?

Cole: The Academy is structured hierarchically. This means that freshmen are considered the most subordinate in comparison to the rest of the classes. This can be daunting for students who were not aware of this before attending the school. Freshman year—or better known as plebe year—is especially difficult because ritualistic tasks create an environment of stress. Plebe year is designed to indoctrinate students with a sense of military understanding and respect. Let me be clear: prospective students should do research before applying to understand if this school is a good fit.  For some this is not the best fit, but for others, the Naval Academy will open some incredible doors. That being said, plebes will generally form great bonds with roommates and teammates. Unfortunately, Greek life is not allowed at the Academy. Regardless, students will form lasting bonds going through this program.

How helpful is the Career Center and other student support services?

Cole: Students that attend the Naval Academy will receive a free four-year education in return for five years of obligatory service. Students will commission as Naval or Marine Corps officers upon graduation and can be assigned to a variety of communities. Within the Navy, these can include Surface Warfare, Submarines, Aviation, SEALs, or EOD. For those that join the Marine Corps, they will receive assignments upon successful completion of follow-on training. One of the best advantages of attending the Naval Academy is the opportunities that come after leaving the service. With professional leadership and technical experience, many employers prefer Naval Academy graduates over other candidates.

How are the various study areas such as libraries, the student union, and dorm lounges?

Cole: Many students will study in the library or academic buildings. The library provides a relaxing atmosphere and features a coffee bar for late-night studying. Other academic buildings are also open at night if the library becomes too crowded.

Describe the surrounding town.

Cole: The Naval Academy campus sits adjacent to downtown Annapolis, which is a city that is rich in history. From the Academy, the Chesapeake Bay and other maritime activities can be observed and enjoyed. Not only is Annapolis a quaint, yet excitable town, it is conveniently located halfway between Baltimore and Washington D.C. Downtown D.C. can be easily reached without a car if a student wants to go on a day trip. Prospective students should understand that venturing outside the gates is only authorized during the weekend, and that this policy is strictly enforced.

How big or small is the student body? Were you generally pleased or displeased with the typical class sizes?

Cole: The student body is comparably small to many civilian universities. With only about 4,500 students enrolled, prospective students can expect to be in classes with a 20: 1 student-teacher ratio. As aforementioned, this small classroom size allows a student to interact directly with the teacher when a concept is misunderstood. In addition to the small classroom size, my experience has shown that teachers are generally flexible with their schedules. These are some great perks when considering academic performance.  

Describe one memorable experience with a professor and/or class. Perhaps one you loved the most or one you regret the most.

Cole: One of my most memorable experiences occurred throughout my Senior Design class. For our Capstone (term) project, we built a satellite that would communicate with us in space. Myself and several other colleagues built the housing structure, integrated the radio transponder unit, and organized the chip boards within the small container. It was really interesting to view the final project and realize that our small device would not only be in space, but that it would be communicating with us on Earth!


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The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Varsity Tutors.