Nominations and Admissions

Let me cover the nomination and admission process.

Each member of Congress (MOC = Senators and U.S. Representatives) and the Vice President can have a total of five cadets at West Point at any one time. (I will talk about West Point, but this procedure would also apply to all the other service academies, except Coast Guard which does not require a Congressional nomination. I will also refer to members of Congress - MOCs; but, the Vice President's quota and method of nomination is identical to the MOCs). Usually, each MOC allocates their chargeable quota at each academy by appointing one candidate per year. That way, there would be four or five cadets at West Point at any one time - usually one in each class. When those cadets appointed by the MOC graduate or drop out, another slot or slots are available for the MOC to fill. That's why in some cases a MOC can send more than one person to an academy in a given year.

For each vacancy, the MOC can nominate up to ten candidates. They are not obligated to nominate ten, but the MOCs are encouraged to nominate a "full slate." There are three possible ways for the MOC to nominate candidates:

1. Principal with numbered alternates: The MOC "nominates" one candidate as his/her principal nominee. The other nominees are in ranked order - first alternate, second alternate, third alternate, etc. If the principal is qualified, that person gets "appointed" to West Point and that MOC is charged with that appointment which counts against the MOC's quota. The principal nominee may be actually a weaker candidate than some of the other alternates. But if that person is qualified - as determined by West Point's objective Whole Candidate Scores - that person is in. If the principal does not qualify for any reason (academic, medical, recent robbery of a 7-11), the next numbered alternate gets a crack at admission, and so on. The principal and numbered alternate method is not used very much any more.

2. Principal with competing alternates: Same as #1 above, but if the principal fails to qualify for admission, the alternates compete for the slot.

3. Competitive: The MOC give WP ten names. West Point rank orders the candidates and picks the best one for admission. If that person isn't qualified, West Points continues to go down the list until a qualified candidate is found.

Qualified candidates who are not picked for admission on this intitial round are put into a national waiting list and are picked up in order of merit until the class is full.

Somewhat independent of this Congressional nomination process is West Point's own method of "locking down" highly qualified candidates early. Since West Point competes for the same pool of kids that the Ivies, other service academies and top-tier schools also want, they resort to the LOA method. When a candidate first applies for admission, West Point classifies them into one of four categories: Admissible, Competitive, Risk, and Screened. Most Admissible candidates get LOA (Letters of Assurance) which means that conditioned on the candidate's meeting of all the admission standards, the candidate is assured of getting an offer to be admitted. Strong candidates get LOAs very early, even before the Congressional nominations. This LOA line is adjusted up or down by COL Jones, the Director of Admissions, depending on the progress of the admissions process.

Now you might ask if it is possible for more than one candidate in a Congressional District to get an LOA. The answer is "Yes." In fact, theoretically, it would be possible for all ten candidates whom the MOC nominates to have LOAs, just as it is possible the no candidates qualify. That means that if all of the candidates seeking nomination from that MOC qualify for admissions, they will ALL get admitted. But, the MOC will only be charged for one slot. The other slots may be charged to some other category or MOC. For example, a Representative in North Dakota may not fill all chargeable slots because there are few candidates applying for nomination in that Congressional District. And, perhaps those applying are not qualified.

The formal step before admission is the offer stage. Once a candidate completes his/her file and has a nomination, WP will offer them admission. West Point will offer admission, of course, if the candidate is above a certain admissions criteria. Early in the admissions process that "offer line" may be above the LOA line, meaning that the first candidates offered admission will be the top contenders. Usually the offer line is also the LOA line. That offer line will drop as the rolling admissions process continues and candidates accept or decline offers. That is where the Competitive candidates begin getting offers.

You may also hear of others getting offers early. Remember, there are other non Congressional service-connected nomination categories. The number for "nomination" to these non-Congressional nominating sources is unlimited. The candidate only needs to qualify to be nominated in that category (eg., Presidential nominations for candidates with active or retired parents, sons/daughters of disabled veterans, sons and daughters of Medal of Honor recipients, Regular Army, Reserves and National Guard, etc).

If a candidate is in one of these non-Congressional service-connected nomination categories, is qualified for admission, and is within the quota set aside for these categories, they will get offers of admission. These candidates need not even have an LOA, but must be qualified.

West Point's student body therefore is distributed according to the following categories:


1. Vice President - 5
2. Senate - 500 (100x 5)
3. House of Representatives - 2175 (435 x 5)
4. Virgin Islands - 2
5. Guam - 2
6. Puerto Rico - 6
7. Samoa - 1

Service Connected

1. President - 400
2. Regular Army/Reserve Components - 340/340
3. ROTC - 80
4. Medal of Honor - Unlimited

Other Qualified Candidates

(Rounds out the size of the Corps of Cadets to bring them up to the authorized strength of 4,400; West Point's authorized strength has been increased from 4,000 to 4,400, so these and other categories will be increased accordingly.)

1. Qualified Alternates

(Those chosen from qualified candidates who are not admitted in one of the above Congressional nominating categories.)

2. Additional Appointees

(A limited number given to the Superintendent USMA to use at his discretion - usually given to varsity athletes and as a means to try to conform the demographic mix of USMA with the U.S. Army's.)

You can see, therefore, that the number of service connected slots available each year depends on the number of vacancies available, but is generally one-fourth of the total authorized cadetships in that category.

So, although someone may have an LOA, it does not necessarily mean that they should receive an offer immediately. For Congressional nomination categories, depending on where they stand relative to the offer line will determine when they actually get their offer.

And, of course, offers are not tendered until there is a full evaluation which cannot happen until the candidate has a completed file. But, an LOA can still be given without a completed file. The purpose of the LOA is to assure an outstanding candidate that they will be admitted if they are qualified and lessens the chance that they will make a big mistake and go to Annapolis or some other inferior institution :-)

An offered candidate has a little bit of time to contemplate whether or not they will accept the offer - usually until around the first part of May. When they accept, they accept their "appointment" and become accepted candidates. On R-Day they become New Cadets. After Beast Barracks and when the Corps returns in the late summer and accepts them into the Corps, they become full-fledged Cadets.

If your candidate is designated a "principal" (which will apply only in nomination methods #1 and #2 above), they are in if they are qualified, whether or not they are the best according to West Point's own ranking. And if your candidate has an LOA, they are also in if they meet the admissions requirements - West Point will find them a slot, and if they don't yet have a nomination, a nomination source will be found for them.

Joe Brillante
Washington State Admission Field Force
February 2003

Addendum # 1 (By Joe Brillante)

The number of candidates applying for admission varies from year to year, based on factors such as the standing of the military with the general public, the possibility of war, the economic situation, and even the fluctuations that you see from high school year group to high school year groups. Generally, between 11,000 and 15,000 candidates open files.

In some admissions literature distributed by West Point, it was illustrated that in one representative year in which 12,000 applied, 4,000 were nominated, 2,500 were fully qualified, and 1,180 were admitted. The yield - that is the ratio of acceptances to offers - is generally high, probably about 80%. So, under the above scenario, there would have been at least 1,475 offers to yield 1,180 acceptances. That means that about 1,025 candidates did not receive offers.

When a class is being filled, West Point is bound by certain Federal statutes. Congressional and service-connected appointments account for about 841 cadetships.

Title X, U.S. Code specifies that West Point must admitted 150 from the National Waiting List as "Qualified Alternates" - those candidates who have Congressional nominations - and these appointments must in the order of their Whole Candidate Scores (strictly objective). That makes the running total 991.

West Point may select a number of candidates not based on the WCS to fill the class with "additional appointees" and these appointments must be in a 3:1 ratio of Congressional to service connected nominations. With 89 remaining slots, that means that 67 slots that may be filled without regard to the WCS will be from Congressional nominees, and 23 from service connected nominations.

Congress has recently allowed the Federal service academies to return to their previously authorized strength of 4,400 - up from 4,000. That means there will be a slight adjustment in the numbers above, although the number of Congressional appointed cadetships will probably remain the same.

Addendum #2 (Compiled from sources.)

Children of military parents are able to apply for nominations with the Congressional delegations of either their local residence or their parents' legal residence. The recommendation is to apply where the applicant can attend an interview ... otherwise the Congressperson's Selection Committee is comparing a paper file to real (usually impressive) candidates. This is one reason Presidential Nominations are so important to children of military parents.

Addendum #3 (Compiled from sources.)

The USMA Admissions Committee, which is the body that makes offers of admission to West Point, meets almost every Tuesday during the Fall and Spring. As a courtesy, the USMA Admissions Office calls each Senator/Congressmen whose nominee will receive an offer before the offer is sent to the nominee. This allows the Senator/Congressmen, if they so choose, to call the nominee and be the one giving the good news.