Updated on June 14, 2024
Edited by Evelyn Keener
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University Headquarters (HQ) is an industry-leading, independent educational organization that provides independent college rankings using a proprietary formula to create first class unbiased rankings. The team at University HQ strives to provide accurate and trustworthy rankings that highlights the best military educational programs.

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What is a Military School or Academy?

When it comes to colleges, this nation offers nothing if not abundant choice. There are religious colleges, enormous state universities, engineering schools, nursing institutes, and even colleges where students create their own curriculum and major. These schools will prepare you for careers in law, medicine, business, and engineering, to name a few. There are even options for you if the military is in your future.

This page is dedicated to the best military colleges in the United States. These schools will still provide a terrific humanities or STEM education, but they also offer intense preparation for life as a military officer.

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cost_militaryThe cost of a military education varies according to your specific school. If you are able to attend a Federal Service Academy, such as the Air Force Academy, you will not have any expenses for tuition, room and board, or even medical/dental care. Furthermore, you will receive a monthly stipend to cover activity fees, your yearbook expense, textbooks, regular haircuts, cobbler services, and more. However, upon graduation you will owe your military branch a minimum commitment of 5 years active duty, and then an extended commission in the Reserves.

Students in Senior Military Colleges are subject to a relatively standard tuition structure. SMCs are state-supported institutions that have tiered tuition structures for in-state and out-of-state students. Much like any other college, you can even transfer into an SMC from a community college or other institution. However, if you participate in the cadet program, you will have to forgo your civilian lifestyle. Your costs are bound to rise upon admission, since they offer specialized military training, including mandatory room and board fees, uniforms, and other assorted fees.

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Naturally, your tuition, or lack thereof, is somewhat offset by the fact that you can immediately receive a military commission as an officer. That is to say that your education comes with a military job that is guaranteed by law. In fact, you automatically enter the military service as a commissioned officer, which means your pay rate will be higher than non-commissioned soldiers. Your rank will automatically entail a leadership role. If you return to civilian life after graduation, you are sure to find a very well-paid job that entails all the responsibilities you've earned.

While students at Federal Service Academies are bound to a minimum commission of five years in full-time duty in order to repay their tuition expenses, SMC students are guaranteed an active service commission according to U.S. law. The specific statute is U.S. Code § 2111a.

In-State vs. Out-of-State Tuition

If you attend a Federal Service Academy, you won't need to worry about in-state or out-of-state tuition. After all, you'll be enrolled in a federal institution that supersedes individual states. However, if you attend a Senior Military College, your tuition structure will be quite different.

That is, since most SMCs are state institutions, you will need to pay tuition accordingly. In fact, only one SMC is a private institution – Norwich University in Vermont. Thus, if you attend a state supported institution, out of state students will shoulder a more significant tuition burden than their in-state classmates.


You might think that Federal Service Academies don't need to receive accreditation. However, they are all accredited institutions. After all, most officers eventually return to civilian life and then you'll need an education to back up your experience. In fact, many FSA programs are nationally accredited. For instance, the U.S. Naval Academy has received ABET accreditation for its engineering program. Their chemistry degree is also approved by the American Chemical Society.

The Senior Military Colleges likewise vie for top accreditation. You should investigate their accreditation prior to applying. Make sure that the programs you are most interested in have national certification from an independent accrediting agency, such as ABET for engineering or AACSB for business. Your top-notch education will pay off when you excel as an officer, and then later when you return to civilian life.

Entry Requirements

Since there are so few Federal Service Academies and Senior Military Colleges, admissions can be quite competitive. Since they are elite schools and have longstanding rich traditions of military and academic excellence, the FSAs are especially difficult to enter. They even have special requirements for admission that include special nominations from a U.S. Congressperson or Senator. Simply attaining such a letter of recommendation is not an easy task.

On the other hand, SMCs admit students on a more traditional basis. That is, you will be scrutinized for your academic and service activities in much the same way that you might in any other college. Considering the military focus of these institutions, you should include any relevant activities. Even if you have never marched in a military style, your admissions essay might include any and leadership roles you have taken. In particular, your role in the Girl Scouts or Boy Scouts will be met with interest.

Academic Standards

To qualify for a Federal Service Academy, you must show exemplary character, academic achievement, and even physical prowess. Being a cadet will involve many miles of marching and even more rigorous field training. You must show that you have the political acumen to procure a letter of recommendation from a member of the federal legislature. They will also need to see that you are among the top in your class, physically fit, and exuding leadership.

Once you are accepted to an FSA, you must maintain high levels of academic excellence. This should at least mean a minimum GPA of 2.0, if not higher. In fact, you might find that you need to pass certain prerequisite courses with a minimum score before you can move forward in your degree. Thus, you must keep your nose to the academic grindstone in order to remain in good standing. If you have difficulty, your FSA or SMC will have tutoring services available to help.

Senior Military Colleges

  • Norwich University

    Norwich University is a private institution in Vermont that integrates the ROTC program of a Senior Military College with a typical, civilian campus. Norwich's excellent academics will pay off long-term when you accept a commission to the military branch of your choice. In fact, Norwich offers you the option of either a 2-year ROTC program, or a 4-year commitment that leads to a military commission. By your senior year, you will attain the rank of Colonel, command your own group of cadets, and be prepared for your 5-year commission.

    • Location: Northfield, VT
    • In-state Tuition $26,854
    • Out-of-State Tuition $26,854
    • Graduation Rate: 57%
    • Degrees Offered:
      • Bachelor's: Homeland Security
      • Bachelor's: Military Technologies
      • Bachelor's: Engineering
      • Bachelor's: Engineering
      • Bachelor's: Business
    • Average Grad Salary: $53,700
  • Texas A&M University

    As one of the larger universities in Texas, cadets can enjoy the full range of college life, including a rousing football culture, a full range of academic opportunities, and on-campus living. In fact, you can live with your fellow cadets in a fully-immersive military experience that will prepare you for success in the service, if that's your choice. You are not required to pursue a 5-year commission, but it is your right if you choose. When you graduate from this cadet program you will have academic and leadership skills that are second to none.

    • Location: College Station, TX
    • In-state Tuition $11,870
    • Out-of-State Tuition $37,495
    • Graduation Rate: 80%
    • Degrees Offered:
      • Business, Marketing, Management
      • Bachelor's: Engineering, Architecture
      • Bachelor's: Agriculture
      • Bachelor's: Interdisciplinary Studies
      • Bachelor's: Biology/Biomedical Sciences
    • Average Grad Salary: $58,000
  • The Citadel, The Military College of South Carolina

    The Citadel is one of the oldest and most prestigious Senior Military Colleges in the nation. Steeped in tradition, The Citadel has also changed to meet the demands of contemporary society. Unlike some other SMCs which seem to shoehorn a cadet program into a civilian college, The Citadel is primarily suited to cadets. The college also offers plenty of opportunities for non-military students in its night, online, and graduate programs. When you graduate from this esteemed institution, you will be ready to be one of tomorrows great military or civilian leaders.

    • Location: Charleston, SC
    • In-state Tuition $12,516
    • Out-of-State Tuition $34,988
    • Graduation Rate: 68
    • Degrees Offered:
      • Bachelor's degree: Business, Marketing, Management
      • Bachelor's degree: Engineering
      • Bachelor's degree: Homeland Security, Law Enforcement, Firefighting, and other protective services
      • Bachelor's degree: Social Sciences
    • Average Grad Salary: $56,800
  • University of North Georgia

    Located in the North Georgia mountain town of Dahlonega, UNG is a public institution that claims to have the very best military leadership program in the nation. When you join the Corps of Cadets at UNG, you add your name to an esteemed roster of leaders both in and out of the military. In fact, UNG's extensive alumni network of former cadets will serve you well when you seek jobs and camaraderie both in military and civilian life.

    • Location: Dahlonega, GA
    • In-state Tuition (Cadet program): $11,857 (first semester), $9,332 (second semester)
    • Out-of-State Tuition Cadets from out-of-state pay the same tuition and fees as in-state cadets.
    • Graduation Rate: 26
    • Degrees Offered:
      • Bachelor's degree: General Studies, Humanities
      • Bachelor's degree: Business, Management, Marketing
      • Bachelor's degree: Education Bachelor's degree: Business, Management, Marketing
      • Bachelor's degree: Health Professionals and related, including Biomedical Sciences
  • Virginia Military Institute

    The Virginia Military Institute is one of the most rigorous and esteemed SMCs. As a cadet, you can join in a long line of military and academic tradition that will lead to a 5-year commission. If you graduate and enter the civilian workforce, you will be welcomed by a strong and supportive alumni network. Further, you'll find that employers love hiring cadets from VMI. Your academic achievement, plus your leadership skills are sure to open doors. As a cadet, you will have plenty of opportunities to express other interests in the many club activities offered on campus.

    • Location: Lexington, VA
    • In-state Tuition $18,862
    • Out-of-State Tuition $45,706
    • Graduation Rate: 76
    • Degrees Offered:
      • Bachelor's Degree: Social Sciences including Psychology and Economics
      • Bachelor's Degree: Engineering
      • Bachelor's Degree: History
      • Bachelor's Degree: Biological and Biomedical Sciences
    • Average Grad Salary: $65,700
  • Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

    Commonly known as Virginia Tech, this polytechnic institute offers one of the nation's top technical educational experiences. On top of that, the university functions as a Senior Military College. Cadets on campus are integrated into the wider academic community. You can choose to join either the Army, Navy, or Air Force ROTC. If you are not interested in pursuing a 5-year officer commission, you can opt for VT's unique citizen-leader track that will make you stand out from all other college graduates.

    • In-state Tuition $13,620
    • Out-of-State Tuition $31,908
    • Graduation Rate: 84%
    • Degrees Offered:
      • Bachelor's Degree: Engineering
      • Bachelor's Degree: Business, Management, Marketing
      • Bachelor's Degree: Human Sciences
      • Bachelor's Degree: Social Sciences
    • Average Grad Salary: $62,500

The Federal Service Academies

  • United States Air Force Academy

    The Federal Service Academy for the U.S. Air Force offers a unique approach to education that focuses on military values and culture. The core curriculum, for instance, includes courses pertaining to national security, leadership, the warrior ethos, and respect. While you can choose a major in the humanities, the overwhelming balance of academics is weighted to STEM courses. Once you graduate from the Air Force Academy, you will be a true warrior-scholar who can take command of an entire squadron, if need be. After all, this program is nothing if not rigorous and the discipline required to successfully complete your degree will far exceed that of your peers in civilian institutions.

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    • Location: Colorado – outside of Colorado Springs
    • Tuition Free in lieu of a 5-year service commission.
    • Graduation Rate: N/A
    • Degrees Offered:
      • Bachelor's Degree: Engineering – Aeronautical, Electrical, Astronautical, Mechanical, Civil, and Systems
      • Bachelor's Degree: Management
      • Bachelor's Degree: Cyber Science, Computer Science
      • Bachelor's Degree: Humanities
    • Average Grad Salary: $105,000
  • US Coast Guard Academy

    The Coast Guard is an elite branch of the military that has high standards for recruitment. Those standards certainly apply at its Federal Service Academy, where you'll find very low student to faculty ratios (7:1). The Academy' s academic offerings weigh heavily on STEM subjects, so be prepared to brush up on Calculus and Physics if you wish to succeed. Outside of your academics and military exercises, the Academy offers clubs where you can explore music, drama, and sports, among other options. There is even a surfing club for those brave enough to dive into the New England waters.

    • Location: New London, CT
    • Tuition Free in lieu of a 5-year service commission.
    • Graduation Rate: N/A
    • Degrees Offered:
      • Bachelor's Degree: Management
      • Bachelor's Degree: Engineering – Electrical, Mechanical, Naval, and Marine
      • Bachelor's Degree: Cyber Systems
      • Bachelor's Degree: Government
    • Average Grad Salary: N/A
  • US Military Academy

    When you join a class of cadets at West Point, you will become part of a rich and storied tradition that dates to the presidency of Thomas Jefferson, who established the academy in 1802. As one of the oldest Federal Service Academies, you'll appreciate its well-developed course offering. Though there is a strong emphasis on STEM subjects, you can also study social sciences, humanities, and more. Further, given that West Point is one of the most prestigious institutions of higher learning in this nation, your career, whether military or otherwise, is bound to be outstanding.

    • Location: West Point, NY
    • Tuition Free in lieu of a 5-year service commission.
    • Graduation Rate: N/A
    • Degrees Offered:
      • Bachelor's Degree: Engineering – Chemical, Civil, Electrical, Environmental, Mechanical, and Systems
      • Bachelor's Degree: Physics
      • Bachelor's Degree: Computer Science
      • Bachelor's Degree: Politics, Philosophy, and Social Sciences
    • Average Grad Salary: $98,000
  • US Merchant Marine Academy

    The MMA is an outlier among the Federal Service Academies, in that it is operated under the auspices of the U.S. Department of Transportation, rather than a military branch. Nonetheless, to become a Midshipman you must exemplify outstanding academic abilities, strong character, and an unstoppable work ethic. Among many things, the MMA will teach you endurance, time management, and discipline. You'll have problem-solving and leadership skills that are unparalleled in your post-graduation commission and civilian life. When you're not studying, you will have access to sports facilities and everything New York City can offer on the weekends.

    • Location: Kings Point, NY
    • Tuition Varies by year. $11,337 – $7,982
    • Graduation Rate: N/A
    • Degrees Offered:
      • Bachelor's Degree: Marine Transportation
      • Bachelor's Degree: Maritime Logistics
      • Bachelor's Degree: Marine Engineering
      • Bachelor's Degree: Shipyard Management
    • Average Grad Salary: N/A
  • US Naval Academy

    If your desire is to one day be the Captain of a ship or the Admiral of a fleet, then you must first attend the US Naval Academy. As such, there is a strong tradition of highly competitive academics. The Naval Academy focuses on STEM subjects with hardly any offerings in the humanities whatsoever. In fact, the Academy only awards Bachelor of Science degrees that prepare you for a career specializing in Aviation Warfare, the Marine Corps, Submarine Warfare, Special Operations, or EOD Warfare. There is time to relax, however, and the USNA offers a wealth of clubs and sports activities to help you relax and recoup from your diligent studies.

    • Location: Annapolis, MD
    • Tuition Free in lieu of a 5-year service commission.
    • Graduation Rate: N/A
    • Degrees Offered:
      • Bachelor's Degree: Information Technology
      • Bachelor's Degree: Economics
      • Bachelor's Degree: Engineering – Ocean, Nuclear, Marine, Aerospace, Computer, and Robotics/Control
      • Bachelor's Degree: Operations Research
    • Average Grad Salary: $110,000

Best Scholarships and Grants for Military Colleges

  • Staunton Military Academy Legacy Scholarship Program
    Amount: $1,500
    Deadline: June 1

    This scholarship is open to graduating seniors at Staunton Military Academy. There is no requirement that you attend a military academy for your post-secondary education, or that you even attend a four-year institution. If you are able to maintain a minimum GPA of 3.0 during your college years, you may be able to renew your award for up to three years.

  • US Army ROTC – Four Year Scholarship
    Amount: Full tuition and fees, including books, and a monthly stipend.
    Deadline: None

    If you are graduating from high school and wish to attend college in the Reserve Officer Training Corps, you should apply for an Army scholarship. You must show a minimum GPA of 2.5, be physically fit, and have a minimum score of 1000 on the SAT (19 on the ACT). If you receive the scholarship, you will be expected, and bound, to serve for four years in the military. You might also be able to serve the Army as a part-time Reservist.

  • US Air Force ROTC Scholarships – In-College Scholarship Program
    Amount: Full tuition
    Deadline: None

    If you are a current college student who wishes to join the US Air Force as an officer by way of the ROTC program, you can apply for a scholarship to cover your tuition expenses. If you are awarded a scholarship, you will be obligated to serve according to the terms of your contract. However, you not only will receive a full scholarship, but you will also receive military job training and leadership skills that will last a lifetime

  • Virginia Military Institute – Merit Scholarships
    Amount: $5,000 – Full Tuition
    Deadline: February 1

    High School students with top grades and other academic achievements should apply to this scholarship program if they intend to attend VMI. This scholarship program is 100% based upon academic merit, so need is not a factor. Rather, you will need to show an SAT score of 1380 (or better) and a minimum high school GPA of 3.7. Finalists will be subject to an interview prior to the award.

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