ARLINGTON, Va. — Maybe it’s the near-daily grim reports of U.S. troops dying in Iraq, or maybe today’s high school students aren’t feeling the patriotism that flooded the U.S. military service academies with recruits three years ago. Whatever the reason, the academies have seen a dip in the number of applications for the coming school year, officials said.
The U.S. Naval Academy has noted a 20 percent drop in applicants compared with this time last year, and the Army’s West Point recorded a drop of 8.7 percent, officials said.
The Air Force Academy, which as of Tuesday has received 6,823 applications for the Class of 2009, is down from the 7,652 applications it received at this time last year.
Yet officials aren’t concerned by the slump, said representatives from the three schools.
Students applying for the Class of 2009 were eighth- or ninth-graders when terrorists attacked the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, and they might not feel the urgency to join the military that high school seniors did three years ago, said Maj. Dale Smith, admissions officer for the U.S. Military Academy, better known as West Point.
“The perspective of eighth-graders is far different from high school seniors. [The younger] group was impacted differently, and that might account for some of the decline.
“And the war in Iraq is front-page news every day, and it’s a hard business,” Smith said.
All three service academies are still receiving more applications than they did before the attacks.
“It’s a decline from last year, but we still are well above pre-9/11 numbers, and that’s the important thing,” Smith said.
As of Thursday, West Point had received 8,306 applications, down from 9,100 this time last year, he said. Throughout the 1990s and up until the fall of 2001, the academy averaged between 7,500 and 8,000 applications a year. After the terrorist attacks, it averaged some 11,000, he said. “There’s a patriotic fervor when something like that happens,” he said of the “spike.”
From the pool, admissions officials will pick about 1,100 cadets who have passed the rigorous application process that includes meeting academic and physical standards and supplying a nominating letter from the White House or a member of the U.S. Congress.
While West Point isn’t worried about the drop in applications, the academy is not taking a lackadaisical view, Smith said.
“We’re very concerned and very focused on getting best pool of candidates we can get,” he said. Efforts include an extensive recruiting campaign, with recruiters traveling the country to meet candidates and tapping their “field force” of about 1,100 people who are former students, parents of students, or “those who love West Point,” who seek out candidates, Smith said. “Last year, we sent out 1.5 million pieces of mail to high students, and we’ll do the same this year, if not a little more.”
At the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., the drop in applications is the first dip since the attacks, but it’s not a cause for concern, spokeswoman Judy Campbell said.
“We are still choosing around 1,500 students from a pool of more than 10,000,” Col. David Vetter, dean of admissions, told the Baltimore Sun. “And we’re seeing the quality of the applicants improve every year, so I can’t say this is at all a worry.”
The academy attracted more than 14,000 applications for its Class of 2006, the highest number in 12 years, Vetter told the Sun.
The applications numbers have fluctuated recently for the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., with 9,552 applications for the Class of 2005, 16,508 for the Class of 2006, 10,780 for the Class of 2007 and 12,430 for the Class of 2008, spokesman John Van Winkle said.
With that many applicants, the academy isn’t hurting to pull out about 1,000 of the best and brightest to make up the freshman class of the coming school year, Van Winkle said.
Where to apply ...
U.S. Air Force Academy
Mail: Director of Admissions, 2304 Cadet Drive, Suite 200, USAF Academy, CO 80840
Call: 1-800-443-9266 or DSN 312-333-2520
U.S. Military Academy
Mail: Director of Admissions, 606 Thayer Road, West Point, NY 10996
Call: 800-822-ARMY (800-822-2769)
U.S. Naval Academy
Mail: Candidate Guidance Office, U.S. Naval Academy, 117 Decatur Road, Annapolis, MD 21402-5018