Brief Points: An Almanac for Parents and Friends of U. S. Naval Academy Midshipmen


The Naval Academy's culture is a unique and sometimes baffling phenomenon to the outside world, but with this newly updated guide in hand relatives and friends of midshipmen will find answers to all the questions they might have about Academy life. Since it was first published more than a decade ago, parents have relied on the almanac for insights into their sons' and daughters' experiences at Annapolis. Now the son of the original author has taken on the responsibility of ...
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Brief Points

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The Naval Academy's culture is a unique and sometimes baffling phenomenon to the outside world, but with this newly updated guide in hand relatives and friends of midshipmen will find answers to all the questions they might have about Academy life. Since it was first published more than a decade ago, parents have relied on the almanac for insights into their sons' and daughters' experiences at Annapolis. Now the son of the original author has taken on the responsibility of bringing the popular reference up to date.

An Academy graduate, active duty naval officer, and former English instructor at the Academy, the younger Mackenzie makes full use of his intimate knowledge of Annapolis to fill in the gaps. Along with the latest facts on car ownership, dating policies, athletic requirements, and disciplinary demands, you'll now find a useful guide to Internet resources. A midshipman profile and a dictionary of "Midspeak" completes the picture in a book whose title recalls the midshipmen's own manual, Reef Points, but extends its concept for outsiders seeking practical information about the Academy, the Navy, and Annapolis. Prospective applicants, graduates, newcomers to the USNA staff, and visitors seeking a memento will also be attracted to this useful guide.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781591145066
  • Publisher: Naval Institute Press
  • Publication date: 5/28/2004
  • Edition number: 3
  • Pages: 216
  • Sales rank: 601,638
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 0.70 (d)

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Brief Points

An Almanac for Parents and Friends of U.S. Naval Academy Midshipmen
By Ross H. Mackenzie

Naval Institute Press

Copyright © 2004 Ross H. Mackenzie
All right reserved.

ISBN: 1-59114-506-6

Chapter One

Profile and Admissions


Midshipmen come in all shapes and sizes, both sexes, and of more colors than a box of crayons. Their roads to the U.S. Naval Academy (USNA) in Annapolis, Maryland, vary; some are pot-holed and others are well paved. But the young men and women arrive nevertheless. While unique in their own ways, they do possess certain similarities.

On Induction Day (I-Day), they must be at least seventeen years old but not older than twenty-two. High school and pre-admission records show most midshipmen to be hard working, high achieving, and persevering young men and women. The Academy says they are also well rounded. About 80 percent of those entering from high school stand academically in the top 20 percent of their graduating class. They arrive bristling-some bristling more than others-with academic, athletic, and extracurricular awards. More so than most of their high school peers, they appear disciplined and focused.

During their years in the Academy's never-changing, ever-changing microcosm, they will experience common suffering in a harsh regimen. They will come to hate drill and to dread the Dark Ages (the period between January and spring break). They will long for liberty and loathe the Hall (the common term for Bancroft Hall). They will log countless hours on room telephones or mobile phones (an upperclass privilege), desperately trying to get girlfriends, boyfriends, and loved ones to understand their inexpressible plight.

And regardless of what you, as a parent or friend, may think they are experiencing, and regardless of what they may tell you, many will not enjoy their Academy years.

Yet after these four years of sometimes-perceived torment and myopia, the young men and women will emerge vastly more mature than when they entered. They will be steeped in learning, leadership, and professionalism. Some will never want to look back; others will look forward to their first reunion with glee. But each graduate (that is, each complete participant of this place) emerges with an uncommon esprit and an invaluable shared experience. If nothing else, their experience at the Academy helps prepare these young men and women extraordinarily for future endeavors, both military and civilian.

Law mandates that there be midshipmen in each year's class from each of the fifty states. While the numbers of appointments vary from year to year, the geographical distribution for a typical year is shown in table 1. The current chart of geographical distribution is printed each year in the United States Naval Academy Catalog; it is also available at, along with the current plebe (equivalent to a freshman at a civilian college) class profile.

In addition, for the particular year shown, there were also fourteen midshipmen from U.S. territories (Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands) and thirty-two from nineteen foreign countries.


The Naval Academy is a hugely remarkable, incredibly commendable place. But it is different! Its collegiate experience is vastly different from any offered by civilian colleges. Prospective applicants should enter the admissions process only if they are relatively certain the Naval Academy is what they really want. Following induction, that decision may be questioned many times.

While the roads to admission to the Naval Academy begin in many different places, all applicants require two parts of an admissions ticket: approval by the Academy's Admissions Board, and a nomination, which is usually given by a senator or congressman. No one political representative may have nominated more than five incumbent appointees at each military college-the U.S. Naval Academy; the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado; West Point in Highland Falls, New York; and the Merchant Marine Academy in King's Point (Long Island), New York-at any one time. Although congressional and senatorial nominations are the standard, there do exist many other sources for nominations. For a complete list, visit

Some applicants receive approval by the Admissions Board but do not receive a politician's nomination. Many receive a politician's nomination but do not receive approval by the Admissions Board. Politicians usually nominate ten applicants for each vacancy. Except when a politician makes one of his ten a "principal" nominee, the Academy usually picks the nominees it wants from the pool of qualified nominees and alternates. With both parts of the admissions ticket punched, applicants can then compete with other fully qualified applicants for offers of appointment.

While all applicants require two parts of an admissions ticket, there do exist some applicants who stay a few steps ahead of others during the admissions process. For example, heavily recruited athletes who are considered "blue chips" are so well qualified in their particular sport that their competition for Admissions Board approval and political nominations differs slightly, tipping the scale in their favor for acceptance. Additionally, the Academy does not have quotas for minorities, but does admit to having an "aggressive outreach program" to reach some ethnic minorities in an attempt to have the student body visually represent the U.S. Navy's officer corps. In theory, at least, the Navy tries to maintain its officer corps in relation to its enlisted corps.

The Academy has what is considered a rolling admissions process. Those who submit their completed applications and related material early may hear early about their disposition by the Admissions Board. In October the Academy begins offering appointments and letters of assurance. The letters guarantee an applicant's appointment upon his or her receipt of a politician's nomination. The admissions process is completed by mid-May of the following year.

I have sat in the shadows during an actual Admissions Board's deliberation of applicants. It's incredible, to say the least. Everything about a particular applicant usually is presented in approximately two minutes; a few applicants may receive up to twenty minutes of attention. Voting members make their decisions shortly thereafter. The room has an enormous wooden table around which the eighteen board members sit. Stacks of applicant files are piled high. Colored sticks are used to vote while projector screens periodically illustrate amplifying information about a candidate. The board's meeting room is decorated with photographs of midshipmen engaged in every kind of Academy endeavor, perhaps serving as reminders of who the accepted applicants will become. Officers come and go; they carry new stacks of files to present to the board. The board's task is daunting, incredibly complex, and not open to the public. That said, a tremendous amount of information somehow exists about the Naval Academy's admissions processes; a fair number of books have even been written that claim to help one's chances at being accepted. My goal-and the goal of this book is not to guide hopeful candidates in their search for an appointment. Rather, I will attempt to steer you to the most accurate information of which I am aware. What you do with that information is up to you. Incidentally, most of the information printed here about admissions is also printed in each year's USNA catalog, which is available at

The average size of the entire Naval Academy's student body-the Brigade-is about forty-four hundred. Although these numbers change on almost a daily basis, a typical year's application data follows:

Total applicants: 12,331 (this number has steadily risen over the last five years) Total applicants with nomination: 4,200 Total applicants found fully qualified academically, medically, and physically: 1,776 Total offers of admission: 1,457 Total admitted: 1,214

The USNA admissions department currently uses the following table for Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) and American College Test (ACT) scores. (See table 2.)

Other interesting admittance data include:

Midshipmen entering from college or post-high school preparation experience: approximately one-third of all applicants Midshipmen entering with at least six months of college: 50 Midshipmen entering from the Naval Academy Prep School (NAPS): 230 Midshipmen entering from private preparatory schools under sponsorship of the U.S. Naval Academy Foundation, Inc.: 75 Midshipmen entering directly from the fleet: 50 (40 USN, 10 USMC) Average number of African Americans entering: 86 Average number of Asian Americans entering: 47 Average number of Hispanic Americans entering: 121 Average number of Hawaiian/Pacific Islanders entering: 21 Average number of Native Americans entering: 32 Average number of minorities (total) entering: 300 Average number of women entering: 192 Average number of alumni children entering: 50

Table 3 shows other criteria that may be used by the admissions office. It delineates high school honors and activities of Academy midshipmen.

Chapter Two


* * *

The Naval Academy's academic program ranks among the nation's toughest. It is driven by a core curriculum consisting of required courses in engineering, the natural sciences, mathematics, humanities, social sciences, and professional naval courses. When asked, the Academic Dean's office acknowledges the primary technical nature of academics at the Academy. For this reason, all graduating midshipmen-whatever their major-receive a Bachelor of Science degree upon graduation.

Overall, the curriculum is highly structured. Throughout much of the Academy's history, midshipmen could not choose their courses. In 1959, the Academy inaugurated electives; in 1969 it converted to a system of majors. Although about half the plebes begin the academic year with some form of advanced placement or Academy validation in one or more courses, they have almost no choice regarding the courses they take. In rare cases they may be eligible to select one elective. Choice, specifically regarding electives and courses in the selected major, increases as midshipmen progress toward graduation.

The Academy offers about three hundred courses per semester. The course listing can be viewed at the Academic Dean's Web site ( In fact, a wealth of information awaits you at It is regularly updated. It also clearly indicates which information is open to the public and which data are restricted to "USNA only" use.

Majors and Divisions

Plebes select one of nineteen majors in their second semester. Depending on the chosen major, a midshipman must take anywhere from thirty to forty-five credit hours in his or her major. The majors are:

Aerospace engineering Mathematics Chemistry Mechanical engineering Computer science Naval architecture Economics Ocean engineering Electrical engineering Oceanography English Physics General engineering Political science General science Quantitative economics History Systems engineering Information technology

Academic Organization

The Academy has three primary academic divisions: Engineering and Weapons, Mathematics and Science, and Humanities and Social Sciences. It also has a fourth division: Professional Development.

The Division of Engineering and Weapons, comprised of five departments, offers seven majors:

Aerospace engineering Naval architecture Electrical engineering Ocean engineering General engineering Systems engineering Mechanical engineering

Midshipmen in any of those seven majors-called group I majors-constitute about 40 percent of the Academy's upperclass. Non-group I majors must take twenty to twenty-three hours of core courses in this division (among them: electrical engineering, thermodynamics, ship structure and performance, and control systems). The "Division of Engineering and Weapons Majors" chart outlines a generic course matrix for group I majors.

The Division of Mathematics and Science, comprised of five departments, offers eight majors:

Chemistry Mathematics Computer science Oceanography General science Physics Information technology Quantitative economics

Midshipmen in any of those eight majors-called group II majors-constitute about 25 percent of the Academy's upperclass. Courses in this division make up the largest segment of courses in the core curriculum (chemistry, physics, calculus, to name just a few). For this reason, the mathematics department is the largest of the Academy's academic departments. The "Division of Mathematics and Science Majors" chart outlines a generic course matrix for group II majors.

The Division of Humanities and Social Sciences, comprised of five departments, offers four majors:

Economics History English Political science

Those majoring in economics, English, history, or political science-group III or "bull majors"-must take or validate a minimum of four semesters (twelve credits) in Chinese, French, German, Japanese, Russian, or Spanish. (At the time of this printing, there was consideration of including Arabic to the list of languages.) Language courses are given by the division's department of language studies (the fifth department in the division), which offers minors in all six languages, but no majors. To earn a minor in a foreign language, a midshipman must have a 3.0 average in his or her language courses and complete eight to twelve credits in advanced-level courses.

Midshipmen in group III majors represent about 35 percent of the Academy's upperclass. The "Division of Humanities and Social Sciences Majors" chart outlines a generic course matrix for group III majors.

While the Academy strives to allow each midshipman to major in the subject desired, caps do exist on certain majors. These caps derive primarily from available faculty in particular departments. The vast majority of midshipmen, however, are able to major in their first-choice subject.

The Academy's fourth division, the Division of Professional Development, is partly academic and partly professional. Its primary mission is to properly prepare midshipmen to become Navy and Marine Corps officers.


Excerpted from Brief Points by Ross H. Mackenzie Copyright © 2004 by Ross H. Mackenzie. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

1 Profile and admissions 1
2 Academics 8
3 Military 17
4 Athletics and physical education 38
5 Money 48
6 Career 55
7 Briefer points 64
8 Midspeak : a dictionary of the U.S. Naval Academy language 105
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