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West Ranch to West Point

Local student talks about his journey to one of the country's most prestigious military academies

Posted: March 17, 2009 9:40 p.m.
Updated: March 18, 2009 4:55 a.m.

How does a student move from high school to a prestigious school like West Point?

It's a long and tedious process, but a worthwhile one.

My application process started during my junior year at West Ranch High School, with an invitation to participate in the United States Military Academy Summer Leadership Seminar, which invites 800 individuals each year.

Potential candidates should apply for a slot in the SLS between January and February of their junior year, but my recommendation is to start finding information even earlier than that. Upon completing the SLS, each candidate is assigned a liaison. If the application process goes well, you are then issued a "letter of assurance," which assures you a spot at the USMA upon completion of all prerequisites including obtaining a letter of nomination.

I was ecstatic when I was sent a letter of assurance. I swiftly withdrew my applications from both the Naval and Air Force academies, so as not to tie up spots for other candidates when I found out my candidacy was assured and my congressional letter of nomination was received. The official letter of acceptance was sent to me in January.

Established in 1802, the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York, ranks as one of the oldest and most prestigious educational institutions, not just in the United States of America, but throughout the world. It is an institutions dedicated to producing leaders, not just scholars.

As such, the application process is long and arduous and an effective barrier that prevents the less motivated or devoted from applying. The application process to the USMA demanded at least three times the work required from my application to other universities.

In addition to standard resumes, high school transcripts, SAT/ACT scores and letters of recommendation, the USMA also required a physical strength and endurance test (the Candidate Fitness Assessment), a medical health examination (administered by the Department of Defense Medical Examination Review Board), a dental examination and a letter of nomination from one of the following officials: the vice president of the U.S., one of two state senators or the district member in the House of Representatives.

Each official is permitted to write only 10 letters of nomination to service academies, and the race to acquire these letters is extremely competitive. The letter of nomination application itself requires almost as much work as a West Point application, including an interview process with multiple service academy representatives.

At the moment, I am very eager to begin my years at West Point, and while I realize that my experiences there will be far from easy, I also anticipate a college experience that is unparalleled. I expect to participate in and learn things most people will not be privileged enough to experience. I expect to forge friendships that will last a lifetime, cemented through the trust we must place in each other as comrades in arms.

Above all, I expect to graduate and emerge a far wiser, learned and accomplished individual, with a more comprehensive perspective of my purpose in life as well as the role of the U.S. in maintaining peace throughout our world. I make no mistake in understanding I will be assigned to at least five additional years of service upon graduation from West Point, and I may very well be placed in harm's way.

In retrospect, taking into account all of the requirements and obstacles I had to overcome, being accepted into West Point was nothing short of an act of God, and something that I was only able to accomplish through His will and with the help of so many others. I can only hope to discover my true purpose and through the skills and wisdom I gain at the USMA, I will be able to serve God and country with honor and integrity.

Matthew Cha is a senior at West Ranch High School.


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