More Aspen High School students considering military academies
March 7, 2016
When many high school seniors think about college, they may fantasize at the freedom and independence that come with living away from home for the first time.
What most teenagers don't have in mind when they envision life after high school is waking up at 5 a.m. to run circles around a track, sweeping barracks, marching to meals and shining their belt and shoes a minimum of two times every day.
But for a minority of young men and women across the country, and for an increasing number of students at Aspen High School, such a lifestyle is not only an honor and privilege — it is also their dream.
"Going to a normal school was never even a consideration of mine," Aspen High School alumnus Taggart Solomon said.
Solomon said he only applied to military academies and selected The Citadel in Charleston, South Carolina, where he is currently a freshman with a contract to the U.S. Army.
"It's a good feeling knowing that everyone else my age is sleeping when I'm up at 5:30 working out and getting yelled at," Solomon said. "I am, after all, taking the road less traveled."
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While the road to military academies may be less traveled, Aspen High School college counselor Kathy Klug says it has attracted more interest from Aspen High students in recent years.
Of the 127 students who graduated in Aspen High School's most recent class, two went on to attend military academies, which is a significant increase from previous years.
Prior to 2015, the most recent Aspen High School graduate to enroll in a military academy was Nicholas Belinski in 2012.
Belinski is currently a senior at the U.S. Air Force Academy near Colorado Springs in El Paso County.
Traditionally, Klug said about one student in each Aspen High School class expresses some interest in military academies.
In the upcoming academic year, however, Klug said she knows several students who intend to apply to the U.S. Air Force Academy.
But Klug isn't talking about Aspen High School seniors.
The application process for most military academies begins in January of one's junior year, Aspen High School college counselor Melissa Lustig said.
And forget the Common App — applications to military academies have far more requirements and restrictions than those of a traditional four-year college.
For starters, most students who are interested in military academies apply to partake in the academy's respective summer programs before the start of their senior year of high school, Lustig said.
Unlike applications to most four-year universities, military academies require applicants to obtain a nomination from an "official source," which includes U.S. senators, state representatives, District of Columbia delegates and congressional members of a similar echelon.
Applicants to military academies also must earn a minimum grade-point average of 3.6 (which is above average) and pass a medical examination as well as a fitness assessment, which tests students' coordination, strength, agility and speed.
"These kids are the cream of the crop," Lustig said. "They're at the top of their class, they're in excellent physical shape, and they're medically qualified."
Students applying to military schools are also polite, respectful, well-rounded individuals, Klug said.
But even if you can compete with the best of them, the odds of being accepted to a military academy are not in your favor.
For instance, of the 17,000 applications that the Naval Academy accepts, the academy offers about 1,200 spots for incoming freshmen, Lustig said.
In an effort to meet the needs of the increased number of Aspen High School students who are interested in military academies, the school's college counselors have upped their communication with academy representatives.
"We want to be best-informed counselors when our students come to us," Klug said. "So we've been more in contact with the academies and have a very welcoming spot for all of the academies at our college fair."
At the college fair, the school sets up a panel whereby representatives from military academies are able to delve into discussions that include, "What does (attending a military academy) look like, what do you get, and what do you give up?" Klug said.
Students who choose to pursue the path to patriotism make lifestyle sacrifices every day, Solomon said, and it is a critical component to the military academy experience.
Solomon's former Aspen High School classmate Megan Hanson, a freshman at the Naval Academy, echoed Solomon's sentiment.
"Make no mistake, however, these schools are not for everyone," Hanson said.
Hanson, who was Aspen High School's Class of 2015 valedictorian, declined her acceptance to Princeton University to enroll in the Naval Academy.
Aside from turning down an Ivy League school, Hanson's life at the military academy, like Solomon's, includes sacrifices that are unfathomable to most 18-year-olds.
Hanson's day begins at 5:30 a.m. when she tackles workout No. 1 of the day and ends when she's completed all of her assignments — whenever that may be.
"Study period starts at 8 and goes until 11, but that's never enough time," Hanson said, so students often request "late lights" to continue working.
"Then we get about six hours of sleep on a good day and then wake up and start again," Hanson said, adding that Naval Academy students drink lots of coffee.
"It is very different than what one associates with a typical college experience, and there are certainly things that I miss out on," Hanson said.
But Hanson and Solomon agreed that the benefits of their experience are worth every sacrifice.
"I've had some phenomenal opportunities here that I never would have had elsewhere," Hanson said. "And I've never been surrounded by a more motivated, selfless, intelligent and athletic group of people."
Solomon added, "People today, especially in Aspen, lose sight of the big picture and just don't understand that there are more important things than money."
"There is a great sense of pride and honor that comes with being able to attend one of the best colleges in the country," he said.