When it comes to colleges, students at Harvard-Westlake can be tunnel visioned to say the least. Some students decide they need to go to an Ivy. Others will only look at schools with the best engineering programs or history departments or tennis teams. Instead, it is important that, as students, we take a step back and ask ourselves what the real purpose of education is and what really matters to us. After pondering these questions for myself, I have decided to pursue an education at a service academy.
A good education teaches character. In the military academies, students have meaningful responsibilities. If students cannot fulfill their responsibilities, they are held accountable, whether that means early morning workouts or hours of marching. Additionally, respect must be earned at the academies. Only those who prove themselves gain respect and responsibility through the academies’ merit-based rank system.
Responsibility and respect are further fostered by the fact that academy students are always part of a team. For example, students are required to be on a sports team and they work with roommates as a team to keep their dorms clean for periodic inspections. Due to this squad mentality, students feel accountable for everybody around them, and teamwork and leadership are strengthened. In traditional colleges on the other hand, there is an atmosphere of reactionary individualism, where students are only in charge of themselves and as a result may lose their sense of duty, respect, and community.
A good life entails service. After attending a military academy, graduates are required to serve his or her academy’s branch for eight years. The service is an opportunity to live up to Harvard-Westlake’s mission of “purpose beyond ourselves.” Most Harvard-Westlake students will end up working a desk job out of college. They’ll then create tangled rationalizations that they repeat everyday trying to convince ourselves that they are making the world a better place. But deep down they’ll be unsettled because, ultimately, everyone wants to be part of a bigger mission. According to surveys by PayScale, 60 to 70 percent of service academy alumni say their work makes the world a better place, while this number hovers around 40 to 50 percent for alumni of other top universities.
A good school prepares you for the world. Traditional colleges are nothing like the real world, but rather an extension of the dependence of childhood. Incentivized to make everything comfortable for their customers, they give you food, housing, and safe-spaces. They then throw you into the real world where you are suddenly responsible for yourself and nobody cares what frat you were in or the fact you were on the football team. At academies however, students are used to responsibility and have learned pertinent skills before becoming civilians. Immediately after graduating, 22- and 23-year olds are given tremendous responsibility as officers. Rather than being responsible for dollars like other graduates their age, they are responsible for people’s lives. The challenges of the real-world pale in comparison to the demands of service, leaving them prepared for the world. Perhaps this is why the Naval Academy’s average alumni early- and mid-career salaries are higher than those of any Ivy’s.
Whether or not military academies interest you, it is important not to blindly seek anything solely based on the acclaim of others. Instead, ask yourself what really matters to you.