Cover: United States Service Academy Admissions

United States Service Academy Admissions

Selecting for Success at the Military Academy/West Point and as an Officer

Published Mar 12, 2015

by Lawrence M. Hanser, Mustafa Oguz


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Research Questions

  1. Is a whole candidate score (WCS) predictive of graduation from West Point? Are components of the WCS predictive of graduation?
  2. Is a WCS, or components of a WCS, predictive of promotion to O-4 within ten years of receiving the first commission?
  3. Is a WCS, or components of a WCS, predictive of promotion to O-5?

This report explores the relationship between the current scoring of data for applicants to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and two subsequent outcomes: probability of graduating and probability of officer promotion. These outcomes are important because when a cadet enters but does not graduate, he or she fills a class seat that could have been filled by someone else who might have graduated, and the cost cannot be recouped. The authors considered candidate scores on several characteristics, including aptitude, athletics, extracurriculars, faculty appraisal, and school ranking. Using a series of logistic regression models and a boosted logistic regression, the results suggest that the current candidate scoring system as the primary basis for admission decisions at West Point is effective.

Key Findings

A Whole Candidate Score Is Important, But Not Determinant

  • Many applicants who were not offered admission had higher whole candidate scores (WCSs) than applicants who were offered admission. Whether this results from some combination of judgments of the essay component of applications that were not available to us and/or class composition goals is unknown.
  • WCSs are composed of several elements that measure such characteristics as aptitude, fitness, ranking in high school, and extracurricular participation.

The WCS Has a Statistically Significant Relationship with Graduation from West Point and Probability of Promotion to O-5

  • All but one sub-element of the WCS make significant contributions to the prediction of graduation. School ranking is not predictive of graduation but is significant in prediction of both early O-4 promotion and O-5 promotion. Fitness and athletic scores are statistically significant predictors of graduation, and fitness scores are also significantly associated with higher probability of promotion to O-5.
  • This study shows that applicants scoring higher on WCSs have a greater probability of graduation, the first necessary step for entering a career as an Army officer, and of promotion to O-5, traditionally considered the mark of achievement of a successful military career.

This research was sponsored by the Director of Accession Policy, Office of the Undersecretary of Defense, (Personnel and Readiness) and conducted within the Forces and Resources Policy Center of the RAND National Defense Research Institute, a federally funded research and development center sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, the Unified Combatant Commands, the Navy, the Marine Corps, the defense agencies, and the defense Intelligence Community.

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