About the Academy

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There's a lot to learn about what makes the United States Air Force Academy unique. From general questions to specifics about an aspect of the Academy experience, you may find an answer here.

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USAFA Catalog 2013/2014

General FAQ

What is the cadet equivalent to a student in a civilian university?

The Academy uses the class system rather than the equivalent designation characteristic of civilian universities. The comparison is: Fourth-Class = Freshman; Third-Class = Sophomore; Second-Class = Junior; First-Class = Senior.


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Are cadets required to pay income taxes?

Yes, they are. Federal income withholding tax, state tax if applicable and FICA (social security) are deducted from cadet pay. Each cadet must file appropriate federal and state tax returns.


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I have a tattoo, a brand or a piercing. Can I be admitted?

While having a tattoo or brand does not automatically disqualify you from consideration, they must meet standards outlined in Air Force Instruction (AFI) 36-2903. Tattoos or brands anywhere on the body that are obscene, advocate sexual, racial, ethnic, or religious discrimination, or project an improper military or cadet image are prohibited. Tattoos or brands may not exceed ¼  (25%) coverage of the exposed body part in any/all uniform combinations (except the Physical Training Uniform (PTU)). In addition, any tattoos or brands above the collarbone are prohibited. You may review AFI 36-2903, Chapter 3, for more information.

If offered an appointment and you accept, you will have to complete AF Form 4428 with your Admissions Liaison Officer (ALO) disclosing information on your tattoo(s)/brand(s)/body marking(s) such as location, size, and significance. The form will be maintained in your personnel file throughout your Air Force career.


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I have a child. I heard that I must relinquish custody before attending USAFA. Why?

Applying students (and current cadets) who have had a child (maternity or paternity) must provide a court order stating they have NO parental rights to the child whatsoever – this is different than just giving family members a power of attorney or temporary custody. The court order must indicate total and complete relinquishment of parental rights. Parental rights must be given to someone while you are a cadet for several reasons. The rationale includes but is not limited to: all cadets are required to live in the dorms all four years; your stipend is not enough to provide for the needs of a child (it is plenty to cover your needs), and the cadet lifestyle is a demanding one and your attention will need to be focused on your tasks at hand -not on your child.

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I have special religious requirements (dietary restrictions, clothing, jewelry, observances, etc.). will I be allowed to practice them at the Academy and in the Air Force? 

It is Department of Defense (DOD) policy that requests for accommodation of religious practices should be approved by the commanders when accommodation will not have an adverse impact on military readiness, unit cohesion, standards or discipline. Additionally, if there are health or safety concerns, accommodation may not be possible (e.g. a cadet may be required to remove all jewelry, religious or not, while navigating an obstacle course during training). At the Academy, and throughout the Air Force, we will accommodate free exercise of religion and other personal beliefs, as well as freedom of expression, except as must be limited by compelling military necessity (with such limitations being imposed in the least restrictive manner feasible). Chaplains impartially advise commanders in regards to these matters. Concerning religious apparel, Public Law 100-180, Section 508 (reference (c)) states that members of the Armed Forces may wear religious items or articles not visible or otherwise apparent with the uniform, provided they do not interfere with the performance of the member’s military duties or interfere with the proper wearing of any authorized article of the uniform. Whether an item of religions apparel interferes with the member’s military duty performance depends on its characteristics, the circumstances of its intended wear, and the particular nature of the member’s duties. However, hair and grooming practices required or observed by religious groups are not included within the meaning of religious apparel. If you have further questions regarding the accommodation of specific religious practices, please feel free to contact the Academy Chaplain’s Office.

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What is the Officer Development System?

All cadets go through a four-year developmental process called the Officer Development System (ODS) where each class receives training commensurate with their level of cadet experience. Fourth-class cadet training continues the cadet conversion from civilian to military life with an emphasis on personal development. Four degrees are followers that learn and live loyally to our values, mission and the chain of command and develop an understanding of the Air Force and USAFA Standards. They master their primary duty skills, build personal awareness, learn leadership techniques, hone their followership abilities, assimilate AF culture and adopt AF Core Values and learn to lead by example. Key to mastering these skills is developing an understanding of the things you can and cannot do within the cadet area (dormitories, classrooms, dining hall and other facilities), learning fourth-class Knowledge, including information about the Academy and the Air Force, which is contained in a booklet called Contrails. Building responsibilities toward keeping your personal appearance, uniforms, room and equipment neat at all times. It requires you to display prompt obedience, proper conduct, unfailing courtesy and unqualified honor. The training is tough and during your first year at USAFA your free time will be very limited. It is designed for a definite purpose: to teach you to accomplish delegated tasks in a professional and proficient manner, thus paving the way for progression to becoming an upper-class cadet and ultimately becoming an Officer of Character. Cadets develop leadership and command skills throughout their four years at USAFA, and as they progress, they take on more responsibility. As cadets take on more responsibilities, they also have fewer restrictions on how they spend their free time. Likewise, during the spring semester of your fourth-class year, there is some relaxation of the restrictions in order to prepare you for greater privileges and different responsibilities in the third-class year.


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Does the Officer Development System interfere with academic studies?

No, academics aid and complement the ODS. The Academy mission is a concentrated, focused process aimed at developing leaders of character through military, academic and athletic endeavors. Your progress in all areas will be carefully monitored during all four years.


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What is the most challenging aspect of the total cadet experience?

Every individual has different challenges at the Air Force Academy. The academic, military and athletic programs at USAFA are all rigorous and provide different degrees of challenge for each individual cadet. The level of success you have at the Academy will depend on your attitude, your willingness to challenge yourself and your ability to adapt to stressful situations. However, every cadet agrees that time management is crucial in your success at the Academy. So while you are attending USAFA, make sure you keep up with your work load and ask for help when needed. If you are looking for a challenge, the Air Force Academy is the place for you.
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Where do I go if I am overwhelmed, stressed-out or having difficulty adjusting to USAFA?

Cadets have access to many helping agencies, including the Academy Peak Performance Center. The Academy Peak Performance Center provides a full range of counseling and performance enhancement services to meet the developmental, emotional, psychological and leadership needs of the young men and women in the Cadet Wing. The majority of our services are tailored to meet the specific needs of individual cadets. In this regard, the Academy Peak Performance Center functions much like counseling centers at other colleges and universities. Cadets, like other students, often experience transitional stress due to new challenges or face difficult decisions regarding a wide spectrum of normal developmental issues. Over the years, the staff has developed a wide range of individual, group and walk-in services which effectively help cadets overcome personal, social and military difficulties. In addition, each cadet squadron has two cadet PEERs (Personal Ethics and Education Representative) to help address concerns and seek professional guidance on stress, relationships, eating disorders, equal opportunity and treatment.


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Are there opportunities to hear about cadet life from current cadets?

The Grassroots Program, established in 1969, was designed for cadets to spread information about the Academy during their Thanksgiving vacation. On a voluntary basis, cadets give presentations to high schools in their hometowns, provide materials to newspapers and arrange for interviews with TV and radio stations. This effort is still in progress and shows local high school students successful Academy cadets while they are still in the commissioning process.


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