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

Academics FAQ

How does the Academy’s academic program compare with other institutions?

According to the U.S. News & World Report’s America’s Best Colleges 2015 rankings, the Academy has the #5 undergraduate engineering program in the nation, #2 aerospace/aeronautical/astronautical program, #2 Civil Engineering and Computer Engineering program, and the #6 mechanical engineering program. Academy graduates have won an impressive number of Rhodes Scholarships, Truman Scholarships, National Science Foundation Fellowships and other major competitive awards. These accomplishments reflect the excellence of the Academy’s academic program.


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What type of faculty does the Academy have?

The Academy has a military and civilian faculty. The military faculty (approximately 70% of our faculty) is composed primarily of Air Force officers with a few officers from the other branches of the U.S. Armed Forces and from the military forces of allied nations who serve in a liaison capacity. The civilian faculty  (approximately 30% of our faculty) is composed of both government employees and visiting faculty. The civilian government employees are on renewable term appointments and hold all academic ranks as well as several administrative positions. The civilian visiting faculty members come to the Academy from academic institutions, government agencies and business corporations and are assigned to academic departments for one or two years. Like other institutions of higher learning, the faculty is organized by academic division and department. The Dean of the Faculty and all permanent professor positions have been established by law.


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What type of instruction does the faculty provide?

The average class is small — 15 to 20 students, which allows the instructor to establish a rapport with each cadet and to recognize a student’s strengths and weaknesses. The faculty uses the seminar approach to instruction, when possible, keeping lectures to a minimum. Faculty are encouraged to be interactive and learning focused. Cadets are expected to prepare for their lessons and participate in classroom activities.

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How accessible are the instructors and are graduate students utilized in the classroom?

For several years the Princeton Review has consistently ranked the USAF Academy in the top 2% for the “Professors Make Themselves Available.” The instructors at USAFA maintain office hours Monday through Friday 7:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Unless teaching or in a meeting, instructors are available for extra instruction. Additionally, most teachers will provide a contact number for after-hours questions. Some of the basic sciences and engineering core classes (such as chemistry and physics) will have extra instruction rooms where cadets can walk-in and receive help from an instructor during any class period. Our instructors are committed to the education of cadets and do their best to not only teach the course material but also to help our cadets grow as leaders. Many instructors will talk about dilemmas they faced during previous assignments, the pros and cons of their Air Force job and are always willing to discuss things going on within the cadet wing to help cadets see the “big picture.” Our instructors know they play a vital role in the shaping of our cadets and take their job seriously. As a result, USAFA does not use graduate students or teaching assistants (TAs). Our military instructors have at least a master’s degree in their field of study and almost all of our civilian instructors have a Ph.D. in their field.


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When do cadets first enter the academic program?

After you have completed Basic Cadet Training (BCT) and have been accepted into the cadet wing, you will be scheduled for classes at the beginning of the academic year in early August. The year is divided into two semesters, each containing approximately 17 weeks of instruction, with breaks scheduled for holidays and leave periods.
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When do cadets study?

The Academy’s courses are structured to require two hours of homework/study for every hour in class. Cadets must study during free periods during the day, during academic call to quarters each evening, and on weekends in order to succeed. Small class sizes encourage strong one-on-one learning relationships with instructors. Cadets also have the opportunity to get additional instruction directly from faculty during office hours. Cadets may study in their rooms, study rooms within the dormitories, the library, and in vacant rooms in the academic building, Fairchild Hall.
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What library facilities are available?

The Academy library, with a collection of over 1.5 million items, supports the academic, research and recreational needs of all cadets and faculty members and has accumulated one of the most outstanding aeronautical collections in the nation. Other useful features of the library are the current periodical and newspaper collections, the microform collections, access to numerous online databases and other resources and listening rooms for musical and narrative records and tapes. With a seating capacity for 1,300 readers, the library has open book stacks to afford complete access to materials.

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Do all cadets take the same classes?

The Academy requires all cadets to take a core curriculum. This core curriculum covers a broad spectrum of classes in humanities, social sciences, engineering, basic sciences, and physical education and military strategic studies. The Academy’s academic core curriculum consists of 32 three-semester hour core courses, and five semester hours of physical education courses for a total of 101 semester hours. Cadets receive further specialization in one of the many Academy majors currently offered. The major requirements bring the total semester hours to graduate to 140-147 depending on which major is selected.

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Are cadets counseled on the selection of a major?

Most definitely. Cadets are advised by Academic Advisors who discuss the academic majors in relation to career areas and opportunities in the Air Force. Additionally, Major’s Night, an event held at the beginning of each semester, provides undeclared cadets an opportunity to learn more about each major. Faculty and cadets from every academic department and major are available to discuss their course offerings and potential program benefits. After selecting a major, you will be assigned to a faculty advisor from an academic department who will assist you with course selections, schedules and other academic matters.

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Can cadets transfer credits or validate courses?

When you enter the Academy, you will take several validation tests offered by the various academic departments. We accept scores of 4 and 5 on some AP exams and scores of 5/6/7 on some IB exams in conjunction with core course placement exams that you will take during Basic Cadet Training. AP scores of 3 will be reviewed on an individual basis. If you attended another college or university, the Academy may award transfer credit. Regardless of the total transfer and/or validation credit a cadet must earn 131 semester hours in residence and must spend four years in residence at the Academy for graduation. College courses taken as part of a high school curriculum will not be considered for transfer credit. In all cases, individual academic departments determine whether or not to award credit for AP and IB exams and previous college courses.

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Can cadets take elective courses?

Many electives are offered, and cadets who receive transfer or validation credit may substitute electives, including mentored independent study and research projects, for those particular courses. Cadets with a high grade point average (GPA) may also overload during most semesters, allowing them to take other non-prescribed courses. Every cadet, however, must remain at the Academy for four years, no matter how many extra course credits are earned. Every cadet must also take a certain number of classes each semester – usually six academic courses (except for fourth-class cadets who only take five courses their first semester).

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What military courses are required?

Several military courses are required during the academic year. The Commissioning Education Program (CEP) is offered twice weekly on varying military lessons required by all commissioning sources. These lessons are automatically included in the schedule during the week and do not require special selection by the cadet. There are end-of-semester tests on CEP that cadets are required to pass and are factored in as part of their MPA.

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How are cadets graded on their courses?

A computerized grading system enables instructors to keep a continuous evaluation of each cadet’s performance on quizzes, examinations, homework and classroom recitations. A progress grade report is published at mid-semester, and a final grade report is issued at the end of the semester. Most courses are graded by means of letter grades (A, A-, B+, B, B-, C+, C, C-, D, F) with equivalent grade point averages (4.0, 3.7, 3.3, 3.0, 2.7, 2.3, 2.0, 1.7, 1.0, 0). An incomplete (I) grade is given to a cadet who does not complete the academic requirements because of incapacity, emergency or failure to finish an essential assignment. Some courses are graded pass/fail and have no effect on grade point averages.

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Are cadets graded on their military performance?

Yes, all Academy personnel who instruct, supervise or coach cadets submit a military performance appraisal on each cadet. These inputs are used to create the Military Performance Average (MPA) similar to the academic GPA. Cadets who fall below a 2.0 MPA will meet a Military Review Committee (MRC) — similar to an ARC, which reviews academic deficiencies. The MRC may place a cadet on aptitude probation, initiate corrective action or make recommendations to the Commandant or the Academy Board.

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Where can cadets of all performance levels go to receive additional assistance?

Academics at the Academy are hard work. Many cadets who have not yet developed a strong work ethic or efficient time management skills will struggle academically. Strategies for Academic Success courses, the Quantitative Reasoning/Evening Tutoring Center, the Writing Center, the Reading Enhancement Program, and academic advising programs are all available to guide cadets towards academic excellence. Cadets who earn and F or sub 2.0 semester, core, or cumulative GPA will be placed on academic probation. Probationary cadets are reviewed at the end of each semester and may be disenrolled. Probationary cadets are closely supervised and attend required counseling focused on improving work ethic, planning, scheduling, and learning skills.

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When is a cadet considered academically deficient?

A cadet is considered deficient in academics if one or more F or I grades is received on a grade report, or if the cumulative, core, or most recent semester GPA falls below 2.0. A First-Class cadet is also deficient if the major GPA falls below 2.0. At mid-semester, most deficient cadets will be placed on academic probation and will be reviewed by an Academic Review Committee (ARC) to determine their potential to succeed academically. In addition, cadets on probation will be assigned certain weekend study periods. At the end of the semester, if seriously deficient, the cadet’s record will be reviewed. The board may recommend either dismissal of the cadet, or continuation on academic probation with appropriate remedial actions. The board can also direct participation in summer academics at the Academy.

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Do cadets receive any special recognition for outstanding grades?

Cadets who achieve at least a 3.0 GPA are recognized by the Dean of the Faculty and wear a small silver star on their uniform. Cadets who are recognized for achievement in military performance by the Commandant of Cadets wear a silver wreath. Cadets who are recognized for excellence in physical education by the Director of Athletics wear a silver lightning bolt. Those cadets on all three lists are recognized by the Superintendent and wear the star enclosed in the wreath between two small lightning bolts.

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How do cadets participate in the Academy Scholars Program?

Approximately 50 of the top academically qualified cadets of each new class (based on their entering academic composite and fall prog GPA) will be identified shortly after their first progress report in the fall. They will be offered the opportunity to volunteer for participation in the program starting their second semester. The goal is to have approximately 45 cadets formally enter the program. Cadets will be allowed to petition for admissions after their second semester if there is space available in the program. Cadets who wish to take Academy Scholars courses, but who are not formally in the program, may do so on a space available basis with the approval of the Program Director. A cadet will be considered for removal from the program if his/her GPA drops below 3.5. Additionally, any form of probation (honor, conduct, athletic, or academic) restricts a Scholar to course participation and from complementary opportunities.

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