Unlike the other service academies, admission to the Coast Guard Academy does not require a congressional nomination.
The academy is regularly cited as being one of the most difficult American institutions of higher education to gain entrance into. Each year some 400 students are selected from an applicant pool about eight times that size for appointments to the academy. About 280 of those 400 selectees accept the appointment and report to the USCGA in early July for "Swab Summer," a basic military training program designed to prepare them for the rigors of their Fourth Class year. Each cadet takes two semesters of classes during the school year and then spends the majority of the summer in military training. After four years of study and training, approximately 175 cadets will graduate with a Bachelor of Science degree and be commissioned as ensigns in the United States Coast Guard, to begin serving their five years of obligatory duty.
Student are referred to as cadets, and the student body is the Corps of Cadets. Around 30 percent of cadets are women.
The mission of the United States Coast Guard Academy is to graduate young men and women with sound bodies, stout hearts and alert minds, with a liking for the sea and its lore, and with that high sense of Honor, Loyalty and Obedience which goes with trained initiative and leadership; well-grounded in seamanship, the sciences and the amenities, and strong in the resolve to be worthy of the traditions of commissioned officers in the United States Coast Guard, in the service of their country and humanity.
Because all cadets earn commissions as Coast Guard officers as well as Bachelor of Science degrees, the Coast Guard Academy maintains a core curriculum of science and professional development courses in addition to major-specific courses. School work is interspersed with military training to produce officers of character with the requisite professional skills. Among these are courses in leadership, ethics, organizational behavior, and nautical science. Because the vast majority of all cadets report to their first units after graduating as deck watch officers, these nautical science courses help cadets master piloting, voyage planning, deck seamanship, and all aspects of shiphandling.
The Academy offers eight majors:
Each summer, cadets participate in training programs according to their class. The summers are organized as follows:
Every week during the school year cadets participate in Regimental Review, a formal military drill. In addition, cadets perform a variety of military duties at the Academy. Like all cadets and midshipmen at the United States service academies, Coast Guard cadets are on active duty in the military and wear uniforms at all times. Cadets receive a monthly stipend to pay for books, uniforms, and other necessities.
The highest-ranking cadet in each company is the Company Commander, a first-class cadet ("firstie"), equivalent to a Senior. Although each company has some leeway in their standards and practices, every company commander reports to Regimental Staff which plans and oversees all aspects of cadet life. At the top of the cadet chain of command is the Regimental Commander, the highest ranking cadet. Command positions, both in companies and on Regimental Staff, are highly competitive, and a cadet's overall class rank is often a deciding factor in who is awarded the position.
The eight companies are named for the first eight letters of the NATO phonetic alphabet. Each has a special focus in administering day-to-day affairs: Charlie company is in charge of administering the honor system, Delta company is in charge of drill and ceremonies, Hotel company is in charge of morale events, and so forth. To accomplish these missions, each company is divided into three departments, each of which is divided into a variety of divisions. Divisions are the most basic unit at the Coast Guard Academy, and each has a very specific duty. Each division is commanded by a firstie and contains several members of each other class.
This organizational structure is designed to give every cadet a position of leadership and to emulate the structure of a Coast Guard cutter, in which the division officer and department head positions are filled by junior officers. Third-class cadets directly mentor the fourth-class in their division, just as junior petty officers would be responsible for the most junior enlisted personnel (non-rates). Second-class cadets act as non-commissioned officers, and ensure that the regulations and accountability are upheld. Firsties (like junior officers) are in supervisory roles, and are responsible for carrying out the mission of their divisions and ensuring the well-being of those under their command.
The roots of the academy lie in the School of Instruction of the Revenue Cutter Service, the school of the Revenue Cutter Service. Established near New Bedford, Massachusetts in 1876, the School of Instruction used the Revenue Cutter Dobbin for its exercises. With changes to new training vessels, the school moved to Curtis Bay, Maryland in 1900 and then again in 1910 to Fort Trumbull, a Revolutionary War-era Army installation near New London, Connecticut.
The modern academy dates to the 1915 merger of the Revenue Cutter Service and several other marine services, which formed the modern Coast Guard. The town of New London donated its current location above the west bank of the Thames River in 1932. In 1947, the academy received as a war reparation from Germany the German barque Horst Wessel, a 295-foot tall ship which was renamed the USCGC Eagle. It remains the main training vessel for cadets at the Coast Guard Academy as well as for officer candidates as the Coast Guard Officer Candidate School, located at the Coast Guard Academy.
Cadets devote two hours per academic day to athletic activities, either on varsity teams, club teams, or other sports pursuits. The academy nickname is the Bears, after the USRC Bear (AG-29), which made a dramatic rescue in Alaska in 1897 shortly after the opening of the academy.
In 1926, then-Cadet Stephen Evans (a future superintendent of the academy) brought a live bear to the academy and named it Objee for "Objectionable Presence." The tradition of keeping a live bear as the mascot was continued until the City of New London petitioned for its removal in 1984. The athletic facilities have been undergoing major upgrades since 2004, when the state-of-the-art FieldTurf synthetic surface was installed at Cadet Memorial Field (home of the football and soccer teams). The Academy also maintains a sailing fleet of over 150 vessels to support the offshore sailing and dinghy sailing teams, in addition to the summer sail training programs. In 2007, a USCG Academy cadet, freshman sailor Krysta Rohde was featured in the "Faces in the Crowd" section of the December 24 edition of Sports Illustrated. Rohde gained such high recognition after winning the ICSA Women's Singlehanded National Championship in Seattle, WA last fall. She is the first cadet to win a national title in women's sailing and the second freshman to ever win the event. Recently, the Coast Guard Academy Men's Rugby club won the 2006 Division II National Championship in Stanford, California after an intense match against The University of Northern Colorado.
Non-athletic activities also abound. Principle among them are the musical activities, centered around Leamy Hall. Regimental Band, Windjammers Drum & Bugle Corps, various pep bands, and the NiteCaps Jazz Band are some of the instrumental programs. Chapel Choirs, Glee Club, the Fairwinds all-female a cappella group, and The Idlers all-male sea shanty group are some of the vocal programs.
Also of note is the Coast Guard Academy's Model UN team, which was started in 2004, and has since been successfully competing around North America, and at the World Model UN Conference.