For some college students, school is more than just learning history, engineering, or mathematics. It’s also an opportunity for them to learn skills that will help them in intelligence, military technology, or even on the front lines of battle. While national military academies may not be the best fit for every student, for those who want to join the armed forces, they can be excellent training and preparation resources, teaching students how to prepare both their bodies and minds for active service.
Students who complete undergraduate programs at U.S. military academies may be able to pursue an online master’s degree in military history if they are interested in furthering their education. However, not all national military academies are created equal, and some have a certain cachet that comes with their names.
While this is not an exhaustive list (there are many national military academies worldwide), we have attempted to highlight some of the best, most rigorous, and most prestigious national military academies in countries worldwide. Continue reading to find the ten schools that produce today’s best and brightest brass.
Since its inception in 1845, the USNA has been educating officers for the United States Navy and Marine Corps. The campus of the school, which is located on the former grounds of Fort Severn, is a national landmark and is within easy driving distance of Washington, D.C. Students at USNA, like those at West Point, must be endorsed by a member of Congress to be accepted, and while 1,300 students apply each year, only about 1,000 graduate.
Graduates must serve in the military for at least five years after receiving their degrees in exchange for free tuition. More than 50 astronauts (six of whom flew to the moon) have graduated from the USNA, as have 46 Rhodes scholars, one president, two Nobel Prize winners, and 73 Medal of Honor recipients.
The South African Military Academy, modeled after the military academy system in the United States, was established in 1950 to train recruits for the South African National Defense Force as officers and midshipmen. Situated amid a scenic mountain landscape and overlooking Saldanha Bay, the school’s campus is home to more than 300 men and women in training and 48 professors and other faculty members.
Students earn a bachelor’s degree in a field of their choice, ranging from military science to natural science.
With a centuries-long military history, it’s no surprise that Greece still takes pride in producing a robust military force. While today’s students are no Spartans, they receive a solid education while training to be Hellenic Army officers. Since its inception in 1828, the school has produced soldiers who have fought in several major conflicts worldwide and become scientists, authors, engineers, and highly regarded professors in their fields.
While most students at the academy are Greek, students from all over the world who meet the school’s requirements are welcome.
West Point’s role in U.S. defense dates back to the American Revolutionary War when both British and American military leaders recognized the strategic importance of the high plateau on the west bank of the Hudson River. As a result, General George Washington fortified West Point as a military command.
Following independence, several key figures, including Washington and John Adams, saw the need to reduce the new nation’s military reliance on foreign technicians and soldiers. The time had come to establish an American institution dedicated to the science and arts of warfare.
The USMA is among the world’s best and most prestigious military academies. That reputation is not lightly held. Students must not only apply to the school but also almost always receive a nomination from a U.S. Congressman (or woman), though non-U.S. citizens may apply. A strict honor code is also in place, and students are expected to excel academically in military leadership and athletics. West Point does not charge tuition, but graduates must report to active duty with the Army.
The school is a national landmark on a picturesque hill overlooking the Hudson River, and its alums include two presidents, many famous generals, and 74 Medal of Honor recipients.
When the Royal Naval Air Service was separated from the Royal Flying Corps in 1915, the United Kingdom’s Air Force operated from the Royal Navy’s air training center until that date. Commodore Godfrey Paine established a new Royal Navy flying training academy at Cranwell. Cranwell became a Royal Air Force institution for the remainder of World War I after the formation of the Royal Air Force in 1918. Sir Hugh Trenchard, Chief of Air Staff, wanted to keep the Royal Air Force as an independent service after the war ended.
Cranwell was ideal for basic flying training, academic education, and shaping future RAF leaders purposefully. When it opened in 1919, RAF College Cranwell was the world’s first air academy. The Royal Air Force education and training school is where RAF personnel who want to become commissioned officers receive their initial training. The College is also in charge of all RAF recruitment efforts.
Most RAF officers complete a 32-week course in transformational leadership and air power studies (including ethics). Princes Charles and William, as well as several members of Arabian nobility, are among the notable alums.
Other countries may mock the French Armed Forces, but that does not diminish this military academy’s prestigious history and reputation. Students at Saint-Cyr go through a rigorous training program, and graduate as commissioned officers with an M.A. or M.S. Napoleon Bonaparte founded the academy in 1803. The school still uses the motto he coined: “They study to vanquish.”
Since the Napoleonic Wars, graduates have fought in nearly every European conflict (and those worldwide), and famous French president Charles De Gaulle graduated from the school’s prestigious program.
You may not have heard of this school, but its graduates have long served at the top of the Russian (and former Soviet) military. Founded in 1936, the school was intended to provide additional training for the best and brightest officers of the Soviet Armed Forces to rise to the top of the ranks eventually. Unlike many other schools, this academy requires prior military experience. Most students are admitted in their late 30s, with many already holding the rank of Colonel or General.
The NDA, founded in 1953, provides a degree program and training for students interested in becoming officers in the Japan Self-Defense Force. However, a few distinctions exist between this school and the others on this list. First, students are paid while in school because they are considered employees of the Ministry of Defense.
Second, after graduation, students will continue their education by attending Officer Candidate Schools in the military force of their choice. Finally, students particularly interested in academics can also pursue master’s and doctoral degrees through the school as long as supervisors approve them.
This academy is China’s equivalent of West Point for military students. The state-run school in Beijing was founded in 1985 by merging several existing military and political schools. The school is in charge of training and educating the PLA’s senior commanding staff officers and researchers. However, many top-level officials attend China’s Academy of Military Sciences, the country’s premier military science research institute.
This military academy is another prestigious option for British citizens who do not wish to join the Air Force. Sandhurst, as it is commonly known, trains officers for both the British military and others worldwide, and it takes pride in “leadership excellence.” Sandhurst, like West Point in the United States and Saint-Cyr in France, is quite old, having opened its doors in 1802.
What distinguishes it is that it is not a university, and graduates do not receive a bachelor’s degree. Instead, they begin a rigorous training program to prepare them for officer leadership. The school has a long and illustrious history and has trained dozens of princes, sheiks, and government leaders, including author Ian Fleming and Prince Harry.