For some college students, school is about more than just learning history, engineering, or mathematics. It’s also a chance to learn skills that will serve them well working in intelligence, military technology, or even on the front lines of battle. While military academies aren’t every student’s ideal match, for those who want to pursue a career in the armed forces, they can be great training and preparation resources, teaching students how to ready both their bodies and minds for active service. Students who complete undergraduate programs at U.S. military academies may even have the option to pursue an online master’s degree in military history if they are interested in graduate study.
Not all military academies are created equal, however, and some have a certain cachet that goes along with their names. While not a complete list (there are a lot of military academies out there, after all), we’ve tried to highlight some of the best, most rigorous, and most prestigious of these military academies in nations around the world. Read on to find out which schools are producing the best and brightest brass today.
United States Military Academy, West Point, New York
The USMA, better known as West Point, is perhaps one of the best and most prestigious military academies in the world. That reputation isn’t taken lightly. Students must not only apply to the school, but almost must receive a nomination from a U.S. Congressman (or woman) in order to be accepted, though non-U.S. citizens are allowed to apply. There is also a strict honor code, and students are expected to not only do well academically, but build military leadership and athletic skills. There is no tuition at West Point, but students must begin active duty with the Army upon graduation. Situated on a picturesque hill overlooking the Hudson River, the school itself is a national landmark and boasts some elite alumni including two presidents, many famous generals, and 74 recipients of the Medal of Honor.
United States Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland
The USNA was established in 1845, and has been educating officers for the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps ever since. Located on the former grounds of Fort Severn, the school’s campus is a national landmark and is within easy driving distance to Washington, D.C. Like West Point, students at USNA need endorsement from a member of Congress to get accepted, and while 1,300 enter every year, only about 1,000 ever make it to graduation. In exchange for free tuition, graduates must serve in a branch of the military for at least five years after getting their degrees. Graduates from the USNA have included more than 50 astronauts (six of whom flew to the moon), 46 Rhodes scholars, one president, two Nobel Prize winners, and 73 Medal of Honor recipients.
Royal Air Force College Cranwell, Sleaford, United Kingdom
The Royal Air Force College was originally established as a naval aviation training center during World War I, and reached official status as the world’s first air academy in 1919. During World War II, the school stopped exclusively training officers and began working to train as many recruits as possible to fly in the British Air Force. Today, the RAF College has returned to its original purpose and boasts some pretty big names for alumni, including Prince William; Prince Charles; Frank Whittle, a founding father of jet propulsion; and Douglas Bader, a famous flying ace during World War II.
Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, Camberley, United Kingdom
For Brits who don’t want to go into the Air Force, this military academy is another prestigious choice. Sandhurst, as its commonly known, trains officers for both the British military and others around the world, and prides itself on “excellence in leadership.” Sandhurst is quite old, opening its doors in 1802, just like West Point in the U.S. and Saint-Cyr in France. What is different about it, however, is that it is not a university and graduates do not earn a bachelor’s degree. Instead, they embark on a rigorous training program to prepare them for leadership as an officer. The school has a long and storied history, and dozens of princes, sheiks, and government leaders have gone through the training programs there, including author Ian Fleming and Prince Harry.
The Special Military School of Saint-Cyr, Coetquidan, France
The French Armed Forces may get a good ribbing from other nations, but that doesn’t diminish the prestigious history and reputation of this military academy. Students at Saint-Cyr are put through a rigorous training program, and graduate with an M.A. or M.S. as commissioned officers. The academy was founded in 1803 by Napoleon Bonaparte himself, and the school still uses the motto he coined for the school: “They study to vanquish.” Graduates have fought in nearly every European conflict (and those around the world, as well) since the Napoleonic Wars, and famous French president Charles De Gaulle was a graduate of the school’s prestigious program.
PLA National Defense University, Beijing, China
This academy is China’s answer to West Point for their own military students. Run by the state and located in Beijing, the school was founded in 1985 through the merger of several existing military and political schools. The school is responsible for training and educating the PLA’s senior commanding staff officers and researchers, though many top level officials also attend China’s Academy of Military Sciences, which is their premier research institute for military science.
General Staff Academy, Moscow, Russia
You might not have heard of this school, but its graduates have been at the top of the Russian (and former USSR) military for years. Founded in 1936, the school was intended as a place for the best and the brightest officers of the Soviet Armed Forces to get additional training and eventually rise to the top of the ranks. Unlike many other schools on this list, this academy requires previous military experience, and most are not admitted until they are in their late 30s, with many already holding the rank of Colonel or General.
National Defense Academy of Japan, Yokosuka, Japan
Created in 1953, the NDA offers a degree program and training for students who want to be officers in the Japan Self-Defense Force. There are a few differences between this school and others on this list, however. First, students are paid a salary while at school, as they are considered employees of the Ministry of Defense. Second, after graduation, students aren’t done with their training, and will go on to Officer Candidate Schools in a military force of their choosing. Students who are especially interested in academics can also pursue master’s and doctoral degrees through the school, as long as they are endorsed by supervisors. In 1984, Condoleeza Rice visited the school as a professor, and grads include astronauts, government officials, scholars, and high-ranking military officers.
South African Military Academy, Saldanha, South Africa
Modeled after the military academy system in the U.S., the South African Military Academy was founded in 1950 to train recruits to be officers and midshipmen in the South African National Defense Force. 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 graduate from the school with a bachelor’s degree in a field of their choosing, from military science to natural science.
Hellenic Military Academy, Vari, Greece
With a military history that goes back centuries, it’s no surprise that Greece still prides itself on producing a solid military force. While today’s students are no Spartans, they do receive a solid education while they’re training to be officers in the Hellenic Army. The school was founded in 1828, and has produced soldiers that have not only fought in a number of important conflicts globally, but became scientists, authors, engineers, and professors who were all highly distinguished in their field. While the majority of students at the academy are Greek, the school accepts students from anywhere in the world who meet its requirements.