The Air Force Academy tests applicants on upper-body strength.

An Air Force Academy education is designed to develop not only academic prowess but also leadership skills and physical and moral toughness. Competition for an appointment to the U.S. Air Force Academy is keen. According to academy statistics, only about 8 percent of applicants are admitted each year. While still in high school, you can prepare for the academy through challenging coursework and extracurricular activities that prepare you for a leadership role.

Academic Fitness

The Air Force Academy recommends that applicants take difficult academic subjects in high school -- and get high grades. The course offerings may vary at your high school, but the academy recommends four years of college-preparatory English, two years of a foreign language and three years of social science, including history, economics and government. It recommends four years of high school math, including geometry, trigonometry, algebra and calculus. Take functional math analysis, if available. The recommendations also include four years of lab sciences, including computer science, biology, chemistry and physics. Advanced placement or honors sections with a high grade point average will improve your chances for admission.

Entrance Exams

Air Force Academy admissions require standardized college entrance exam scores. The academy accepts the SAT Reasoning test from the College Board or the ACT. At least one test is required, but scores on both will give a fuller picture of your abilities, suggests the academy. For best results, the academy recommends taking the preliminary or practice exams during your sophomore year -- either the PLAN to prepare for the ACT or the PSAT to prepare for the SAT. Then take the full-fledged SAT Reasoning, the ACT test or both during your junior year. At exam time, ask the testing agencies to send your official scores directly to the Air Force Academy.

Physical Fitness

A high level of physical fitness is essential for the Air Force Academy, which requires applicants to pass a Candidate Fitness Exam. The academy website recommends a daily program of personal workouts during high school, including distance running and upper-body strength exercises. In addition, prospective cadets should participate in challenging team or individual sports, such as soccer, football, wrestling and swimming, suggests the academy. All applicants must know how to swim and should be able to do at least one pull-up. Other skills necessary to pass the Candidate Fitness Exam include pull-ups, a one-mile run, push-ups, crunches, a basketball throw and a shuttle run.

Character Fitness

The Air Force Academy recommends at least one athletic extracurricular activity and one non-sports activity during high school. For example, team sports help you develop the physical fitness required of cadets and increase your ability to work with others. Non-sports activities can provide experience in public service and help develop leadership skills. The academy recommends school activities such as student government, debate team or science club and community organizations such as scouts or Civil Air Patrol. Show commitment by staying involved in some groups over the long term, and demonstrate your leadership potential by taking positions such as club president, recommends the academy.


Student typically apply for the Air Force Academy during high school. To do so, you must turn at least age 17 by July 1 of the year you want to enroll. The academy website provides details on the 10 steps for applying, including an eligibility check, contact with an admissions liaison officer, a pre-candidate questionnaire and nomination by a government official. You may begin the pre-candidate questionnaire on March 1 during your junior year at the earliest. Other application requirements include transcripts, teacher evaluations, the Candidate Fitness Assessment, a record of extracurricular activities, a writing sample plus personal interview, a medical exam and a personal data record.