Cadet life at USCG Academy?
March 26, 2021 1:45 PM   Subscribe

What's life like for cadets at the United States Coast Guard Academy? Someone I know just got accepted, and I am curious what it's like.

I read Wikipedia's list of the four years, and the three summers. But day-to-day is it really rigid? Are sports mandatory? Can they leave campus to visit nearby family -- or can family come down to visit?

Is there anything they will miss that I can provide?

Thanks for any information!
posted by wenestvedt to Education (13 answers total)
My understanding is that the program includes four summers, with the first, before the first academic year, called "Swab Summer."

Also, the students there are called midshipmen.
posted by NotLost at 2:07 PM on March 26, 2021

Well, maybe I'm wrong about part of that. The USCGA website refers to them as cadets.

At the USNA, they are midshipmen.
posted by NotLost at 2:08 PM on March 26, 2021 [1 favorite]

It's been many years since I read the cadet guidebook for the USAF, but my recollection was I'd be allowed to leave campus for like 3 days around Christmas, and that was it for the first year. My freedom would have gradually expanded over the 4 years. First years are also hazed pretty regularly, although a lot of that is starting (finally!) to be eliminated.
posted by COD at 2:26 PM on March 26, 2021

There's got to be some permission to leave. I went to college across the street from the USCG, and "Coasties" frequently appeared at our dances/parties, and I also saw them downtown in New London.
posted by Miko at 2:55 PM on March 26, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I attended AIM as a high school junior (academy introduction mission). I did not attend the Academy, but I did get accepted.

- Four summers. Swab summer starts early July, I think. You don't really go home again like you do in conventional college. You aren't a cadet until you finish Swab Summer; you have to earn that title. Each summer has a different task, so the summer before sophomore year you learn to sail the Eagle, summer before junior year you run AIM, can't remember what you do summer before senior year.
- When you graduate, you get to pick where you go in order of class rank, which includes academics/athletics/military, and you choose from the open spots.
- Sports are mandatory. Not necessarily inter-collegiate, but you are required to participate in club, intramural, etc. You also have to pass physical fitness exams in addition to sports; these are timed/graded and count for the athletics portion of your class rank.
- Yes, day to day is rigid. Your entire day is scheduled, from 5am to taps and then bed. Everybody takes the same first year classes, so even if you've taken Calc I and II in high school and gotten 5s on the AP exams, you start over in Calc I with everybody.
- There are very few majors, and half of them are engineering.
- Very little leave first year; that increases as you get more senior.
- It's a military academy, the only one that doesn't require a congressional appointment to get in.
- Swim and run and do pushups. Lots.
- Swab summer is a lot like boot camp, so prep mentally for that. Keep your mouth shut. Don't laugh even when someone's getting chewed out and it's hilarious.
- Learn as much as you can now. Ranks, types of ships, how to address an officer.

The USCG has a peacetime mission, which really appealed to me. Ultimately, I chose not to attend because my knee couldn't handle it. Let me know if you have any particular questions and I'll see what I can dig up.
posted by Ms Vegetable at 3:01 PM on March 26, 2021 [6 favorites]

They all get to go on the Eagle tall ship for on water sail training. To get shore leave they must demonstrate that they know the names of every single line on the ship. There's a whole lotta lines (ropes) on a tall ship and each has at least one name.
posted by sammyo at 3:02 PM on March 26, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: USCGA: Our Bloggers
Explore the cadet blogs to find out what today's cadets are saying about their experiences, challenges, and achievements at the Coast Guard Academy. Cadet Blogs

From 2017 Coast Guard Compass blog entry: Day One: New Coast Guard Academy cadets begin 200-week journey
2015 Compass: Roused from sleep at the first urgent call, swabs hustled to respond Friday, thus beginning the day-long Sea Trials, the culminating event of Swab Summer.
posted by Iris Gambol at 3:18 PM on March 26, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Is there anything they will miss that I can provide?

Useful items to send, from a USCGA Parents Association resource page section, "Become your cadet's fan club. Here's how": Send extra underwear and socks; Toothpaste, deodorant, toothbrush, Shout stain remover pads, moleskin, Dr. Scholl's gel shoe inserts, chapstick, insect repellent... Swabs have no time for survival shopping, but you can ease the discomfort; Cookies, sports drink powder, granola bars, trail mix. About extra underwear, from another section on the site:
Q: Where do you get v-neck, tagless T-shirts?
A: A good option is Hanes Classic - you can find them on-line; folks have found them at Target. Note that we are not endorsing a particular brand or supplier, but this was a solution for many who asked the question.

Association FAQ has info on visiting (oh, related: local hotels offering discounts, from a page at the USCGA Alumni Association), mail logistics, clothing/uniform tips [they should know how to sew on a button, and have the supplies to do so], cadet daily life, list of local businesses w/gift card options, etc. -- lots of resource links.

Congrats to the new cadet in your life! The Coast Guard Academy also publishes an annual Parents' Handbook, which is helpful to anyone in a cadet's support network. Family and friends are welcome during the annual Parents Weekend, held this year September 24-26.
posted by Iris Gambol at 5:00 PM on March 26, 2021 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: (Technically it's my niece -- but we are all super proud and excited!)
posted by wenestvedt at 7:36 PM on March 26, 2021 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Congratulations, wenestvedt's niece!

If your niece has long hair, know that females are not required to cut it, but I absolutely would. You risk not having time (ever) for it to dry completely because you're showering multiple times a day and then hair has to be up off your collar in uniform.
posted by Ms Vegetable at 11:09 AM on March 27, 2021 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: She is a JROTC student now and a volleyball player, so her hair isn't going to be a problem. But thank you so much for the heads-up, and for your long note above: it's exactly what I was wondering. :7)

She is embarking on an amazing adventure, and I couldn't be more wound up if she was my own kid.
posted by wenestvedt at 8:05 PM on March 27, 2021 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: For future readers: we dropped her off about ten days ago. There is a photographer named Paul Duddy -- called PDuddy -- who freely roams the campus taking hundreds of photographs per day and posting them on a FaceBook group (

For a future swab, it's a great way to get a glimpse into the experience without exposing all the mystery, and as an uncle who's suuuuper excited about it all, it's a fun way to follow the adventure.

He tells everyone to try to "spot your Waldo," and happily encourages you to download the images. There are no captions, but some families will tag each other in, or note what platoon of swabs is shown. And he often answers questions, like "Why is the Sailing Center called 'the Rock'?" (Answer: because it's built on top of a huge rock that used to be a serious obstacle to safe navigation.)

Here's a 2019 article about him:

If you visit campus, the bright orange Camaro is his. :7)
posted by wenestvedt at 7:27 AM on July 7, 2021 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: FOLLOW-UP NINE MONTHS LATER:

Thanks to everyone who offered information and encouragement above.

Everything that Ms Vegetable said was still accurate. Thanks, Ms V!!

Swab Summer sucked. She had scant minutes for bodily functions, she was exhausted and mentally taxed, and the pace was very hard. This, of course, is the whole point. :7) She's a disciplined kid, and she did well.

They were masked because of COVID, but not too many other changes. Everyone was hurt to some degree, she said; the trick was managing it. They didn't have enough sleep or food, which made that trickier, and there were some really hot days. "Hydrate!"

Her roommate had long hair that she buzzed, which now seems like a stroke of genius: my niece's hair isn't long, but the quantity of product required to maintain The Perfect Bun was amazing. We couldn't find tiny hairnets to cover the bun, so she just kept dousing it with goo every day.

On Flag Day in Mystic, CT, in July, the cadets got to see their families for a while after the ceremony. She now says that it was easier that I showed up, and not her parents: many kids were sad after the separation. We went for ice cream and she called her family on the phone; I gave her fruit.

Mail was verrrrry slow over the summer, and a little better since -- probably by design. I sent a lot of postcards. She got mail in bursts, and no time to reply. She was glad to get it, and I didn't want her wasting time on me, so that worked well.

And then all of a sudden Swab Summer ended, and they got their phones back, and could sleep & shower, and they found that they had survived the worst.

Now she's a college kid at a service academy: hard classes, rigid time scheduling, and high expectations.

Care packages arrive every so often. Some kids received many, some few. Contents are shared, which is a kindness.

There is a FaceBook group for parents of the swabs in her platoon, and now the cadets in her company. This is handy for folks to share information and pictures. I am an uncle and not a parent; eventually I was allowed to join.

She gets liberty most weekends, but I am not there to take her anywhere. In September her family came out to see her: she bubbled with stories and jargon, and they took it all in. :7) She got several days of leave at Thanksgiving, and spent it with my family -- which was a good chance for her to recharge.

I still bring her fresh fruit and Tide Pens when I see her.

She says the coursework is difficult, and she helps out her company-mates with homework and studying. The Academy-issued laptops seem to suck, but I have heard that a lot of places and I think it's a question of over-strained vendors/manufacturers.

Also, many cadets don't know how to properly shine a leather shoe, and get gigged during uniform inspections. LEARN TO POLISH A DAMN SHOE, WHIPPERSNAPPERS.

She's doing well, and I can't wait to hear what her first summer assignment is. It's very fun to be a "supporter" who's not a parent: I have a little less skin in the game and can stick to practical tasks. Also, I can offer the typical freshman-year-of-college advice to her before she returns home, which is going to be a surprise for everyone.

You folks are awesome!
posted by wenestvedt at 10:55 AM on December 9, 2021 [1 favorite]

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