School of transition: Preparatory school offers gateway to Air Force Academy
By David Edwards, U.S. Air Force Academy Public Affairs
/ Published April 01, 2011
U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- At most schools, being called a preppie isn't exactly a mark of distinction.
But the Air Force Academy Preparatory School isn't most schools and these "preppies" readily adopt the nickname. More than a high school but less than a university, the "other" educational institution at the Air Force Academy is intended to be a feeder school for the Cadet Wing.
Since its founding in 1961, the Prep School has yielded many thousands of appointments to the Air Force Academy.
There is no class standing at the school. With no freshmen or seniors, all students are peers, and about 75 to 80 percent of the student body participates in sports.
Enrollment is kept constant at 240. But it is not possible to apply directly to the Prep School. Its admissions are handled by the same people who handle applications to the Academy.
"It's a thorough vetting process," said Col. Carolyn Benyshek, the Academy's director of admissions.
"There's probably more scrutiny on the candidates going down to the Prep School than the ones for the Academy. We look for the same factors as we do for direct entry."
The course of study lasts 10 months, and the curriculum focuses on academic preparation, with intensive instruction in math, English and science. And because the school serves as a pipeline for the Cadet Wing, students are also put through their military paces while many of them learn what it means to wear the uniform in service to their country.
The student body at the prep school consists of both active-duty enlisted personnel and people who need extra academic preparation before entering the Academy. Students range in age from 18 to 22.
"Our focus is getting them away from a high school mentality and more toward a college curriculum," said Col. Bart Weiss, Prep School commander. "Kids go to college for a lot of different reasons. They get prepared differently."
The Prep School also helps foster diversity at the Academy. About 56 percent of its students fall into the category of diversity from a standpoint of race, ethnicity or gender.
Enlisted Airmen are not left out, either. In fact, the prep school was instituted for their benefit, and 50 spots in each class are reserved for them.
"We look at enlisted Airmen as diversity," Colonel Benyshek said. "They bring the perspective of working in the Air Force. When you're talking about deployment, when you're talking about Iraq, Afghanistan, some of these candidates have been there, done that. That's tremendous."
Colonel Benyshek also said that being offered admission to the Prep School should not be considered a letdown or a fallback option.
"It is not a Plan B," she said. "The prep school is not something you can plan for. It's a great transition.
There are countless benefits to shoring yourself up academically so you can be successful here."
Generally, students at the Prep School are extremely bright and academically accomplished. They just have deficiencies in their prior education. For example, a student might be a math whiz who took few English classes in high school, according to Colonel Benyshek.
Through the combination of academic rigor, military training and small class size, preppies typically forge quick and lasting bonds with their peers. And they become aware of how they fit into the grand scheme both at the Academy and in the Air Force.
"We're all part of a bigger team," Colonel Weiss said. "That's what I try to pound home to the candidates. That's a really neat thing to see the metamorphosis of these candidates as they go through the process. Hopefully we've opened their minds to (the fact that) talent exists everywhere."