Getting in to military academies like West Point or The Citadel is notoriously difficult.
But getting in to the United States Coast Guard Academy is even tougher. Each year, 2,000 students apply. About 230 are accepted, about a third of them women.
So when Monroe High School senior Savanna Fordham, 17, applied, she knew it was a long shot.
Then earlier this month, she got a phone call while at school, and she burst into tears.
She was in.
It was the culmination of four years of effort.
With a professional boat captain for a father, Fordham grew up sailing, and was always aware of the presence of the Coast Guard, acting as a “big brother” and keeping them safe, she said.
Then when she was in the eighth grade, she saw “The Guardian,” a film about the Coast Guard, and knew it was what she wanted to do.
She learned about the Coast Guard Academy a couple of years later.
The smallest of the nation’s military academies, the academy trains cadets to be officers in the Coast Guard.
All expenses are paid, and in exchange, students commit to serve in the Coast Guard for at least five years upon graduating. Those who opt for flight school or graduate school commit to at least eight years of service upon graduating.
On paper, Fordham’s scholarship is for $325,000.
It’s a fantastic deal for kids who qualify, but qualifying isn’t easy.
“I knew it was really competitive, so kept my grades up, and kept my extracurriculars up, and in band I’m a drum major and that was the leadership quality I think they were looking for,” said Fordham.
Her grades, in fact, were nearly perfect and she is graduating with a 3.95 GPA.
And she stays in shape, swimming and working out regularly.
July 1, she will report to the academy in New London, Connecticut, and begins “Swab Summer,” a seven-week, boot camp-type basic training.
Academics are rigorous, and summers are devoted to military training. So tough is the program that only two-thirds of those admitted actually graduate with a bachelor’s degree and a commission.
But Fordham plans to stay even longer than that. She wants to take flight school with the goal of being a helicopter pilot, and she believes she’ll make a career of the Coast Guard.
She says it has all the appealing elements of the military, without the war part.
“It’s the missions, the discipline and the leadership, and the boats and helicopters, but not the post-traumatic stress disorder,” she said. “I’m really excited.”