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From Service Academy, ROTC, OCS to BUD/S Training (USNA, USMA, USAFA, USMMA)

Stew smith

How Do You Get to BUD/S as an Officer Through the Service Academies, ROTC, OCS? 

Regardless of the Source,
All Roads Lead to SOAS

SOAS - SEAL Officer Assessment and Selection was formerly called Mini-BUDS and counted as a "summer cruise" for Academy and ROTC students to get a taste of SEAL training to see if they wanted to pursue it as a career. It was not a selection course back when I went through it, but it was a good source to inspire you into coming back or to go another direction after graduation.  Now, it is a course with teeth and you will be invited or NOT at the end of the process of enduring SOAS at the BUDS compound in Coronado, CA as well as the interview and board review of your complete academic, work,  leadership, and PST history. 

Now, all officer candidates will get selected OR NOT to attend SOAS as the initial review of the package is done with all officer candidates from OCS, ROTC, and all the Service Academies. If you do not get selected to attend SOAS, you did not meet the high standards on paper / phone interview to move forward. However, the process at the Naval Academy is a little different as they have a screener weekend that cuts the applicants by nearly 50% on typical years.  Here is an article I wrote a few years ago about some of the specific options at the US Naval Academy on (Click link)

usna plebe to navy seal

Though most candidates will come from the Naval Academy and Navy ROTC every year, there are a few more ways to get to BUD/S training and become a SEAL officer. There is the OCS route where civilians with no military experience can apply to attend SEAL Officer Assessment / Selection, but each year, cadets from West Point, Air Force Academy, and the Merchant Marine Academy send qualified applicants into the testing and training pipeline. Regardless of where you came from, your PST scores, and grades, your work / leadership experiences, and your performance at SEAL Officer Assessment and Selection will seal the deal one way of the other as you will either get accepted or not get invited back to attend BUDS as an officer within the year. 

The SEAL Officer Boards accept a wide variety of majors (from engineering to languages), sports, leadership roles, but the applicants needs to be a solid student (good grades) and have stellar PST scores to be competitive in an already highly competitive officer billet. 

Recommendations For All Candidates (no matter the source)

To Get TO SOAS - You need to look good on paper as your recruitment package will be part of the selection process.  Being able to write a good "why" letter is important as that will likely be one of the questions you get asked. The simple, "why do you want to do this" can be one of the hardest questions to answer for some people, and yes - you can screw it up.  Same goes for any of the interview process - whether by phone or in person, these interviews are there to get to know you and what makes you tick. These questions can challenge your knowledge of the community you seek to join, current events, and many other areas you should be able to articulate with specific and general understanding. 

The board looks at the entire person - not just PST scores, but those have to be stellar as well.  A high competitive package will look something like this but in no particular order of importance: 

Letters of Recommendation (LOR):  If you know some active SEALs or former SEALs well, it is fine to get these in your package. However, when I was on the boards, I enjoyed the LORs from teachers, coaches, and veteran neighbors the most as many of these types of letters were written by people who really got to know you over time - maybe even your entire life. That meant more personally than a SEAL officer you met for a 10 minute interview and asked him for a letter.  

PST scores:  8 min or less 500yd swim, 100/100/20+ on pushups, situps, pullups, and 9 min or less on the 1.5 mile run.  Scoring even better than these scores is common, but this is in the zone you need to be in or close in most events to be considered. 

Grades / School - What school you attend matters to a degree as well as the major you select. It is no secret to the board that some majors at some schools are harder than others. You may get some leniency depending on how academically challenging your course load was in college.  But, if you have a moderate easy major from a school that is not known for it's academics, performing in the upper 10% of your class will be equally helpful. 

College Athletics, Work, or Other Leadership Roles - Being involved in out of the classroom activities is something you should do as well as it shows the board that you can handle the academic course load on top of other time commitments. These can also be a full/part time job, self-employment, and entrepreneurship experience you gained in college. Being a nationally ranked athlete, team captain, scholar athlete and peer tutor are other ways to stand out at the board. Being part of a team matters as you need to be a good team player not only as a BUDS student but when you are actually in the Teams as well. 

Community Service - Many clubs in colleges have community service projects that offer leadership opportunities and good experiences being concerned about people other than yourself. This matters. It is easy to get so focused on your goal that you become self-absorbed and may miss out on growth opportunities that help you stand out against your peers. Your initiative to do some sort of community service project outside of your comfort zone speaks volumes about the type of person you are to the board. 

Regardless of Your Source to Commissioning, Here Are Some Ideas for You Each Year of College to Advance Your Chances at SOAS:

Freshman Year - If at a service academy, get through the basic training (aka Plebe Summer) of your first few months. Then, when you do have spare time, start to work on weaknesses. This may be the basic PT test at first and then you progress with the Navy SEAL PST (500yd swims with CSS, pushups, situps, pullups, and 1.5 mile run). Getting a solid foundation on this is key to your growth as you seek to crush this thing in a few years when it matters most. If in military schools, this is the time to learn how to be a good student and military member of a unit. Get involved and set high standards for yourself. 

Sophomore Year - Time to have a little more "freedom" compared to the first year at a service academy / ROTC program, so spend time working on the grades, working out hard to not only develop strong PST scores but to work on other weaknesses. Preparing for Spec Ops takes time so get on a system of lifting to get strong, followed by cycles of calisthenics / cardio throughout the year to also become a PT / cardio animal.  See Seasonal Tactical Fitness Periodization for a way to do it.   This may be a good year to spend some time in clubs or take up a club sport / try out for something that challenges you. However, make sure it helps you also develop your weaknesses in academics, athletics, or leadership activities. This maybe a year of being a follower and you have to work your way up to leadership positions in the next year. Be patient and make it work for you. 

Junior Year - This is the year when at the service academies and ROTC programs that matter the most. At USNA, you have to crush the PST this year and endure a 36 hour BUDS screener designed to see how much you want it.  Other ROTC / Service Academy schools will still need to crush the PST this year and submit the packages to the SEAL Officer Boards by January of their junior years.  Make sure your resume, grades, PST scores are top notch by this period of time as your package that is reviewed by the board will depend on your previous performance over the years. 

Junior Year - Academy Exchange Program - Often cadets from other service academies (not ROTC) get the opportunity to attend the Naval Academy for a semester exchange program. There have been a few other the years, that were able to do the BUDS Screener weekend and perform well enough to get the endorsement to attend SOAS, BUDS, and are now SEALs today. 

Between Junior / Senior Year - You get to go to SOAS (if selected) during the summer months. Be prepared to crush another PST or two, longer runs, rucks on the beach, and longer swims with fins.  The introduction to logs and boats may also be in your future, so you will want to be ready.  Assess yourself and work to meet and exceed these "good enough" standards prior to attending SOAS. 

Senior Year - If you went to a civilian college, you will want to start getting ready to submit your SEAL officer package with all the same criteria as above in order to be competitive for the OCS to SEAL option. You will attend SOAS after you graduate and it could be in the following year even so be patient with the process and take any delay as an opportunity to train better. 

You will find out a few months after SOAS if you get invited to attend BUDS after you graduate.  If this is positive news, you now have accomplished getting TO the training - now you need to focus on getting THROUGH the training. The workouts continue but with different goals in longer runs, rucks, swims, and a mix of weights and calisthenics to be more durable to boats and logs and the overall grind of six months of BUDS. 

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Other Related Articles:
Phase 1 of Tactical Fitness - Getting TO the Training
Phase 2 of Tactical Fitness - Getting THROUGH Training
Phase 3 of Tactical Fitness - Active Duty Operator

The Pipeline of Training Options: 

Start off with calisthenics and work your way up to high reps, weights, running, swimming, etc...See workouts that do not need much equipment!


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As you advance into Spec Ops' level of fitness, Check out the Pipeline of Training Options below: 

Here's the answer for solving this issue with What Every Special Ops Candidate Needs to Know . If you're a Special Operations candidate and still have questions, this is an article every Special Operations candidate should read - and start your journey TODAY! Get all the FREE details here. This Spec Ops Candidate article link gives the proven path of advice on training preparation to crush the PT test without failure to get TO the training as well as how to get THROUGH the training pipeline without wasting your time not seeing results.

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Who is Stew Smith CSCS? Coach, Trainer, Writer, PodcasterI'm the former Navy SEAL that tactical candidates go to for books, ebooks and online coaching to prepare themselves to get to and through intense tactical assessment and selection programs and qualify for service in their chosen tactical profession.  See More at

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When you start training again, consider the seasonal tactical fitness model.  I call it A WAY to train and obviously not the only way to train. But it offers the opportunity to never neglect your weaknesses, helps with flexibility and mobility, but will also put you at a level of physical abilities where you are happy with your overall ability to do just about anything. We have a system where the seasons dictate our training. When it is nicer outside, we tend to run and do more calisthenics. When it is colder and not so nice, we lift more, run less, and still maintain our outdoor activities with shorter runs and rucks. Check it out: Seasonal Tactical Fitness Periodization System.  

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