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A military academy or service academy (American English) is an educational institution which prepares candidates for service in the officer corps of the Army, the Navy, Air Force or Coast Guard or provides education in a service environment, the exact definition depending on the country concerned.
Three types of academy exists: High school-level institutions awarding academic qualifications, university-level institutions awarding Bachelor's degree level qualification, and those preparing officer cadets for commissioning into the armed services of the state.
- The term military school primarily refers to pre-collegiate (middle and high school) institutions. Military schools were once far more common than they are today.
- The term military academy commonly refers to all pre-collegiate, collegiate, and post-collegiate institutions, yet graduate institutions, catering for officers already in service, are often considered separately and termed staff colleges and Graduate Schools.
A military school teaches various ages (middle school, high school, or both) in a manner that includes military traditions and training in military subjects. The vast majority are in the United States. Many military schools are also boarding schools, and others are simply magnet schools in a larger school system. Many are privately run institutions, though some are public and are run by either a public school system (such as the Chicago Public Schools), or by a state.
A common misperception results because some states have chosen to house their child criminal populations in higher-security boarding schools that are run in a manner similar to military boarding schools. These are also called reform schools, and are functionally a combination of school and prison. They attempt to emulate the high standards of established military boarding schools in the hope that a strict structured environment can reform these children. This may or may not be true. However, this should not reflect on the long and distinguished history of military schools; their associations are traditionally those of high academic achievement, with solid college preparatory curricula, schooling in the military arts, and considerably esteemed graduates.
A college level military academy is an institute of higher learning of things military. It is part of a larger system of military education and training institutions. The primary educational goal at military academies is to provide a high quality education that includes significant coursework and training in the fields of military tactics and military strategy. The amount of non-military coursework varies by both the institution and the country, and the amount of practical military experience gained varies as well.
Military academies may or may not grant university degrees. In the U.S., graduates have a major field of study, earning a Bachelor's degree in that subject just as at other universities. However, in British academies, the graduate does not achieve a university degree, since the whole of the one-year course (nowadays undertaken mainly but not exclusively by university graduates) is dedicated to military training.
There are two types of military academies: national (government-run) and state/private-run.
- Graduates from national academies are typically commissioned as officers in the country's military. The new officers usually have an obligation to serve for a certain number of years. In some countries (e.g. Britain) all military officers train at the appropriate academy, whereas in others (e.g. the United States) only a percentage do and the service academies are seen as institutions which supply service-specific officers within the forces (about 15 percent of US military officers).
- State or private-run academy graduates have no requirement to join the military after graduation, although some schools have a high rate of graduate military service. Today, most of these schools have ventured away from their military roots and now enroll both military and civilian students. The only exception in the United States is the Virginia Military Institute which remains all-military.