The College Experience Among Civilian Students and Military Cadets

Many colleges and universities around the country are finishing up their graduation ceremonies this month. Like their civilian peers, cadets study toward the completion of their college degrees ranging from anthropology to zoology. We have collected an immense amount of data regarding the college student experience among civilian students and military cadets that have not been published.

Below are some fresh findings examining the relative stresses among cadets and civilians. Here, we asked respondents to tell us how true different aspects of student life were for them, ranging from 1 “Not true for me” to 2 = “Somewhat true of me”, and 3 “Very true for me”. The typecast of cadet life appears to be true, at least among military academy cadets who report the most stress dealing with their academic and non-academic workload (Table 1). They are closest to true on every item in the survey. These stresses seem confined to academy cadets and the average stress scores for ROTC cadets seem pretty similar to civilian college students.

Civilian StudentsROTC CadetsMilitary Academy Cadets
Keeping up grades2.001.901.99
Balancing school, work and social life1.921.861.99
Feel like level of classes too difficult1.431.421.53
Schools makes me feel physically and mentally tired2.052.062.36
Table 1. College Stress Levels by Military Affiliation, 2002-2017 (pre-pandemic)

Overall, it does appear that graduates from military academies such as West Point and the Naval and Air Force academies experience more strain in their college careers than their civilian and even ROTC comrades. But is the stress worth it? With our other data, we suggest that the answer is, ‘yes’. When we asked how satisfied respondents were with, “Your college learning experience,” the majority of all groups responded positively. However, academy cadets showed more satisfaction with their education than students in the other groups with 91% saying they were satisfied or completely satisfied with their college learning experience compared to 88% of ROTC cadets and 89% of civilians.

All college students struggle to complete their college education. Cadets have the extra burden of the work and training associated with being an officer in the military. Our research shows that these added burdens do not detract from the positive experiences associated with cadet training.

Congratulations to all the students who are completing their college education this Spring!

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