WCS Doesn’t Matter for Athletes & Minorities

**Updated 3/13/22 with more detail and clarity regarding the nomination / attendance authorization relationship and National Waiting list process based on feedback from a reader. Thanks for your help! As always, we want to be accurate and clear and welcome factual corrections.

Yesterday an admissions-savvy commenter (h/t) offered some thoughts on our posts. He dropped the following comment: [Emphasis added]

When you look at the National Waiting List (NWL) of 359 appointments, 150 of those are “Qualified Alternates” or QAs–the top WCS scorers who were not selected to fill the Congressional vacancy. The remaining 209 appointments are “Additional Appointees” or AAs. According to West Point, AAs can be selected without regard to WCS, meaning they can be recruited athletes or others that allow West Point to reach their “class composition goals.”

So if a candidate is an average to above average non-athlete who is not a QA, his/her chances of appointment are likely slim given the need fill Division I athletic teams and meet diversity goals. These candidates take up the vast majority of the AA slots.

I think this is often lost on non-athlete applicants who believe they have a chance of admission when they really don’t. These applicants chalk up their declinations to West Point’s falsely advertised low admit rate (below 10%) when in fact they were not admitted because they were not athletes or did not fit into a diversity category.

Read an in-depth analysis of WCS and admissions impacts at commenter’s book <here>

**record scratch, freeze frame**

Wait, candidates can be admitted without consideration of the Whole Candidate Score, in order to get “varsity athletes” and “conform the demographic mix”? This is worth exploring further. Let’s see what opportunity exists to admit candidates without regard to WCS.

A good recap of the process and math involved is here at west-point.org, source is Joe Brillante writing in 2003. Joe notes that:

Title X, U.S. Code specifies that West Point must admitted 150 from the National Waiting List as “Qualified Alternates” – those candidates who have Congressional nominations – and these appointments must in the order of their Whole Candidate Scores (strictly objective). That makes the running total 991.

West Point may select a number of candidates not based on the WCS to fill the class with “additional appointees” and these appointments must be in a 3:1 ratio of Congressional to service connected nominations. With 89 remaining slots, that means that 67 slots that may be filled without regard to the WCS will be from Congressional nominees, and 23 from service connected nominations.

Joe Brillante

So we have a couple sources which put the range at non-OML slots at between 89 and 209, or between 8% and 18% of a typical incoming class.

We also went to some of the primary documentation to confirm or update assumptions. And with some more research and guidance from a reader, we’ve dug more into this process. Here’s what we learned.

Nominations & Authorizations

The authorized strength of the Academy is 4400. (Source) Note that this isn’t a cap on the number of cadets who can attend. Rather, it’s a funding limit. West Point can have more than 4400 cadets attend, it just has to pay for them some way other than the authorized strength budget.

Second, relevant law on nominations is here ( 10 USC 7442: Cadets: appointment; numbers, territorial distribution ). It’s a bit convoluted but some notable points are below.

  1. Added up, nomination sources total up to 5,872 possible nominations annually.
  2. Congressional primary nominations must be accepted by West Point if the candidates are qualified. This is *not* order-of-merit required.
  3. If a primary congressional nomination is not selected and the qualified alternates are ranked in preference order, they must be selected by USMA in the congressman’s preference order. Alternates get put onto the National Waiting List (NWL)
  4. If the congressman or senator submits an *unranked* nomination list, the West Point gets to select who attends out of the qualified candidates (assuming candidates are qualified*), presumably in order-of-merit.
  5. If the alternates are unranked, unselected, and qualified, they go into the NWL.
  6. USMA (Secretary of the Army) may select unranked qualified alternates from the NWL in WCS order-of-merit for up to 150 candidates.
  7. Superintendent nominations of up to 50 candidates annually do not require order-of-merit and may be from the “country at large”
  8. The president may *appoint* up to 100 cadets each year from service-connected reasons. No order-of-merit specified in the code.
  9. If there are remaining slots to fill to get to authorized strength, the SecArmy (really USMA) may “fill the vacancies by nominating additional cadets from qualified candidates designated as alternates and from other qualified candidates who competed for nomination and are recommended and found qualified by the Academic Board. At least three-fourths of those nominated under this section shall be selected from qualified alternates nominated by the [Vice President, Congressmen, Senators, Guam Rep, etc], and the remainder from qualified candidates holding competitive nominations under any other provision of law. An appointment under this section is an additional appointment and is not in place of an appointment otherwise authorized by law.” [Emphasis added][Source]. It looks to us like the bolded section does not require order-of-merit selection. This is also where the language “additional appointment” used by the first commenter comes from.
  10. Further, each congressman & senator can have up to 5 cadets at the academy at a time, totaling 535 * 5 = 2675 congressionally appointed attendees at any time, but this doesn’t mean that they always fill their authorizations. It can get tricky to keep track of the floating 5th slot as the 4 classes cycle every year. So any slots that aren’t filled go to the Secretary of the Army to nominate and fill.


Let’s take a moment and examine what “qualified” actually means.

This is a critical question because nominations and admissions opportunities depend on qualification. We saw above that the SecArmy must nominate *qualified* candidates. If the bar to qualification is subjective or variable, then USMA has more opportunity to shape the incoming classes on discretion.

We found references to “qualified” candidates on the West Point admissions page and West Point.org. But only references; no definition was available.

West point class profiles show the funnel of “qualified” candidates:

But it is not clear what “qualified” means exactly and we haven’t seen a definition. Does it mean candidate eligibility and passing the medical exam and Candidate Fitness Assessment (CF)? Or does it refer to meeting a set of athletic, academic and leadership criteria as well? If so, what are those criteria? Is there a minimum WCS cutoff for “qualified”? Do different standards for “qualified” exist for recruited athletes or other demographic goals?

If there are minimum qualifying standards then we would expect to see such things as a WCS score or percentile cutoff, or lower bounds of test scores, or similar measurements. We are not aware of such criteria and welcome any readers to share them if they or guidance defining “qualified” exists.

But if there is no minimum in any particular category, or the standards are very low to allow flexibility to the admissions office, then the criterion of “qualified” is subjective.

Order of Merit Nominations

Which nominating sources are based on order of merit, and which are not?

We present a table showing the academy’s authorized strength of 4400, nominations sources, and a min/max estimate of how many discretionary (non-order-of-merit) slots are available based on whether each congressperson fills 4 or 5 slots his or her authorization.

Congressional nominations may or not be in order-of-merit (OOM) because each congressional office makes its own decisions on whether to use designated primaries, ranked alternates, or unranked slates. We don’t know and don’t have a quick way of finding out.

Presidential appointments, up to 100 annually from service-connected candidates, are not OOM required.

Service-connected nominations are not OOM required.

SecArmy nominations are OOM-required if they are the first 150 on the NWL. If the SecArmy has to nominate more candidates to bring the Corps to strength, three-quarters must be from the NWL and one-quarter from “qualified candidates holding competitive nominations under any other provision of law.” [Source]

The code here does not specify “order-of-merit” as it pointedly does elsewhere. Instead it says “may fill the vacancies by nominating additional cadets from qualified candidates designated as alternates and from other qualified candidates who competed for nomination and are recommended and found qualified by the Academic Board.” So it’s unclear if these are “order of merit” or if Admissions holds full discretion.

So we see at a low estimate (“Max case” in the table above), if every nominating source filled its annual authorizations, there would be no “non-OOM” slots available. At a high end (“Min case”), with congressional sources having 4/5 authorized cadets at the Academy annually, and excluding military-connected nominations (Presidential and SecArmy), we would have roughly 400 non-OOM slots in the Corps.

We also note that the 1,160 available service-connected attendance authorizations (presidential & SecArmy) are not merit-specified in the code and could therefore be an opportunity for USMA to fill diversity goals.

The actual state probably lies between the min and max cases. Joe B estimated 89 non-OOM slots and our commenter reported 209 non-OOM slots for the class he wrote about. This corroborates our estimated range. And of course this will vary year-to-year based on nominating sources performance and interactions with the Academy and nominating sources.

This lines up with the magnitude of the actual-vs-rank ordered difference we found in our post “A Class Admitted on Merit“. Checking the percentages again, we rough-estimate 200 slots per class are out of OOM. With service-connected nominations plus the non-OOM nominations, these slots are available and certainly help the academy achieve its racial composition goals and athletic goals.

Admitting in non-OOM becomes more likely as the definition of “qualified” becomes flexible or minimal.


Well this answers the question about where the mystery cadetships come from.

Answer: Their nominations are not Congressional primary selections, they’re through SecArmy and Superintendent authorizations. Then they’re hand-selected for sportsball and photo-ops. While we feel somewhat foolish for not knowing about these, we were spot on in the numbers.

(As an aside, everything about West Point admissions should be completely open. We shouldn’t have to request and analyze this data. As a taxpayer-funded, public institution that–incidentally–is a main feeder to our armed forces senior leadership, everything about the admissions & selection process should be totally transparent and accessible to the public. If West Point were serious about excellence and accountability, its website would have a section dedicated to this type of analysis. This type of analysis, which the leadership undoubtedly does but keeps to itself since it would upset grads & donors, is critical to understanding the institution and how it is performing its mission.)

Second, with the available non-OOM mechanisms, the range of 89-209 non-OOM annual slots presented earlier is realistic if not conservative. This 10-20% percentage of a class plus service-connected nominations can bypass the admissions selection mechanism–the Whole Candidate Score–used for the rest of the corps. This may vary from year to year depending on how the congressional members do their nomination slates.

Think we’re exaggerating? Point out on West Point’s “how to get into West Point” glossy blog where “backdoor admissions standards so we can play football or meet social engineering goals” is identified. It doesn’t exactly advertise the way to get around West Point’s vaunted “10% admission rate.”

Of course this is grossly unfair to everyone who is admitted through the advertised nominations process, and not to mention misleading to the public who thinks that the Academy is all about producing quality officers.

Since this category of admission isn’t included in our data, we’ll include nominations data in the next FOIA ignored by West Point. In the meantime we can guess how a lot of the USMA Affirmative Action policies and sports recruiting are executed.

Never again do we want to hear the hackneyed cliche (heh) that West Point selects “for the whole person” and that low-scoring athletes “are admitted because of leadership potential” or blanket statements implying that all candidates are selected objectively. West Point doesn’t do this but it pretends to for “the brand”. West Point would rather select a cadet class to make political and ideological points rather than create the best possible class of officers. And its leadership isn’t honest about that.

As always, factual corrections and thoughtful criticism are welcome.

11 thoughts on “WCS Doesn’t Matter for Athletes & Minorities”

  1. Keep in mind that each of these NWL (QA and AA) candidates must secure a nomination from their Member of Congress. If we assume that the vast majority of the 541 Congressional Vacancy appointees are appointed using the Whole Person Score–WCS (because most Members of Congress designate their slate as Competitive rather than Principal or Principal with Numbered Alternates)— and you add the 150 QAs that must be selected by the WCS, the majority of Presidential appointees (100) who are selected by WCS, the minority of the AAs that are selected by WCS, and ROTC/JROTC (20) that are selected by WCS, that means that around 840 out of a class of 1200 or about 70%, are selected strictly from WCS.

    Where do the others come from who are not selected by WCS?

    Majority of AAs–for class composition goals (recruited athletes and diversity). ~180
    Regular Army and Reserve Components (mostly Prep Schoolers–50% of whom are recruited athletes). 170
    Sons and Daughters of deceased, 100% disabled veterans and children of Medal of Honor winners. ~15

    Total: 360 or 30%

    My point is that if a candidate does not qualify for a Presidential nomination and is a non-athlete around the 60-80th percentile on the WCS, he/she is in a “knife fight” for one of those AA slots. It’s likely not going to happen.

    • Thanks for the information. 30% of the class that doesn’t necessarily have to pass the same WCS standards as everyone else is a huge amount. It belies the official USMA party line that everyone has to pass the same high standards to get in.

  2. To add: securing a nomination from a Member of Congress (MoC) is not too difficult in most Congressional districts if one has a solid WCS. MoCs can nominate up to ten candidates for each vacancy.

  3. The current drug problem in Fla is clearly the direct result of this malfeasance within the process. It’s everything which we don’t know about – but should- without resulting to FOIAs, this sort of info gathering etc – that is even more disturbing and problematic.

    • We’ve been looking at that. We have greatest hopes for recovery for the affected cadets. At the same time we note the unfortunate circumstance that Football athletes are around 3% of the corps but were at 50% of this incident and highly represented in cheating scandals, cocaine/fentanyl incidents, et cetera. perhaps it’s coincidence, but like you, we think not.

      • Thanks very much for what you are doing to exposing the fundamental “rot” which has sadly engulfed the Academy. I have tried unsuccessfully to personally engage Dr Petersen et al at the Simon Center on the ineffectiveness of their moral, ethics and honor training, but am continually rebuffed. Passing along you analyses to class mates and others is minimally effective but will keep at it. If there are other ways in which I can help, please let me know.

    • So the assumption, with little data, is that the cadets involved in the drug overdose were all allowed in b/c of lower standards? And that somehow these unworthy and unclean individuals just couldn’t help but do coke. However, intelligent, high performing scholar-athletes would never succumb to these kinds of temptations.

      Seems a bit of a jump.

      Perhaps, given that these cadets appear to be upperclassmen, a better question to ask would be:

      Why could West Point not instill in them the level of honor and discipline required to resist that temptation?

      What part of the process created the physical pain, mental pressure, and stress to escape through narcotics without teaching the skills required to deal with the same?

      Is there something about the way these individuals are allowed behave once admitted that creates a disconnect between behavior and consequence?

      Otherwise we assume that the quality of the output is wholly dependent on the input and the process of teaching and leading these young Americans has no appreciable impact?

      That strikes me as more damning than letting a top tier athlete in b/c they got a few C&Bs in high school.

      • Thanks for commenting. It’s a good point, we should ask what at USMA either failed these cadets or drove them to make the bad decisions?

        But that still doesn’t explain the disproportionate representation of low-scoring groups in these incidents or their much higher-than-average conduct/honor/academic separations rates. All cadets get pretty much the same program (honor, academic, etc) but we continue to see these problems concentrated in these groups.

        In other words: If the constant condition in this case is the USMA program, and the independent variable is the group aptitude, and the low-scoring groups tend to have more problems, then we draw the obvious conclusion: admitting less-qualified students over more-qualified students leads to more problems.


      • I would very much like the specific contact details from this commenter, so we could exchange our thoughts directly. However, lacking those details, I will opine/respond that we appear to agree 100% that Williams and the Academy are doing a horrible job accomplishing their primary objective – producing ethical and morally responsible graduates. However, to argue there is no evidence to support that assertion and the additional claims you posit, is to avoid completely the multiple analyes provided by the folks at usmaDATA, and the numerous specific comments from at least the last 3 Sups: eg, the “undeserved communities” (to which the reduced standards/quota system and football improvement program has driven their recruitment process) all manifest “unfortunate social, moral and ehtical” challenges for the admissions process. The new 501c3 tax status of the Athletic Department, (championed and introduced by Caslen) has accelerated the departure the Academy’s from its primary focus on ethical, honorable excellence. You should contact the Simon Center – the Sups functional center for character development and have them try to explain why, as you suggest, the process is broken. I have but they don’t agree; Petersen et al will arm wave, point out the PHD credentials of their staff and describe the myriad of “programs, cadet egagement sessions, expanded cadet chain of command” etc etc, they support. The annual ethics conference is one of their favorites. If they do produce factually based metrics to measure their effectiveness – data which could easily be correlated to admissions information and personal cadet backgound data to produce real root cause determinations on failures in cadet etical/character development – they will not make it avaiable. Or take a look at the Center for Advanced Performance and you’ll see they teach high school English and arithmetic to the academically unqualified. Or try the BOARD OF VISITORS – although never a rigorous oversite group, they are now a weak group of progressive, politically motivated actors who will not challenge the Sup/system to report on the factual deterioration in leadership. Bottom line: it’s not the kids fault, but when they lie, cheat, steal, do drugs, cause racial division or engage improper sexual behavior, they should be expelled. Anything less and the system is not only condoning but promoting “failure”.

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