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The Benefits of a Boys Only School

Blog Type:  FUMA Blog Date Posted:  Monday, June 21, 2021


Across all academic institutions in the United States, the most current data suggest that the average male student underperforms his female counterpart in academic achievement. Furthermore, studies across some of America's top educational programs agree that girls are better equipped than boys to handle the distractions that a traditional high school experience can include. Your son deserves to be part of a place where this statistic can stop being just another thing you worry about as a parent.

In public schools, the United States Department of Education recently updated Title IX-America's Federal program designed to prevent sex-based discrimination in public schools-to include a provision to allow for single-gender classrooms within public, co-educational schools. The change reflects the government's knowledge that boys and girls have different educational needs and that isolating them under certain school conditions will be better for both genders' learning and is not discriminatory.

The Title IX update came as a surprise to many, but not to us at Fork Union, where we have prioritized boys' educational needs since 1898.

The co-educational system as we know it settled around 1900, with many during that time advocating for equal rights for boys and girls in The United States' newly matured public educational system. To ensure that this education system was fair and equitable for every student, curriculums changed to include much more lecture-based pedagogy. Since that time, America has made tremendous strides in classroom gender equality. But unfortunately, the co-educational system went from equalizing opportunities for boys and girls to depriving young women of options in STEM fields as it pushed boys into them. Slowly, single-gender schools are losing their undeserved reputation for being anachronistic learning models. The drive behind the change is parents. Parents everywhere are beginning to understand that single-gender schools have far more benefits than previously known.

A report from Brookings University argues that since boys have not been given a chance to explore creative areas due to societal pressure to focus on "masculine" interests like science, technology, and math, girls have systematically been excluded from those same pursuits. The benefits of same-gender schooling grow even more evident when considering that research shows that many boys have a natural acuity for humanities subjects that they frequently face pressure not to explore. Two Ph.D. child psychologists, Michael Thompson-a New York Times bestselling author and international speaker-and Dan Kindlon co-wrote a book: Raising Cain. They discuss boys-only educational systems and how boys are enabled to discover new interests and passions if they do not feel that they need to perform to impress girls. PBS aired the book as a documentary.

Thompson and Kindlon focused on various aspects of boys' psyches throughout their stages of development but focused primarily on how co-educational schools negatively impact, due to social pressure that boys experience when learning alongside girls, boys' ability to explore specific academic exploits in drama, the arts, theology, and literature, among others. Eleanor Maccoby, Ph.D. and Emeritus Professor of Psychology at Stanford University, praises Thompson's book, saying that educating boys without girls in the academic environment allows "...for boys to become more 'emotionally literate,' to understand their feeling and those of others more."

The data about co-ed schooling vs. single-sex education agree; your son will learn more effectively if he does so in an all-male environment.

Research confirms a natural observation about how boys learn; unlike girls, boys perform significantly better when allowed to engage in physical activity in the time immediately surrounding classroom education. At a co-educational school, educators cannot accommodate all of boys' unique learning needs. All-boys schools have the freedom to design programs that provide for boys in ways that programs with girls cannot. An all-boys school like Fork Union Military Academy features courses that focus on boys' hands-on learning style, allowing them to retain what they learn in ways that are unique to them.

At co-educational schools, teachers may try to combine elements that work for girls and boys, but this results in neither gender receiving precisely what they need. Schools are making concessions that hurt both boys and girls, but since girls learn better in lecture-style environments and tend to be auditory learners, boys take the brunt of the compromise.

Parents seeking to invest in a college-preparatory environment for their son likely already know the alarming statistics for boys' college completion rates. Significantly more troubling than high school graduation rates-where girls are more than 10% more likely to earn a diploma than boys—government data shows that in college, boys are not only less likely to enroll in college than girls, but they are less likely to finish if they start.

There are far more reasons to consider an all-boys school for your son than just learning styles.

Raul Nidoy is a lifelong educator and author. He presented to the United States Congress what has been deemed the "best available meta-analysis of the effects of single-sex schools." His seminal work discusses the merits of all-boys schools.  The research "finds [that] positive results are three to four times more likely to be found for single-sex schools than for co-educational schools in the same study for both academic achievement and socio-emotional development."

Nidoy's research, which spans back years and has earned him many academic cameos, has focused on the reasons why boys learn better when surrounded by other boys. Contrary to the claims that many boys' schools make, the primary strength of an all-boys environment is not the mere absence of girls. Girls, Nidoy found, are not the reason why boys tend to struggle in co-ed schooling environments.

There are four main categories into which Nidoy concatenates his reasons that single-gender schools offer a better quality of education than co-educational alternatives: Student-Student Relationships, Student-Teacher Relationships, Teacher-Student Work, Negative Behaviors Avoided, and finally Positive Behaviors Fostered and Moral Education.

The following results draw from systematic surveying of educators drawn from a pool of 33,979 teachers with experience in both co-educational and same-gender systems.

For Student-Student Relationships, SSRs, the primary benefits of an all-boys environment were fewer distractions, fairer competition, and mutual support and friendship. In addition, the report indicates that boys are much more likely to ask classmates for help when they don't worry about how a girl may perceive that action. Boys were also markedly more confident when contributing to class discussions when doing so in an all-boys environment.

Exploring Student-Teacher Relationships, STRs, the most significant differentiator that Nidoy found was a lower level of sex stereotyping from teachers. The study suggests that many teachers tend to develop standards biases against one gender when teaching in co-ed settings. Another benefit for STRs involves teaching material that may be awkward or unpleasant if both boys and girls were to be present. This applies more broadly than just to sex education classes, but to leadership, home economics, and other classes typically associated with particular genders. Simply due to how the material would be parsed differently, the report suggests that entire bodies of knowledge are better taught at single-gender schools.

Negative Behaviors Avoided, NBAs primarily focused on the potential pitfalls of students becoming romantically involved at a young age. Teachers reported that attendant problems surrounding early romantic relationships made the prospect a highly risky one. In addition, teachers often noticed that middle and early high school students largely did not feature the developmental maturity to handle a romantic commitment alongside a full-time academic load.

The last primary category from Nidoy's research was Positive Behaviors Fostered and Moral Education, PBFME. One of the most significant findings aligns with research from Hamilton College. A report from Hamilton College suggests that the current co-educational system in the United States leaves room for dangerous gender attitudes to form within students. For example, the authors found that boys in an all-male environment were statistically less likely to commit acts of sexual harassment in college and beyond compared to boys who went to co-educational schools. Moreover, when surveying teachers with years of experience in both settings, many agreed that by the end of high school, boys who had been educated at an all-boys school tended to exhibit "better overall character."

All told, boys from across tens of thousands of co-educational schools fall more than 20% behind in overall likelihood to earn a college degree. As a result, the general American workforce has a dwindling number of men with degrees. If more boys had experienced the unique learning environment tailored to their needs that an all-boys school like Fork Union Military Academy provides, those numbers could look much different.

While these figures may seem to reflect an inevitable disadvantage for boys, they indicate one primary argument: co-ed schools can fail boys in some fundamental ways. In a system where teaching methods avoid the kinesthetic, cooperative teaching methods boys need, all-boys high schools stand out not just in principles but also in numbers. Even throughout COVID-19 and its many damaging effects on college admissions and high school graduations, Fork Union Military Academy, an all-boys school, graduated a full class of Cadets and maintained 100% college acceptance.



Micah Giszack works at Fork Union Military Academy as an intern specializing in marketing and admissions.Micah Giszack is an alumnus of Fork Union Military Academy and works with the Academy in marketing and admissions.
Connect with Micah on LinkedIn




Is a Military School like Fork Union Right for My Son?

Blog Type:  FUMA Blog Date Posted:  Monday, June 21, 2021


When you saw your son for the first time, you knew at that moment you would do anything for him. When he first entered your life, you spent your time reading reviews and asking opinions about the safest strollers and cribs.

Now, it is time to start researching the best place for your son to grow from a boy into a young man.

As parents, all that we want in this world is for our sons to grow up into responsible, caring, hard-working men. If you are reading this article, it probably means that you have begun considering military school for your son. We at Fork Union Military Academy want you to know that we take your interest in a military academy very seriously and will be here for you to help answer all your questions about such a new environment for your son.

Why Military School?

There is one big question that you need to be answered: Why should I send my son to a military school?

You have many options for where to send your son for his education, so the decision to send your son to a military school like Fork Union will take much thought and prayer. There are a few reasons why a military school could be right for your family, especially a military school like Fork Union.

#1) Structure and Discipline

The first reason why a military school like Fork Union might be right for your son is perhaps the most important.

Cadets at Fork Union Military Academy adhere to a consistent, thought-out, and well-implemented daily schedule that ensures that with time, they will grow accustomed to the responsibilities of being an adult. Cadets wake up at the same time every school day, clean their rooms, dress in uniform, go to breakfast together, gather outside to raise the flag, and have their uniforms inspected, all in time to arrive at class by 8 AM.

Throughout their days, cadets get used to living by a regular schedule, and we often hear from alumni that learning how to be disciplined with time management sets them apart from their classmates and coworkers in college and beyond.

In an unstructured and undisciplined world, Fork Union stands alone in providing the kind of environment where good boys will grow into good men with the necessary life skills for success.

#2) Peer Pressure

The second reason why a military school like Fork Union might be right for your family is that most common forms of negative peer pressure are reduced.

A recent report had some startling data to report: only 10% of high school students said that they had never given into peer pressure at some point during their schooling. The students who took the survey admitted that they bullied other students just because their friends did. Unstructured social environments go down a slippery slope that leads to dangerous decision-making that will hold your son back from the opportunities that only come around during high school.

Researchers within the last ten years have noticed startling increases in the levels of dangerous, impulsive behavior amid teenage boys Many teens unfortunately often do not understand the potential consequences of these actions. This behavior can jeopardize a teen's chances of going to college, or worse.

The average teenager spends more than half of the time he is awake at school, and even more time with the friends he makes there. At a boarding school, your son is around those influences all day and night for much of the year.

Experts agree that during the teenage years, a young man's friends are the strongest contributors to the way that he sees the world around him and how he chooses to contribute to it. Try as we might, there is very little control that parents have over their kids' closest friends at school; we simply cannot be there to protect them, and most schools do not offer the kind of support and reinforcement necessary to help young people make the best decisions.

Many parents raise questions with us such as "isn't military school just for troubled teens?"  They have concerns that their son might be exposed to negative influences. The truth is that there are some military-style schools that cater to this type of student, accepting and admitting young men who need a "boot camp" type of experience to "turn them around." If you search on Google for "military schools for troubled teens" you will see ads from schools like this at the top of the search results page. But you will not see any ads from Fork Union Military Academy listed. That is not who we are.

Fork Union Military Academy is the kind of college preparatory school that outstanding young men aspire to attend, where they can achieve their best-not a "boot camp" style school, but more like a high school version of the Military Academy at West Point.

At Fork Union Military Academy, our enrollment process includes many steps that pass through multiple members of our staff and faculty community, all to make sure that each applicant will contribute positive attributes to our student body: the Corps of Cadets. We have found that parents tend to take a deep sigh of relief once we can demonstrate how Fork Union Military Academy defies the stereotypes that plague military schools. Fork Union implements the very best aspects of the United States Military Academies; we provoke attention to detail in our cadets, a sense of honor, personal integrity at all times, and robust self-discipline. Whether your son is slipping up in the small details of everyday life or wants to be a part of a community of brothers who will help him see the world differently, Fork Union is dedicated to each young man's spiritual, academic, and physical development above all else.

The staff and faculty at Fork Union all share one common goal: we want you to rest easy knowing that the young men surrounding your son are high-quality influences and that the school he attends is proactive about maintaining integrity in the student body.

#3) Elimination of Distractions

The third reason why you should consider enrolling your son at a military school is that it could significantly enhance his academic performance by eliminating common distractions.

One of the largest sources of distraction for young men comes from their cell phones. This next fact may surprise you. According to a report from ABC News, the average teenager spends 7 hours and 22 minutes per day on screens. This time does not include schoolwork; that startling number is just the time that teenagers spend on pure entertainment. There are simply not enough hours in the day for a student to devote himself to classes at school, homework assignments after school, and eight hours of sleep every night if he is using his phone over fifty hours per week. Most boarding schools allow students to keep and use their phones at will, undermining their students' academic performance. At Fork Union Military Academy, students are not permitted to have a cellphone. Our cadets benefit academically from the structured environment at Fork Union, and on top of just grades, the elimination of cellphones can even help to improve young men's overall mental health by cutting off the constant negative feed of content from certain social media platforms and news sites.

One of Fork Union's most beneficial learning programs is our mandatory corps-wide Call to Quarters (CQ), a proctored time that cadets must use for homework every school night. Cadets spend two hours every evening doing their homework, and if they finish early during this time, they keep working on other various schoolwork until CQ ends. Our alumni often reach out to us once they reach college to report on what a help it was to have CQ while at Fork Union. Although they may have wished they could have spent their weeknight evenings relaxing with friends instead of working, our past cadets tell us that the distraction-free environment at our school and the mandatory nightly study time helped to ingrain a sense of academic responsibility that lasted beyond the gates of our campus.

#4) Diversity

The fourth reason why you should consider sending your son to a military school like Fork Union is that he will be in an environment where diversity can flourish.

According to Boarding School Review, Fork Union Military Academy ranks in the top thirty nation-wide among private boarding high schools for the levels of ethnic and racial diversity among the student body.

Our military tradition allows boys from all walks of life to come together and share a common purpose and circumstance, living and growing together in respect, integrity, faith, character, and discipline under the direction of our dedicated staff and faculty, many of whom served in the United States Armed Forces. Being in a place where many different world views and experiences merge is incredibly beneficial for our cadets.

Today's college students and professionals are expected to know how to handle cultural differences, and the sad reality is that most schools remain relatively homogeneous concerning diversity. As useful as the internet may be for reading about other cultures, something is amazing about watching cadets from Texas share in Lunar New Year with our Vietnamese students. This simply is not an option that many other private schools can afford their families.



Micah Giszack works at Fork Union Military Academy as an intern specializing in marketing and admissions.Micah Giszack is an alumnus of Fork Union Military Academy and works with the Academy in marketing and admissions.
Connect with Micah on LinkedIn




What is the One Subject Plan?

Blog Type:  FUMA Blog Date Posted:  Monday, June 21, 2021

Fork Union Military Academy Cadets follow the One Subject Plan.

There is something completely unique about Fork Union Military Academy that sets the school apart from all other secondary schools. In fact, one of the most innovative and effective ideas in secondary education can be found today in the unique academic schedule used at Fork Union, and it has revolutionized the school's ability to empower students to achieve their highest levels of personal academic achievement.

This academic innovation is called the One Subject Plan, and it has been in use at this historic boys' school for over seventy years.

The Best Kept Secret

"The One Subject Plan," one satisfied parent of a former student told us, "I always refer to it as 'the best kept secret' here."

While the One Subject Plan is not an actual secret, most parents and students do not realize the powerful effect it can have on a student's academic success. The One Subject Plan truly is the "secret sauce" that makes the Fork Union recipe so effective for students.

To understand the One Subject Plan though, it is helpful first to take a look at how most other schools operate in scheduling their class day and curriculum.

A Typical School's Class Day

Parents: Do you remember lugging around a bunch of huge textbooks?
Parents, do you remember lugging
around a bunch of huge textbooks?
At Fork Union Military Academy, students
study just one subject at a time.

Since the early 20th century, schools across the United States and around the world have created an education model strikingly similar to the factory model established by Henry Ford in the early 1900s. Just like Ford's Model T moving along the assembly line, getting parts and pieces added one bit at a time, students in most schools spend their day traveling through a succession of classes, adding a bit of math in this classroom then some science in the next classroom followed by portions of social studies or language in yet another classroom.

If you're a parent of a certain age, you probably remember lugging around a stack of huge textbooks during the school day. Today's students might not have heavy textbooks to carry, but in most schools they still carry the mental and emotional weight of taking multiple classes each day.

In a typical school schedule, those classes may only last 45 to 50 minutes per day. In a block schedule, adopted by many US schools in recent years, students may get up to 90 minutes per class period. Students will likely take four to six classes a day, each class usually being held in a different classroom and taught by a different teacher.

Lecture continues to be the most widely used instructional method in high schools today, and it is easy to see why given the time constraints teachers are under. The first few minutes of each class are taken up by "crowd control"—getting students seated and taking attendance. The last few minutes of the class period are marked by students packing their bookbags and looking longingly toward the door as the teacher announces homework assignments. A 45-minute class period may only yield, at most, 35 to 40 minutes of actual instructional time. That is not a lot of time to set up an engaging experiential learning lecture it is. By the end of the school day, a student has likely had to sit through at least four hours' worth of lectures, which may not be the most favorable recipe for successful learning.


How the One Subject Plan Works

Under the One Subject Plan at Fork Union, the academic year is divided into five grading terms of approximately seven weeks each, totaling 35 class days. A student is assigned to one course each grading term, for a total of five courses in the regular academic year.

The student attends the same class, with the same group of fellow students and the same instructor, for the entire seven-week grading period.

Class size is usually in the 10 to 14 student range, but never more than 20 in the largest class. The teacher is responsible for teaching only one class of students for that seven-week grading term. All assignments and tests come in this one course from the same teacher, and that teacher can focus all of his or her attention on this one group of students, and no others.

Only Seven Weeks? Is That Enough Time?

One of the first question parents ask about the One Subject Plan is how their son could possibly learn enough in seven weeks, compared to a whole year at other schools. It is easy to understand why parents might wonder about this at first glance, so let us take a closer look at the time involved.

A school year in the United States ranges from 160 to 180 days long, depending on the state in which the school is located. In Virginia, where Fork Union Military Academy is located, the requirement is at the top of that scale, with students required to attend 180 days or 990 hours of school each year, whether at a public school or a private school. To receive credit for a course in Virginia, the law requires that the student successfully complete 140 hours of instructional time.

  • At Fork Union, a student attends class in a specified course for 4 hours each day for 35 days: 
    4 hours X 35 days = 140 hours
  • In a typical school, a student may attend class in a specified course for approximately 45 to 50 minutes each day for 180 days: 
    ~0.75 hours X 180 days = ~135 hours

The instructional time under the One Subject Plan at least equals the instructional time a student receives at most other schools. And, in fact, since several minutes of each 45- or 50-minute class session in a typical school is often lost to administrative tasks and "crowd control," effective instructional time under Fork Union's One Subject Plan may easily exceed that of most other schools.

All Day in One Class? Isn't That Too Long?

When they hear about the One Subject Plan and students being in one class each day, some parents may wonder if that is too much time for a student to remain in a single class. But rest assured that students are not actually in class for four hours straight, they do get appropriate breaks and variety throughout the class day.

"Our class day runs from 8 to 2, but no, students are not sitting in front of their teacher from 8 to 2 every single day," explains Fork Union's Academic Dean, Mike Goad. "Students have a total of four instructional hours per day and they get a 45-minute period for lunch, a 45-minute planning period for teachers during which students may attend a seminar class such as art, leadership, religion, things like that. And they have a 30-minute school-wide break during the middle of the day."

Don't the Students Get Bored?

The short answer is no, not any more than normal. "Interest comes with mastery," said the late E. H. "Gus" Lacy, a former teacher and administrator at Fork Union Military Academy, writing about the One Subject Plan in 1955. "This new plan has given us a method of doing a better job of teaching. The boys learn more, and, consequently, they devote their energies toward the subject because they understand more about the subject being taught." This observation continues to be true more than sixty years later. Students get a lot of genuine satisfaction from really learning a subject instead of just coasting their way through a 45- or 90-minute class period.

Those who doubt the concentration ability and attention span of a teenager have never seen a young man working to master something like Fortnite on his favorite video game console. When it is something that engages and interests them, young people can stay amazingly focused. The One Subject Plan helps channel that kind of dedicated effort into the academic realm, helping a young man post his name on the Honor Roll instead of just climbing the leader board for Call of Duty.

On a related note, most students have favorite subjects, and subjects they don't enjoy. In those cases where a student finds a particular subject to be dull and tedious, the One Subject Plan offers the promise that with just seven weeks of effort, the course can be successfully completed.

Benefits of the One Subject Plan

Fork Union Military Academy has found a number of specific benefits resulting from this unique program.


Students are able to focus on a single subject, without the distractions inherent when shifting from class to class. They never have to mentally shift gears like they would when moving from English to physics. It becomes almost like a total immersion program in that one subject. This focus helps students and teachers both stay engaged with each other and in the learning.

Students are freed from the obligation to meet the demands of several different teachers at the same time. They never have to prioritize homework assignments, deciding whether to spend more time studying math or do their history homework instead. They can focus their energy and attention in one direction, yielding more rapid progress and deeper understanding.


A typical high school teacher teaches several separate classes each day and must track at least 80 to 120 students at a time, even with block scheduling. Under the One Subject Plan, the teacher is responsible for only perhaps 10 to 14 students at a maximum. Teachers check homework every day. They can check student notebooks and journals on a regular basis. It is nearly impossible for a student to "slip through the cracks" within the One Subject Plan.

In the same way, the One Subject Plan requires the teacher to be accountable to the students. Under a normal high school schedule, if an underprepared teacher has only 45 to 90 minutes to spend with four or five different classes, they might slip by with just a test and a video for that day. In the One Subject Plan, however, the teacher is responsible for four hours of class time each day and this schedule, by its very nature, requires that teachers be fully prepared to teach each day when they enter the classroom.

Individualized Instruction

With markedly fewer students to track, a teacher can really get to know each student as an individual. The teacher can determine what styles of learning work best for each student and use different instructional methods to reach the various visual, auditory, tactile, and kinesthetic learners in the class. For example, a traditional lecture method might work for auditory learners, while hands on group activities might be needed to effectively teach the kinesthetic learners in the class.

In fact, the nature of the One Subject Plan forces a teacher to use a variety of instructional methods throughout the class day. While a teacher might be able to simply lecture for 90 minutes every day under a block schedule, that kind of educational filibuster is nearly impossible to maintain for almost four hours a day. The teacher must use different techniques to keep students engaged throughout the course of the day. This naturally provides the kind of individualized instructional variety that proves effective for learning.


The teacher spends hours each day with a small group of students. Students and teachers get to know each other very well. This means they must work through any conflicts, learn how to deal with each other effectively and positively, and look beyond surface impressions to find points of connection and shared interests.

A strong bond can develop between students and teachers in this environment.

This is how effective learning has developed for centuries, between mentor and protégé. Plato was a disciple of Socrates. Aristotle was a disciple of Plato. Learning from a respected teacher among a small group of students has a long, productive tradition. A teacher can be more than a mere functionary delivering 50-minute lectures; a teacher can become a role model, trusted and respected, helping develop a young person's character in addition to his knowledge of Algebra.

Special Learning Activities

Teachers do not need to worry about coordinating their schedules with other classes. They have the whole school day to use as they need. This means that government classes can schedule field trips to the state capitol to witness the legislature in action. A chemistry teacher can use more time for a lab experiment. A history teacher can take the entire class to the library to work on research for a term paper, supervising the process from start to finish.

This flexibility in scheduling special activities means that the needs of the student can drive the learning process, not the need to be finished with class within 50 or 90 minutes. Learning is no longer held prisoner by time.

Class Scheduling

The One Subject Plan offers benefits in class scheduling as well. Students can take sequential courses like Algebra I and Algebra II consecutively within the same year. This is recommended as well for students taking a foreign language, so they might take Spanish I and Spanish II in back-to-back grading periods and gain the benefit of concentrated study in the language. Students can also repeat a course within the same year if needed to improve a low grade.

An Innovation That is Here to Stay

Within the first five years of implementing the One Subject Plan, Fork Union Military Academy saw its Honor Roll double in size. This kind of academic success continues today. Most students who transfer to Fork Union Military Academy from another school see their GPA improve, even though Fork Union may use a grading scale that might be tougher than their previous school. These increased grades are matched by improvements in scores on tests such as the PSAT and SAT.

Academically, students who have followed the One Subject Plan are as prepared, or better prepared than their peers to handle college level work. The college acceptance rate of Fork Union Military Academy graduates is 100%.

More than seventy years ago, an educational innovation was nurtured in the small village of Fork Union, Virginia. Generations of students since 1950 have found this unique program to have a transformative effect on their academic lives. At Fork Union Military Academy, the One Subject Plan is one educational reform that is here to stay.


Want to learn more?






Dan Thompson works at Fork Union Military Academy in strategic communications and marketing.Dan Thompson has been with Fork Union Military Academy since 2004, specializing in strategic communications and marketing. He enjoys sharing the success stories of the school and its cadets.
Connect with Dan on LinkedIn



Understanding Military Rank Insignia at Military Schools

Blog Type:  FUMA Blog Date Posted:  Wednesday, September 2, 2020 Byline:  Dan Thompson


Some months back, a visitor arrived on our school's campus, and as he got out of his car I instantly felt my muscles tighten and my brain go on full alert.  

You see, he was wearing the uniform of a US Navy officer and on his navy blue uniform coat I saw two narrow gold bands and a very wide gold band ringing his sleeve at the cuff. Without even thinking about it, I knew that this man was a powerful leader, a top-level officer, because I instantly recognized his rank as that of Vice Admiral...that's like a 3-star general in the US Army.

I was born a Navy brat. My father was a Chaplain in the US Navy who retired at the rank of Captain. I knew that a Vice Admiral was a big deal...and even though I was a middle-aged man now and hadn't been on a navy base in decades, I had an instinctual reaction when I saw that admiral's sleeve.

For most families, however, that send their sons to a military-style high school like ours, military rank insignia can be baffling to them at first. It seems like some kind of secret code symbol that only the initiated can understand. Recent surveys tell us that only 7% of adults in the US are military veterans, so the number of people who are very familiar with military rank insignia is quite small. I often get questions from family members asking "What does all this rank stuff really mean?"

In this blog post, I'll help you understand what military rank means, how you can identify an individual's rank by the insignia on the uniform, and what role rank plays in the leadership structure of a typical Corps of Cadets at a military school.

Understanding Military School Rank Insignia

Here at Fork Union Military Academy, although we are an independent military system and are not affiliated with the US military, we use a rank system similar to that of the US Army, and we use the same rank insignia as is used by JROTC and ROTC programs. You may have observed our cadets on campus or viewed pictures of them in our photo galleries, you have probably noticed that some of them wear metal insignia pins on their hats or uniforms. These insignia show the cadet's rank in our Corps of Cadets.

The insignia on this cadet's hat indicates his rank in our Corps of Cadets.

What is rank?

A cadet's rank indicates where that cadet fits in the hierarchy (or chain of command) of leadership within the Cadet Corps. Rank is a clear identification as to who is in charge within a group of cadets. You might think of rank as a badge of leadership.

  • Our cadet ranks are based generally on the rank structure used by the United States Army.
  • The concept of military rank dates back to at least the Greeks and Romans, and perhaps even farther back in history than that. The US Army's rank structure came into being during the first days of the Continental Army under George Washington's command during the struggle to gain independence from Great Britain in the late 18th century. The Continental Army in turn drew its rank structure from the military traditions followed in Europe, including Great Britain.

What does "chain of command" mean?

The chain of command is the basic leadership structure of the Cadet Corps.

  • Authority and responsibility flows down from the top through a specific series of ranks. Each person in the chain of command is accountable to a superior, and may himself have leadership responsibility for cadet units that are accountable to him.
  • Cadets are responsible for setting the example for other cadets, listening to the guidance of those above them, and following the orders or directions given to them by those cadets who are at a higher rank.
  • The rank insignia is worn on the uniform in designated places where it will be easily visible.
  • Once you have learned how to identify a cadet's rank based on his rank insignia, you will better understand where that cadet falls in the leadership structure of the Cadet Corps.

Cadet Ranks Used at Fork Union Military Academy

Enlisted Ranks

Cadets start out at Fork Union Military Academy as part of the enlisted ranks.

  • As they continue in their cadet career here, those cadets who demonstrate initiative, responsibility, and leadership potential have the opportunity to advance in rank.
  • As cadets are promoted in rank and become Noncommissioned Officers (called NCOs), they gain greater responsibilities and may be given authority to lead other cadets in units of progressively greater size and complexity. First a cadet may become a squad leader, then may earn leadership posts at the platoon level, then the company level, and ultimately, perhaps, at the battalion level.

Enlisted rank insignia consists of a single chevron or stripe (for a Private, if insignia is worn by Privates), and an additional bar or rocker underneath for a Private First Class.

All new cadets start at Fork Union Military Academy at the rank of Private. Privates typically wear no rank insignia.

A cadet who performs well and has good conduct may earn promotion to Private First Class.

Cadet NCO Ranks

As a cadet earns promotion to the noncommissioned officer or NCO ranks, he begins to have the opportunity for more responsibility within the Corps of Cadets.

NCO rank insignia also are made up of chevrons or stripes, and bars or rockers. Simply put, the higher the number of stripes and bars, the higher the rank.


The first NCO rank is Corporal. A cadet with the rank of Corporal may be given responsibilities within his platoon or company such as helping to manage supplies, laundry, and other tasks important to the cadet unit. The rank insignia consists of two chevrons or stripes.

Sergeants may be given a wider range of responsibilities, including perhaps being named a Squad Leader with leadership responsibility over a small group of other cadets. The rank insignia of a Sergeant is three chevrons or stripes.

As a cadet achieves the rank of Staff Sergeant, he may be tasked as a Squad Leader, or even a Platoon Sergeant, or may be given other responsibilities appropriate to his rank and abilities. The rank insignia for a Staff Sergeant adds a single bar or rocker below the three chevrons.

Platoon Sergeants will typically carry the rank of Sergeant First Class. Other responsibilities for cadets of this rank may include Supply NCO within their company, Company Public Affairs NCO, or similar roles. A second bar or rocker is added below the three stripes on the rank insignia of a Sergeant First Class.

Master Sergeants may earn more significant responsibilities, and even be given command of small units such as the Honor Company or Color Guard. Three stripes and three bars make up the rank insignia of a Master Sergeant.

First Sergeants usually serve as the senior NCO within a company, assisting the Company Commander and Company Executive Officer, and supervising the work of the other NCOs within the cadet company. The rank insignia of the First Sergeant rank keeps the three stripes and bars and adds a diamond in the center.

There is usually only one Command Sergeant Major in the Cadet Corps. The Command Sergeant Major is the senior noncommissioned officer and reports directly to the Battalion Commander. The CSM establishes policies and standards pertaining to performance training, appearance, and conduct of all cadet noncommissioned officers and privates. At the rank of Sergeant Major, which is one step above First Sergeant, the rank insignia trades the center diamond of the First Sergeant insignia for a star in the center. Fork Union Military Academy does not typically use the rank of Sergeant Major in its Cadet Corps, however. The insignia for a Command Sergeant Major adds a wreath around the star in the center.

Cadet Officer Ranks

Officers are the cadets who have been put in charge of cadet units or oversee significant functions and responsibilities within the Cadet Corps.

The rank insignia for officers consist of either silver balls or silver diamonds. The greater the number of balls or diamonds, the higher the rank, with diamonds indicating higher rank than balls.


As a cadet is promoted into the officer ranks, as a Second Lieutenant he may be assigned responsibility as a Platoon Leader or assist in other roles at the company level. The rank insignia is a single silver ball.

Cadets at the rank of First Lieutenant will carry significant responsibility at the company level including leadership roles in training, activities, or service as the Company Executive Officer, the second highest-ranking role in the company, directly assisting the Company Commander.

Company Commanders and primary Battalion Staff officers typically carry the rank of Captain.

The rank of Major can be attained by cadets serving in upper roles, such as an interim Battalion Commander, a Battalion Executive Officer, or Operations Officer of the Corps of Cadets. At the rank of Major, the rank insignia changes from balls to a diamond insignia. The single diamond of a Major outranks the three balls of a Captain.

The rank of Lieutenant Colonel is typically reserved to the cadet who is serving as Battalion Commander of the Corps of Cadets and is the highest rank that can usually earned by a cadet at Fork Union Military Academy.

The rank of Colonel is the highest rank a cadet can achieve at Fork Union Military Academy and is awarded on very rare occasions to a Battalion Commander or other cadet who has performed exceptionally well during his time in that role during the school year, and, in the opinion of the Academy President and Commandant of Cadets has earned the honor of being promoted to full Colonel rank prior to the conclusion of his final school year. The promotion ceremony elevating the cadet's rank to Colonel usually occurs in the final days of the school year and is one of the highest honors that can be accorded a cadet at Fork Union Military Academy.

The Value of Military Rank at Military Schools

The military rank system at a boys military school like Fork Union Military Academy helps create an environment that supports positive peer pressure.

Unlike most public schools where social standing is often defined by the brand of clothing or athletic shoes worn by students, or other skewed measures of personal value, a military rank system builds social standing based on actual achievement. Students who perform well can earn promotions in rank and gain greater responsibilities—as well as benefits—as they rise in rank.

This completely reconfigures the social hierarchy in high school.

The adolescent cliques based on superficial criteria are no longer the dominant factor when a student enrolls in a military school. Instead, the student's own ability and performance become most important in determining that student's place in the hierarchy, without regard to the student's socioeconomic background, race, ethnicity, religious affiliation, or other factors beyond that student's control. This creates a sense of empowerment for students because their place in the school's social status system is completely within their ability to help determine.

Want to learn more about Fork Union Military Academy?

I hope that you will find the military system employed at schools like Fork Union Military Academy to be intriguing and something you'd like to learn more about. I encourage you to surf through our website and learn more about Fork Union Military Academy!



Dan Thompson works at Fork Union Military Academy in strategic communications and marketing.Dan Thompson has been with Fork Union Military Academy since 2004, specializing in strategic communications and marketing. He enjoys sharing the success stories of the school and its cadets.
Connect with Dan on LinkedIn



What is the Cost of Military School?

Blog Type:  FUMA Blog Date Posted:  Friday, May 1, 2020 Byline:  Dan Thompson

Family at Fork Union Military Academy, a military boarding school in Fork Union, Virginia

Can you guess what is the most visited page on our school’s website behind our home page? If you guessed that it had something to do with the price of tuition, you’d be right.

Here at Fork Union Military Academy, we’re asked about the cost of our military school on a daily basis. When you’re considering a private school for your child, you need this important question answered: “How much is this going to cost me?”

A lot of parents that we talk to worry that private school…and especially boarding school…is something only the wealthy can afford. But you might be surprised to learn that a good military school can be much more affordable than you expect.

In this article, we will teach you the factors that go into the bottom line of what you can expect to pay when you send your child to a military school. Our goal is that you have a good understanding of the cost and that you can move closer to making an educated decision that’s right for your family.

How Much is Military School Tuition?

Tuition at most college preparatory military boarding schools ranges from about $25,000 to $50,000 per year.

Chart showing relative tuition at military boarding schools in the United States  

Military schools are a great value when compared to traditional boarding schools, where the median tuition price is over $53,000

But tuition is only the sticker price.

The good news is that the real cost paid by most families for military school is often significantly less than the tuition price, depending on your financial circumstances. Let’s take a closer look at the actual costs of attending a military school in the United States, and then examine just how affordable military school can be.

Tuition and Other Fees at Military School

It is important to find out what is included in the school’s tuition price, and what is not included. Some schools may charge additional fees for required items and services. At many military schools, the cost of uniforms and other program fees can potentially add $1,000 to $5,000 or more on top of the price of tuition, room and board. 

Let’s take a look at the categories of potential costs you need to be aware of:

Tuition, including Room and Board

Tuition is the basic price you pay to attend the school and receive instruction. At most military schools, the price of tuition includes room and board; this means that housing and meals are included in the tuition price.

Schools may charge different tuition prices for different types of students:

Day Students vs. Boarding Students - Some schools admit local students as day students who live at home and commute to the school each day. Tuition for day students is typically lower than for boarding students because it does not include housing and provides for fewer meals.

7-Day Boarding vs. 5-Day Boarding - Schools may offer a 5-Day Boarding program, meaning the students return home each weekend. Tuition for 5-Day Boarding is usually a bit lower than that for 7-Day Boarding, but you are then responsible for transporting your student home and back each weekend.

Upper School vs. Middle School - Some schools charge different tuition prices for students in Middle School (or junior high school) than they do for students in the Upper School (or high school) grade levels. 

Domestic US Students vs. International Students - Schools in the United States typically charge a higher tuition rate (and/or additional administrative fees) for international students. This helps to cover the greater costs of managing visas, passports, more complex travel arrangements, and additional mentoring and acculturation assistance needed by international students. International students may also have additional costs for medical insurance coverage while at school.

Uniform Costs

A military school usually has specific uniforms that students must wear. These may include different uniform sets for different occasions, such as Class A or dress uniforms for special events or Class B uniforms for normal daily wear. They may have Class C or utility uniforms such as BDUs, as well as athletic uniforms. Required uniform accessories may include hats, belts, rank and other insignia, ribbons and medals, and even sabers or swords. 

You can expect to pay between $1,000 and $4,000 for required uniforms your first year, unless the school includes uniforms in their tuition price.

Special Programs

Schools might charge additional fees for special programs, such as academic tutoring, English as a Second Language (ESL) classes, SAT/ACT test preparation courses, or dual enrollment classes that provide both high school and college credit.

Other Fees and Incidental Costs

Depending on the school’s policies, you may be charged additional fees for textbooks, required school supplies, laundry services, technology fees, and other incidental costs that might not be included in their tuition price.

The Cost of Military School vs. The Cost of Living at Home

It is important to factor in the savings you might realize from enrolling your child in a military school. Yes, it’s true, having your child away at military school might actually save you some money each year!

As the father of one of our students told me recently:

“I added up how much military boarding school was going to cost me, but I forgot to figure in how much I was going to save by not having to feed my son every day, buy him new clothes when he wanted them, put gas in his car, pay his monthly cell phone bill, and more. The savings really added up.”

According to the U. S. Department of Agriculture, the average family spends at least $12,980 per year on a child’s expenses such as food and clothing. When you total up the costs of a military school, don’t forget to add up the cost savings as well.

Financial Aid and Affordability

Affordability is a big concern today for many parents. Tuition and fees for a military school can look like an imposing number to many families. Most military schools offer financial aid to help families with these affordability concerns. 

Sometimes a school with a lower tuition price can end up costing a family more than a school with a higher tuition price simply because one school offers more financial aid to the family. Financial aid packages can vary greatly from school to school, depending on the institution’s endowment, aid philosophy, and tuition costs. 

Most schools offer two types of financial aid:

Merit-Based Scholarships

Merit-based scholarships are aid grants that are based on the student’s academic abilities, athletic abilities, or other special talents, rather than on demonstrated financial need. Most schools want to enroll outstanding students who can help make their school and student body better, and merit-based scholarships are one tool schools use to accomplish this goal.

Need-Based Financial Aid

Need-based financial aid are grants that are based on demonstrated financial need. Schools use need-based financial aid to help enroll students who would otherwise not be able to afford to attend the school. You will usually need to complete a financial aid application that takes into account your family’s income, assets, and financial status. You may need to submit tax returns or other documentation with your financial aid application.  

A large percentage of families receive financial aid awards to offset the costs of attending boarding school. In fact, as a national average it’s as many as 36% of families or more according to statistics compiled by the National Association of Independent Schools. And those financial aid awards can be substantial, as the NAIS reports

On the website you can find a list of military boarding schools with the highest percentage of students on financial aid...and you will see that many military schools on that list have 40% to more than 70% of their students receiving financial aid.

So Don’t Let “Sticker Shock” Stop You

Remember what I said at the beginning of this article? Tuition is just the sticker price. And many families end up paying significantly less than that sticker price to attend military school.

Will your child be able to go to a military boarding school for free? Probably not...unless your child is a top academic performer, incredible athlete, or an outstanding trumpet player who can help the band win awards. Full-ride merit scholarships are not very common, and typically only go to a few very exceptional students. 

But I’ll let you in on a little secret...schools really do want to enroll all of the students that they accept for admission. 

This means that if your child is accepted for admission, most schools will work closely with you to provide financial aid that helps make enrolling affordable for you...while still allowing the school to afford to pay their electric bill and teachers’ salaries.

Our Cost Experience Here at Fork Union Military Academy

Here at Fork Union Military Academy, where our current annual tuition is $33,940, over 70% of our domestic boarding families receive financial aid, and the average family pays just over $22,000 a year once financial aid awards are taken into consideration. 

And that is an average amount…some families qualify to pay even less.

I encourage you to click the link below to find a full explanation of our tuition rates. You’ll see what is and is not included in our tuition and how we use effective financial aid practices to help make Fork Union Military Academy an affordable choice for families like yours.

Learn more at


Dan Thompson works at Fork Union Military Academy in strategic communications and marketing.Dan Thompson has been with Fork Union Military Academy since 2004, specializing in strategic communications and marketing. He enjoys sharing the success stories of the school and its cadets.
Connect with Dan on LinkedIn

The Changing Face of the Early Campus at Fork Union

Blog Type:  FUMA Blog Date Posted:  Wednesday, July 18, 2018 Byline:  Dan Thompson

When the Academy was founded in 1898 by the Reverend William E. Hatcher, what we now know as the campus was mostly an empty grove of oak trees belonging to Mr. & Mrs. W. P. Snead. As the school opened in rented rooms across the road from the current campus, the Sneads donated six acres of their land to the school and construction began on Academy Hall in 1900.

The Original Snead Hall

Completed in 1902, Academy Hall (later renamed Snead Hall after Captain Charles Goodall Snead, another one of the many Sneads of Fork Union involved in the early leadership of the school), the building was a three-story wooden structure that became the center of the school's campus life.

Snead Hall in 1908

The Armory

Mr. & Mrs. W. P. Snead donated another 11 acres of land in 1902 and construction began on the school's second building, the Armory, completed in 1905.

Snead Hall (left) and the Armory, shown in 1910.

Hatcher Hall

The Academy's signature building, Hatcher Hall, was added to the campus in 1916 and was designed in a Military Gothic architectural style expressly to serve as the school's "brand image," looking very reminiscent of the building styles of Virginia Military Institute.

Construction begins on Hatcher Hall in 1916.


Within first 25 years of Fork Union Military Academy, these three buildings were built and formed the heart of the school campus.

The campus in 1918


In January of 1923, however, a tragedy struck this small campus that threatened the very continued existence of the school itself.

The Great Fires of 1923

In early January of 1923, a fire destroys the Armory building. Arson is suspected.

The Armory burns to the ground in January, 1923


Just days later, Snead Hall was destroyed by fire. Once again, arson was suspected as the source of the flames.

Mrs. W.P Snead (at right) looks on as Snead Hall is destroyed by fire in January 1923, just days after the Armory is burned to the ground. In the background can be seen the corner of Hatcher Hall, the only building left standing on campus.

Campus Crisis

The destruction wrought by these devastating fires throws Fork Union Military Academy into crisis. Tents are pitched on campus to house classes and activities for the remainder of the school year and desperate meetings are held to determine the young Academy's future, if a future even existed for the heavily damaged school.

Could the school raise the money needed to rebuild its campus in the wake of such a tragic series of events? Would the school be forced to close? Even if new buildings could be constructed, would the school be ready to reopen for classes in the fall of 1923?

Up From the Ashes

Through the Herculean efforts of men like Charles Goodall Snead and many benefactors including Baptist churches across the state of Virginia, two new buildings were raised on campus in the few short months available. A gymnasium was constructed to replace the activity space lost in the Armory, and a barracks building was created and named Snead Hall.

Both buildings were constructed of brick and stucco, designed to be as fireproof as possible.

For some reason, the location of these two buildings were reversed in their new versions: the barracks was placed near the spot where the Armory had stood and the gymnasium was built near the spot where the original Snead Hall had stood.

Snead Hall

Snead Hall as it looked upon its completion in 1923

Alumni Gymnasium

The Alumni Gymnasium, later known as the Middle School Gymnasium, was completed in fall 1923.

The Rebuilt Campus

The Alumni Gymnasium (left), Hatcher Hall, and the Snead Hall barracks as seen from the front gate in this 1927 photograph.

The Indomitable Spirit of Fork Union Military Academy

Like the Phoenix of Greek mythology, the campus of Fork Union Military Academy was rebuilt from the ashes of its predecessor, thus beginning the cycle of campus growth and regeneration seen throughout the years since.

These great buildings of our history represent the indomitable spirit of Fork Union Military Academy, and served not as unchangeable icons planted permanently on the campus, but as vivid reminders that even against the steepest challenges, the Academy would continue to grow, build, rebuild, regenerate, and flourish.

The Alumni Gymnasium and Snead Hall were built in a hurry, designed to provide a quick solution to an immediate problem. They each stood for generations as the physical evidence that Fork Union Military Academy refused to surrender in defeat to negative circumstances, but would fight ceaselessly to continue its mission no matter the odds stacked against it.

Snead Hall was razed and replaced by Jacobson Hall in the fall of 2012.

This week, the demolition of the old gymnasium building began.

Regeneration, Regrowth, and Renewal

While these buildings have housed many memories and losing them is like the death of a faithful friend, we know that like the Phoenix, the spirit of Fork Union Military Academy is continuing to regenerate, regrow, and renew itself, carrying the school's mission forward into the future once more.


Dan Thompson works at Fork Union Military Academy in strategic communications and marketing.Dan Thompson has been with Fork Union Military Academy since 2004, specializing in strategic communications and marketing. He enjoys sharing the success stories of the school and its cadets.
Connect with Dan on LinkedIn

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