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Freedom isn’t Free (and neither is West Point)

For all a rankings worth, Forbes has named West Point the Best College in America:

A big factor in its top rank is that grads leave without a penny of tuition loans to repay. The Army picks up all costs and pays the cadets a stipend of $895 a month. On graduation, they start as second lieutenants, earning $69,000 a year. They have to serve in the armed forces for five years plus three more years of inactive reserve duty. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have pulled 15% of reservists into active duty.

Via America’s Best College — Forbes.com

I will grant you that West Point is probably more academically focused than most other schools in the country because of its strict rules and service culture, and I will grant you that it probably has a great classroom environment. But let’s not kid ourselves on the cost: Instead of paying off a loan with a portion of your future earnings, you owe the Army 5 years of your life. Including your time in school, that is 8 years of living a rigorously scheduled and controlled lifestyle, where many of your choices are not your own. That doesn’t even include the chance for physical or psychological trauma you may incur through your army service.

Many top students would be much better off seeking scholarships to great state schools and being free to live life as they like throughout college and after. West Point is a great option for some people, but the tradeoff is much bigger than the casual way forbes deals with it — going to West Point is not about getting college for free — it is about getting a great education in exchange for service to your country, and about jump-starting a career in the military (or politics).