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Women at Military Universities Share Their Stories

Imagine this.
Instead of going to school in the freshest new skinny jeans and your trusty Ugg boots, imagine wearing a uniform to class everyday in college: blue dress shirt, dark dress pants. Instead of pulling an all-nighter for your hardest final exam, imagine that your final exam is a two mile run and a hefty sit up and push up test. This is what it’s often like for women in military school. Does it sound like an experience you would actually enjoy?

Depends on who you ask.

If you ask Kristine Devine, a 22-year-old senior at The Citadel, a military college in South Carolina, it may not be the best thing smoking, but it’s her reality. But if you ask Sophia Bay, a 21-year-old senior at the same institution, it’s been a worthwhile experience that she would love to do all over again.

While they have a lot in common thanks to their participation in athletics at the university, their experiences at the celebrated military college are anything but similar.

A school with a name that means “a fortress” and facilities built in a castle-like fashion, The Citadel, founded in 1842, is one of the best schools in the South according to the US News and World Report’s best colleges list for 2010. The school teaches the normal academics, but also helps build character through leadership roles, military training and through helping to build students’ physical fitness. So no, The Citadel and many military schools like it won’t be found on Princeton Review’s top party school list. They mean business, and no one knows that better than both Devine and Bay.

Bay took part in an ROTC program while in high school, but she calls her enrollment at The Citadel her first real foray into military education. She says that her primary reasons for going to the University were not only the money The Citadel offered her, but also the opportunities the school affords its graduates.

“You have a guaranteed job when you graduate,” Bay says. “With my scholarship, they pay for all four years of college, and after school you can do five years of service. I’m going into the Navy.”

How Devine ended up in military school is very intriguing, though, especially since she never partook in any sort of military education prior to going to the Citadel.

“The first thing that made me even begin to consider the Citadel was the soccer coach coming up to me at a soccer tournament my junior year of high school and giving me this card,” Devine says. “…I was offered a scholarship to The Citadel as well as an academic scholarship. I also thought it would be a challenge, and I’m always all for challenges.”

So Devine took the challenges in stride. She never really had been too picky about clothes so being forced to wear uniforms wouldn’t make her lose any sleep. She liked the structure and was open to making any and as many longtime friends as possible. Three and a half years later and in her last semester in school, Devine realizes that she has faced many more challenges than she initially thought she would. One challenge came from her experiences with what she claims is a 95 percent male population at the military school.

“It is definitely an experience unlike anything my friends from high school have been a part of,” she says. “I would say that 75 percent of all the males at this school would say they didn’t want females here and would rather they not be here. It is a culture.”

Bay agrees and says that dating at the military school isn’t easy and not just because you can’t have a male cadet in your room with the door closed. “If two cadets date on campus, the men on campus frown upon dating a female cadet,” she says. “A majority of them don’t like and don’t accept it. So the people that date, I think try to keep it as much of a secret as possible.”

Despite the awkward relations between male and female cadets at the college, Devine doesn’t find her experiences to be worse than what others face going to a research-based University; rather, she says they’ve all helped her grow. Her participation on the woman’s soccer team and through club rugby, her close friendships with the females at the school and the leadership opportunities all have impacted her in one way or another.

“It has changed the way I view people and the way I view life,” Devine says. When asked if she would ever recommend getting an education at a military-based college to other young women, Devine had a surprising response: she really didn’t know.

“Honestly, I do not know if I would. Each female’s experience at this school is slightly different depending on her personality and the company she is put into,” she says. “I have made life-long friends here because of the hardships we both went through together, but I also know most of the people I met here I will never speak to again after I graduate. It’s an experience.”

A different student with a unique female experience and perspective, Bay treasures her years at the school. She believes strongly in the idea that you get from your education what you put into it. And it seems that she’s put in a lot
because she wouldn’t even mind sending her future daughter to The Citadel.

“You learn a lot about your morals and the way people see you, how to be a good leader and to impact change around you, so that’s been one good change for me,” she says. “It’s been a great experience, and I would do it again, definitely. A lot of people say they wouldn’t want their daughter to go here, but I would in a heartbeat.”

As for her future plans, Devine presently shuts down the idea of accepting a commission and going into the Army, although she had once romanced the thought. Instead, she plans to move out of the halls of military school and into the world of medical school as she attends the Medical College of Georgia to study physical therapy in the summer.

Bay doesn’t know what the future holds for her career in the Navy. Right after school, she plans to serve for five years, but when it’s over, she’s open to the possibilities¬¬ – possibilities that might find her walking the halls with Devine again, this time in a medical school.

“As of right now, I’m not sure what I’m going to do once I hit that five-year mark. It all depends on if I’m married and things like that,” she says. “But I want to get into nursing or medical school. I know the Navy will pay for it. That’s my next goal, to do something in the medical field.”

So Devine will go on and not look back at The Citadel. She acknowledges the great times she has had, but she knows that military school isn’t some cute version of Private Benjamin. But she knows that her experiences at a military college are just that—her own experiences.

“I do not know how similar life is for females or how different it is at other military colleges,” she says. “It could be completely different there, but I probably will never know.”

Yes, military school is “different.” But Bay says that the key to success at The Citadel and most military universities is not about what the men think of you or the uniforms you wear, but rather the attitude you bring to the experience. The Citadel is not for the weak.

“You have to learn not to take things personally,” she said. “For instance, don’t get mad ‘cause you’re getting yelled at, because everybody’s getting yelled at freshman year. You have to be determined and do your best because you can’t get away with being lazy at this school.”

So you’ve heard Devine and Bay’s perspectives about life at The Citadel. Don’t fret, though, if that military college doesn’t sound like your cup of tea. There are many others to choose from. Here’s a list of some worthy contenders:

United States Naval Academy

Why You Should Stand at Attention: This school is for the gal looking to be a leader. Based around teaching young men and women to be successful naval and marine officers, this undergraduate college of the naval services offers many different programs, including the Officer Development Program. This four year program teaches not only “integrity, honor and mutual respect,” but the responsibilities of looking after the lives of others. www.usna.edu

Norwich University

Why You Should Stand at Attention: Norwich is the first private military college in the United States, but don’t think it’s all nose-in-the-books and doing sit-ups just because someone is yelling at you to do them. This is more of a University for the active woman and Miss Do-Good. Norwich claims that 90 percent of their students participate in at least one if not more varsity sports and that community service and mentoring are a big part of the school’s culture. www.au.af.mil/au/index.php

United States Military Academy at West Point

Why You Should Stand at Attention: Ranked at number 14 by U.S. News & World Report’s list of the best colleges for 2010, this prestigious military academy definitely has reason to hold that position. West Point boasts some big names as alumni, including President Dwight D. Eisenhower and General David Petraeus. Boasting a motto of “Duty, Honor, Country,” classes are usually small, with less than 18 students. This is great for a lady who wants to be noticed. For her mind of course. www.usma.edu

American Military University

Why You Should Stand at Attention: Not only is the American Military University a standout choice for those who have already served in the military, it is a great school for those with interests in the military to gain anything from a liberal arts education to one in programs based around homeland security, intelligence, emergency and disaster management and many other unique areas. A top choice for the woman who wants to be ready for anything. www.amu.apus.edu

Valley Forge Military Academy & College

Why You Should Stand at Attention: Although the school does have an all-male academy, they also offer a co-educational College option. For those looking to get a career in the military, Valley Forge is only one of five colleges in the country to offer the US Army ROTC Early Commissioning Program. Definitely a top choice for those looking to skip private and go straight to lieutenant. www.gmc.cc.ga.us Sources: Kristine Devine, senior at The Citadel Sophie Bay, senior at The Citadel

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