Resembles a scholarship
West Point cadets do not pay cash out of pocket or incur dollar-denominated loans to attend West Point. That resembles a scholarship. On occasion when discussing the Army football team, I have said they have 3,800 guys on scholarship. But that was athletic shorthand.
But getting away from that shorthand, there are vast differences between the West Point deal and a scholarship.
West Point is not a grant
A scholarship is simply a grant, a gift contingent only on your remaining in the degree-program in question and maintaining passing grades. To collect your education benefits at West Point, you also have to stay and maintain passing grades, but that’s where the resemblance ends.
On your first day at West Point, you take an oath similar to or the same as those taken by all who enter the army. Cadets are active-duty soldiers in the U.S. Army—although the years you spend at West Point do not count toward Army retirement benefits.
As an active-duty soldier you are subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice. That is, you can be court-martialed for violating Army regulations. That is NOT the case with a civilian scholarship.
West Point cadets are on duty 11 months a year not the 9 that is common at civilian colleges.
Can’t walk away
Civilian college students on scholarship can quit the school any time they want and walk away with no further obligation of any kind.
That is also true of West Point cadets, but only before their junior year starts in September. If you quit after junior year, you become a U.S. Army enlisted man. I do not know the current details, but when I was there, a junior cadet who quit became a corporal in the Army and had to stay there for four years. If a senior quit, he became a buck sergeant in the Army and had to stay there for five years. This was during the Vietnam War.
Eight years of indentured servitude
If you stay at West Point until graduation, you become a 2nd lieutenant and have to spend five years on active duty and three years thereafter in the Army Reserves.
During World War I and II, cadets were graduated before they had been there for four years and sent to war. After Wold War I, they came back and completed their studies as Army officers.
Civilian college students on scholarship have no obligation bearing even the slightest relationship to these active-duty Army obligations. If you simply walk away from West Point and the Army, you are a deserter under the UCMJ.
Furthermore, it gets far worse. Most college students graduate owing student loans. Some might say the need to stay in the Army for eight years is paying back a loan. No, it’s not. It is more accurately described as indentured servitude. I mean that literally. Indentured servitude has long been illegal in civilian life, and they do not use the phrase indentured servitude in the military, but that is exactly what it is. You cannot leave for a term of years and the idea is you are paying back your master either for transportation to the New World or training.
Required to go in harm’s way
Finally, even indentured servants were not required to risk their lives for the master. West Point juniors, seniors, and graduates ARE required to risk their lives in the employment that is paying their master back for training.
All of my West Point Classmates got a “free” education. Twenty also got a free body bag. All but two of my classmates and I had to spend five of the “best years of our lives” in the Army and typically one year in combat.
West Point is not a scholarship. It is an exchange of education and other training for eight years of required military service, often in combat.