On May 4, 1916, President Woodrow Wilson signed the act that established formal appointments for enlisted Soldiers to the United States Military Academy. As a result of that legislation, an avenue of opportunity was built for potential leaders and West Point aspirants that exists today as the United States Military Academy Preparatory School. Through the years, the primary mission of the Preparatory School has remained essentially the same: to provide appropriate academic, military, and physical training in order to qualify and motivate candidates for admission to and graduation from the U.S. Military Academy.
The earliest forms of the Prep Schools resemble only slightly the present form, yet the core precedents of a structured environment stressing academic fundamentals still exists today.
The first prep schools were established hastily in the European theater of World War I and in various posts in the United States. At the prep school in Langre, France, General John J. "Black Jack" Pershing personally conducted the inspection that followed the final exam and the month long course. Other schools had few students, like one in Fort Totten, New York, which operated in the attic of the post headquarters. Another in Fort Snelling, Minnesota, was run by a lieutenant and the post commander's daughter.
Following World War I, qualified officers were assigned to primary duty as instructors at eight small schools geographically distributed around the country. With the outbreak of World War II, the preparatory school system was consolidated under the Army Service Forces. Training was first conducted at three civilian educational institutions, and later exclusively at Amherst College, Massachusetts.
In June of 1946, General Maxwell D. Taylor, then Superintendent of the U.S. Military Academy, established the Army Prep School at Stewart Army Air Field, Newburgh, New York, just north of West Point. He set forth three principles that essentially remain today.
The school's move in 1957 to Fort Belvoir, Virginia, catalyzed the program by providing space to house modern classrooms and competitive athletics programs. In 1975, the school moved to Fort Monmouth, NJ and occupied the space previous used by the US Army Signal School. Now with the school located within 100 miles of West Point the academic, military, and physical programs were more easily coordinated and integrated with those of the Academy. Finally in July 2011, the school moved to West Point, NY in accordance with the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) Law of 2005. The current campus was designed and built to fully support the school’s mission of preparing cadet candidates for success at the United States Military Academy.
It was long recognized that former enlisted Soldiers, upon admission to the Military Academy, provide valuable experience to the Corps of Cadets and later to the officer corps. "Experience show," said General William C. Westmoreland, Superintendent of West Point in 1963, "that the enlisted ranks of the U.S. Army and other armed services are good sources for outstanding Cadet Candidates."
In 1965, West Point Prep further expanded to open its doors for aspirants from the civilian community. Candidates who had proven themselves as leaders and athletes were offered another avenue to enter West Point. Today, West Point continues to enhance the diversity of both the student body at West Point and the officer corps of the Army.
The importance of the Prep School as a stepping-stone to West Point is evident. Since 1951, West Point Prep graduates have comprised 11% of the Corps of Cadets, yet they have held 25% of the senior leadership positions of the Corps.