West Lincoln High School senior Matthew Mault is one of 1,200 students from across the country that will begin their college undergraduate career with the United States Air Force Academy this fall.
“Well, my granddad was in the Coast Guard, and he always talked about that if he could do it over again, he would go into the Air Force,” Mault said. “I had never put that much thought into it until I met a marine recruiter…the Air Force Academy just had a whole lot better academic program than the other colleges I was accepted to.”
In addition to his appointment to the Air Force Academy, Mault was also accepted into three competitive universities, including the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
“I had three full rides to the other colleges I was accepted to, so it was a hard decision to make, but definitely the better choice,” he said.
Mault explained that the application process was extensive, including multiple essay requirements, high SAT scores, a personal fitness test and three interviews, including a nomination from Senator Richard Burr.
“It’s pretty hard to get into; the acceptance rate is just under 10 percent,” Mault said. “Ten thousand people apply for the Air Force Academy, and only 1,200 students are accepted each year. I actually had to go to Raleigh for an interview with Sen. Burr and meet with a committee of his to even be considered for nomination. It was really challenging but fun.”
Founded in 1954, the United States Air Force Academy is located on a 19,000-acre campus in Colorado Springs. The academy offers an 8:1 student-teacher ratio, with an average class size of 20 students. A stipend is also provided over the course of the students’ attendance.
“You can retire with benefits from the Air Force after 20 years,” Mault explained. “Because I’ll be on active duty during my studies, after I graduate from the academy, I’ll have a four- or five-year commitment. And after that, I’ll only have to work 11 more years until I can retire at the age of 38. It’s pretty impressive.”
Mault plans to major in Environmental Engineering during his four years of studies.
“After four years, I’ll graduate with a degree, and after that, I can pursue graduate school or medical school if I would like to,” Mault said.
While most students interested in the Air Force Academy begin the application process the spring of the junior year, Mault started his application in mid-November of his senior year.
“I decided kind of late, but I wanted to see what all my options were,” Mault said. “I feel like I chose the hardest choice, the road less traveled. I’ve always wanted to do something better and bigger than myself.”
In addition to his studies at West Lincoln, Mault is also active in school sports as well as the community, working with volunteer organizations such as ALPHA, Helping Halos and Christian Ministries. When not studying or volunteering, he can be found working at either his grandparents’ Christmas tree farm or as a sales associate at the Bi-Lo in Lincolnton.
“Right now, I’m taking some time off from work to keep up with my physical training,” Mault said. “The altitude difference in Colorado is going to take some time to adjust to.”
Mault will leave Lincoln County on June 25 to begin his undergraduate career, starting with a six-week training program. During that time, Mault will study cadet history and training as well as undergo rigorous physical training.
While some high school graduates would prefer to have the summer to acclimate to this new chapter in their lives instead of two weeks, Mault is all too eager to start his college experience.
“Last summer, I was accepted to Governor’s School in Raleigh,” he said. “I left for Raleigh one week after the school year was over and spent the entire summer studying natural science. It was new for me last year, but I’m looking forward to starting this summer. I’ll be receiving an Ivy League education at essentially no cost to me. I know I’ll be making connections and bonds that will last a lifetime. It’s going to be a great challenge.”