Coast Guard College Student Pre-Commissioning Initiative offers unique college scholarship opportunity

Adm. Paul F. Zukunft, commandant of the Coast Guard, stands with College Student Pre-Commissioning Initiative alumni during the 25th anniversary of the CSPI program event in Washington, Sept. 16, 2014. Zukunft acted as the keynote speaker for the event, and highlighted the accomplishments of the program's graduates. (U.S. Coast Guard photo)

Adm. Paul F. Zukunft, commandant of the Coast Guard, stands with College Student Pre-Commissioning Initiative alumni during the 25th anniversary of the CSPI program event in Washington, Sept. 16, 2014.  (U.S. Coast Guard photo)

Written by Petty Officer 1st Class Melissa Leake

Headlines today are full of concerns for recent college graduates.  In today’s society, it’s no longer enough just to have a college degree.  More and more of America’s workforce is pursuing higher education and obtaining college degrees, and every year the pool of formally educated workers is growing.

But how can they distinguish themselves from the rest? How can they ensure they’ll find a fulfilling and challenging career with a foundation to be built on for the rest of their lives?

The Coast Guard’s College Student Pre-Commissioning Initiative, a scholarship and leadership training program for future Coast Guard officers, offers the opportunity to earn a college degree, a position in officer candidate school after graduation and real-life work experience.

Under the CSPI program, students become active-duty enlisted members of the Coast Guard and have up to two years of college tuition, books and fees paid for by the government.  Other benefits include full E-3 pay, a housing allowance, medical and dental coverage.

The program, aimed at motivated sophomores and juniors whodemonstrate high academic aptitude and a desire to serve their country in the Coast Guard, must be enrolled or accepted for enrollment in a full-time bachelor degree program at an accredited college or university that is designated as a minority serving institution; a historically black college or university; a Hispanic serving institute; a tribal college or university; or the University of Guam; University’s of Hawaii at Manoa, Hilo, and West Oahu; Argosy University, Hawaii; or the Institute of American Indian and Alaska Native Culture.

Seaman Brittney Webb and Seaman Sergio Fletes stand for a photo after being accepted into Beta Gamma Sigma, an international honor society, at Elizabeth City State University in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, Sept. 30, 2015. Webb and Fletes both attend ECSU as part of the Coast Guard's College Student Pre-Commissioning Initiative program. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Melissa Leake)“The great thing about the program is that you can pick any college you want as long as it’s a qualifying school,” said Seaman Brittney Webb, an officer trainee currently enrolled in the CSPI program at Elizabeth City State University in North Carolina.  “I chose ECSU because they have an exceptional business program, and also, it allowed me to be closer to home.”

Once accepted into CSPI, students must attend and pass Coast Guard basic training in Cape May, New Jersey.

“Boot camp is no joke. You have to be mentally and physically prepared for a grueling eight weeks of training,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Jenna Coffey, the executive petty officer of Recruiting Office Hampton Roads.  “It’s not enough to just submit your CSPI application. You have to constantly prepare for the next step of the program. It’s designed to set you up for success, but you have to work for it. Everything you do in CSPI is earned.”

Coffey said after boot camp CSPI students, also called officer trainees or OTs, report to their local recruiting office where they are required to complete a minimum of 16 hours per month of Coast Guard duty.

“We supervise the OTs and make sure they maintain their readiness and also stay up-to-date with any mandated training.  We try to get them out to other Coast Guard units to gain as much experience and exposure to the Coast Guard as possible, which will help prepare them for OCS and beyond,” said Coffey.

After completing their junior year in college, CSPI students attend a three-week leadership training course in New London, Connecticut, followed by full-time summer training at a new unit.

“The summer training is awesome.  You meet all the other OTs and build a rapport with them. There’s a real sense of camaraderie and teamwork within CSPI. You get to travel to areas of the country you’ve never been to before, and you learn something new every day,” said Webb. “The mentorship during the officer candidate indoctrination is just amazing. You just don’t get that at your ordinary, everyday job. That’s what makes this opportunity so special, so great.”

After graduating college, OTs attend officer candidate school, a 17-week course in New London. After OCS, graduates receive a commission as a Coast Guard ensign, and an initial assignment in one of the four main officer operational specialties, including afloat, aviation, prevention or response.

“I’m really excited for what my future holds. My goal is to be the commanding officer of a 110-foot cutter one day, and this program is going to get me there,” said Webb.  “The opportunities are endless.  CSPI allows you to stand out amongst your peers while giving you free education, experience and a competitive salary while attending college full time. A lot of kids who come out of college have no experience, and I’m going to be one step ahead of everyone else. That is crucial in today’s job market.”

Seaman Karolina Del Hierro Vega smiles for a photo at Recruiting Office Miami Aug. 8, 2015. Del Hierro Vega was recently selected for the College Student Pre-Commissioning Initiative, a scholarship and leadership program for future officers. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Matthew Schofield)The next CSPI application deadline is Jan. 4, 2016, and applicants are encouraged to meet with a recruiter at least two months prior to the deadline date.

“This is a once in a life time opportunity and the benefits are great. If this is something you think you would love to do, apply for the program, even if you don’t want a career in the Coast Guard.  You only have to commit to three years after you graduate, and if you decide to get out of the Coast Guard, you’ve built the work and leadership experience to be successful in anything you do. You’ll be prepared for the future and you have a solid foundation to build on,” said Webb.

Both active duty Coast Guard members and civilians are able to apply for the CSPI program if they meet the eligibility requirements.

The application process wasn’t hard, and it’s great because it helps you learn personal responsibility, which you need in the real world,” said Webb. The recruiters were there to help me, but it was my responsibility to have the application package complete, ready and turned in on time.”

For more information on how to apply for the College Student Pre-Commissioning Initiative visit

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