First Year

VMI offers one of the most challenging first-year experiences of any college in the United States, and it starts with the Rat Line.

The Rat Line begins on Matriculation Day and lasts until cadets “break out,” usually in February, when they are recognized by the Corps as 4th Class cadets. 

The term “Rat Line,” refers specifically to the tradition in which new cadets walk at rigid attention along a prescribed route whenever they are inside barracks. Because they may be stopped and tested by upper-class cadets during certain hours each day, they must be meticulous in daily personal grooming and in keeping their shoes shined and uniforms spotless. They must also be ready to recite school songs, yells, and other information – and drop for pushups if they fail.

The Rat Line is designed to instill and reinforce character traits that will serve a cadet well during his or her cadet years and in life after VMI. Success in the Rat Line requires concentration, attention to detail, a sense of humor, resolve, and self-discipline.

Daily Life

The Rat Line introduces you to the mental and physical challenges of VMI.

It starts with an intense week of workouts – several a day. Later, as an upper-class cadet, you will be required to take PE and participate in physical training at least twice every week. Time management will be your key to survival because every hour of every academic day is scheduled.

Upper-class cadets called “cadre” will be telling you what to do every minute of every day, at first. You’ll look to your Brother Rats for support. And you’ll offer your support in return.

You’ll learn to study when you can and train when you’re tired. You’ll learn to concentrate amid chaos and to do things right because it’s the right way to do them. You’ll learn that to achieve more, you have to find more in yourself. Where you’re strong, you’ll learn to focus that strength, and where you’re weak, you’ll learn to be strong.

Life-long Friendships

There is a closeness at VMI that is rare in American colleges.

Much is shared among members of a class – the boredom of guard duty and penalty tours, intense preparation for parades and inspections, late-night study sessions, downtime in barracks. And when the celebrations come – the ceremony to receive your class ring, for instance – you’ll find that the people you’re celebrating with, your Brother Rats, are the ones closest to you, who know life as you know it, who share your values.

First Class Mentors

A rat’s greatest ally during and after the ratline is his or her first class mentor known as their dyke. Dykes offer advice, moral support, and a haven on the first stoop (“floor”) of barracks. Friendships resulting from this partnership often last a lifetime.

Graduating cadets say it over and over again. What they’ll miss about VMI, what they’ll miss about living for so long so close together in such Spartan quarters, is the people. They miss being just a few steps away from close friendships. They say it’s like leaving family.