My question is about TNG: Coming of Age., in which Wesley takes the Starfleet entrance exams.

Assuming Starfleet has an entry policy that allows more than one entrant per year, it stands to reason that there must be multiple entrance exams happening all over the Federation at much the same time.

All of the candidates that made it to Wesley's final test are good, so surely a scoring system (against the hundreds/thousands of other contestants across the Federation) would have made far more sense.

So why was Wesley's competition a straight win/lose against just three candidates?

  • Maybe edit to focus on the second question? Questions about what is "fair" could be opinion-based.
    – Adamant
    Aug 10, 2016 at 23:04
  • The whole question is about how this would be considered fair in federation society and if there is any evidence to support how this qualifies as a fair test in the federation
    – Matt
    Aug 10, 2016 at 23:16
  • Even agreeing on what is fair, what is not fair, and what is fair enough to be workable, is a very long debate. Voted to close, since you've outright said this is fishing for opinion.
    – Radhil
    Aug 10, 2016 at 23:51
  • I would consider any reply that shows that the federation is or isnt supporting equality in this matter based on there actions in canon. star fleet academy is the foundation of star fleet it cant just be overlooked like breaking the prime directive looking for evidence how this either fits in or doesnt in the star trek universe, rather than role the dice on candidates getting 'lucky'. I think this is a valid question
    – Matt
    Aug 11, 2016 at 0:05
  • 1
    I've done a really really big edit to bring out what I think is your main point. If you think I've gone too far (which I probably have) crush the revisions button and roll it back.
    – Valorum
    Aug 11, 2016 at 21:10

5 Answers 5


At the time of that episode, the Federation contained hundreds or maybe thousands of planets. If we assume that each of them have populations as large as 21st century Earth or larger, there could easily be hundreds of billions of Federation citizens, each of whom are eligible to join Star Fleet. Let's round it off to 1000 billion to keep the math simple.

The Federation also boasts a post-scarcity economy with instant matter transmission and replicators, so not everyone needs a career.

Even so, let's assume that 1% of the citizens choose to have a career, that about 1% of those ambitious souls are the appropriate age to take the entrance exam and that 1% who can, actually decide that they want to join Star Fleet each year. That still leaves a million candidates per year.

If they accept 1 out of every four candidates (as is described in that episode), they admit a quarter of a million students into each year's freshman class.

There is no way that the school can be that large, so additional filters need to be in play to cut that number down to a small percentage of those candidates.

So the issue can't be "Is Star-Fleet actually a fair society?".
It has to be... "How can Star-Fleet be so fair as to let 1/4 of all candidates into the academy?"

The episode is demonstrating an impossibly high level of fairness.
Not the opposite.

  • 1
    i agree to your numbers, but i disagree to the fairness, if you studied for years for an exam and was rejected because you were inferior to 3 other people when you may of had 3 other dumber ones by chance, that cant be considered in anyway fair
    – Matt
    Aug 10, 2016 at 23:36

only 1 will be chosen per year ... how can starfleet claim this is fair

StarFleet Academy accept many students per year - they seem to follow the same four year model that US military academies (West Point and Annapolis) have. If they only accepted one student a year, there would only be four cadets in the academy, and StarFleet would quickly run out of officers (just count how many of the Enterprise crew are Ensign or higher rank).

Wesley is competing "locally" (for a given level of local that isn't specified in the episode) for a spot at the academy - it's implied that there were many such local competitions across the Federation.

Also - the final round of tests that Wesley faces against the three others is just that - a final round. We know from that episode that there are high standards required to be able to take part in those tests, as another potential candidate (Jake Kurland) on the Enterprise had failed to that meet that standard. This means you are probably not competing with dumb people

May be it would be fairer to set a standard in the final test as well, and so if two or more people met that standard, they would be accepted - but maybe the Academy has a maximum intake, so they have to limit the number of places that can be won.


What viewers would have assumed from the beginning of TOS is that until proven otherwise Starfleet is like a 20th century navy. Thus they would assume that Starfleet Academy is like a modern service academy of various modern nations, especially the USA.

Generally speaking we would assume that future officers entered Starfleet Academy aged 17 to 22 (usually at 18) and usually had a four year course before graduating age 21 to 26 (usually at 22). Sometimes a cadet would take longer to graduate, thus explaining Merrick failing a simulator test in his fifth year and sometimes they would be rushed through to graduate early when there was a war or fear of war.

Generally speaking we would assume that the minimum age for enlistment as an enlisted man would usually be 18 with some 17 year old enlistments.

This would be consistent with the mid 20th century American navy.

Captain Kirk's biography in The Making of Star Trek (1968) says that Kirk entered Starfleet Academy at 17, the minimum legal age. If Kirk entered the academy in September of one year aged 17.000 to 17.999 he would have completed his first or "plebe" year the next June aged about 17.75 to 18.749.

In "Shore Leave" Kirk encounters Finnegan, an upperclassman who harassed Kirk during Kirk's Plebe year:

FINNEGAN: I never answer questions from plebes, Jimmy boy. KIRK: I'm not a plebe. This is today, fifteen years later. What are you doing here?


Adding about 14.000 to 15.999 to kirk's age of 17.000 to 18.749 gives an age of about 31 to 34.748 for Kirk in "Shore Leave" a first season episode that might be about a year or so before second season episodes. And in the second season episode "The Deadly Years" Kirk's age is established:

COMPUTER: Working. Subject's physical age based on physiological profile, between sixty and seventy two. Aging rapidly. KIRK: No, I'm thirty four. I'm thirty four years old.


So this suggests that Kirk did enter Starfleet Academy aged about 17.

In "Charlie X" Charlie is said to be seventeen several times. Yeoman Janice Rand, annoyed by his attentions, tried to find a suitably aged girlfriend for Charlie:

RAND: Oh, Charlie. I was looking for you. I'd like you to meet Tina Lawton, Yeoman Third Class. Charlie Evans. TINA: Hello, Charlie. RAND: I thought you might enjoy meeting someone your own age. CHARLIE: Can I talk to you, alone. RAND: Charlie, Tina's TINA: Excuse me. I must be wanted somewhere.


I figured that Yeoman Tina "Lizard Girl" Lawton was 17 or 18 and about the minimum age to be a starship crewperson.

When I first saw Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan Midshipman Peter Preston looked a bit short and young to be in Starfleet, until I recognized the actor Ike Eisenmann and figured that he should have been about 18. Curiously both the script and the novelization by Vonda Mcintyre describe Peter Preston as 14. Presumably they were written before someone changed their mind and cast an older (but not very tall) actor in the role.

So if we assume that for the typical and ordinary admission into Starfleet Academy seventeen is the minimum age, as it is today, what should we make of this dialog from "Coming of Age":

Other young people enter) T'SHANIK: Oliana. (to Wesley) T'Shanik of Vulcana Regar. WESLEY: Wesley Crusher of the Enterprise. T'SHANIK: You do not look as if you meet the age requirements. WESLEY: Uh, I'll be sixteen next month. OLIANA: Happy birthday.


It does seem a bit early to take the normal entrance examinations to enter Starfleet academy about 1.0833 years before the minimum legal age to enter. So possibly what Wesley, Oliana, T'Shanik and Mordock were trying for was a space in a special program for early entry for young geniuses.

Many fans have debated how military Starfleet is. But it is obviously at least partly military and at least partially civilian.

Under current law, it is legal to enroll children and adults of all ages in schools of all types, although mandatory schooling usually has legal age ranges.

Under current law in most US states, 16 is the minimum age to have most types of jobs except those that are forbidden to minors. Of course in Star Trek, especially in the Next Generation era, employment for pay might not exist - that is another controversy. So minors of various ages might take part in various cultural and scientific and technological and humanitarian activities of various branches of Starfleet according to their abilities while being members of starfleet to a greater or lesser degree while not being employed by Starfleet. Such hypothetical "junior starfleet auxillary" members of Starfleet might be in some type of educational program stressing learning by doing and with rewards of space travel and pride of accomplishment instead of pay.

But some proportion of Starfleet members take part in military and naval activities.

Many discussions of American Civil War soldiers say that the army had a minimum age for enlistment. Actually the 19th Century regular army and volunteers had three separate minimum ages at the same time.

Along with maximum enlisted ages, the usual minimum age for enlistment was 21, then the legal age of majority. Minors aged 18 and over could enlist with the permission of parents or guardians. And it was regulation to enlist as a drummer, fifer, bugler, or trumpeter - a musician - at younger ages. If memory serves, at one point the wording was something to the effect that recruiters need not follow the age and height requirements for musicians or reenlisting soldiers. And sometimes a few boys were enlisted as musicians so young that if I told you you might think it was science fiction instead of history.

Since 2002 conscripting or recruiting children under the age of 15 into armed serves or using them in combat is defined as a war crime. Forcing children under the age of 18 to participate in combat is illegal. Children aged 15 to 17 can voluntarily serve in combat. Governments are required to take all feasible steps to avoid using soldiers under 18 in direct hostilities.

I believe that education in a service academy does not count toward an officer's years of service, which begin when he/she graduates and is commissioned. So perhaps military and naval cadets are not exactly or totally in the military and in the future their status could be changed to be totally outside the military if desired.

So Starfleet can abide by the current international laws and still enroll kids of any age - if qualified - in Starfleet Academy, and can graduate them at any age - if they pass the tests - and give them commissions or other positions in Starfleet, so long as they are in the non military branches of Starfleet.

And starfleet can abide by current international laws and still enlist and/or commission kids age fifteen and older in the military branches of starfleet so long as they take all feasible steps to keep them out of direct hostilities.

So possibly in the era of Star Trek most enlisted and officer personnel join starfleet the way they do in the modern navy and at the same age range as in the modern navy. But possibly there are special programs for gifted kids to enter Starfleet Academy early and perhaps graduate and be commissioned early.

Wesley Crusher may have been tested for one of those special programs with a small number of admissions in "Coming of Age".

And it is possible that some characters did enter Starfleet Academy younger than normal through those programs for gifted kids. There are chronological reasons o suspect that Kirk, Spock, both Chekovs, Peter Preston, Garth of Izar, etc. may have done so.

Thus the test that Wesley took in "Coming of age that seems illogical as a admissions test for countless thousands of persons entering Starfleet Academy in the normal way each year does not seem so weird if used to select a few precocious kid for a special admission program.

  • 1
    A lot of this answer is just flannel, but I think you've hit the point when you say that this is likely an early entry test for geniuses, rather than the normal test that allowed the likes of Barclay to get in.
    – Valorum
    Aug 11, 2016 at 21:12

We are not given much information to go on, and to the best of my knowledge S1E18 is the only episode that even mentions that this particular part of SF entrance tests.

But it all depends on your definition of fair. Like many of our university systems, it seems that they have introduced some sort of quota system. Which can be viewed as fair, as without it some species would likely never be able to get in. For example Vulcans seem to have a huge advantage in the sort of things that SF tests for, while Klingons tend to barely be able to cope with the Federation's restriction on killing their peers and leaders.


By requiring a broad distribution of cadets over the planets of the Federation, the Federation helps smooth over many potential sources of conflict. It helps prevent "hegemony" such as Athens enjoyed in its alliance, where other cities contributed money and Athens, military forces, so it was in effect the military, and other situations where some planets or races monopolize military power. (Especially since such a monopoly can be hard to undo once entrenched.) It ensures that there are officers whose presence will not be taken as an offense owing to a feud between planets.

In short, diplomatic reasons.

This is similar to the power of members of Congress to nominate candidates to West Point, and thus is an example of Starfleet emulating modern day academies.

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