I would like to add that it might also be beneficial to do some volunteer work during the nuke pipeline if you can find time
I think this is wrong on two levels.
1. This advice assumes that NR gives a crap about your extracurricular volunteer work. My experience as a NUPOC recruiter has shown me that NR's major and primary concern is academic performance. Intel/Aviation/Supply may be looking for well rounded people but NR wants to make sure you will succeed at NPS. Therefore, they want to see superior academic performance. So, anything you can do to increase your Academic/At Sea Nuclear performance will be looked upon more favorably than anything else in your package. Actually, they will probably not care about anything else in your package (unless it's unfavorable).
This could be wrong if Nuclear STA-21 packages are screened by a bunch of different communities instead of Nukes/NR. I'd put money on NR being the primary screening authority for the nuclear option.
2. It sounds like they are really pushing the volunteer work at NPS (according to previous poster). Remember, if you want STA-21 you will probably want to have a very high standing in your class...not just pass (a 2.5 will not get you an officer program). You will probably have to study more to achieve the level of academic success required for an officer program. It will be much harder to achieve that academic performance if you are volunteering more than 1 or 2 hours per week. If volunteering is important to you then fine, go with God. You should probably be using your few free hours to work out instead (PFA Failure is one of those unfavorable things that NR will care about). It's not going to get any easier in the fleet. You'll have more time to volunteer if you get to a shore duty with some free time. I have volunteered and it is very rewarding...but only if you have the time. You won't have the time in the pipeline or in the fleet (if you want to be good at your job or get into an officer program). Also, I'm pretty sure that NR doesn't care if you have a Military Outstanding Volunteer Service Medal.
Being "Well Rounded" is great but I think it is often used as a crutch for people who are too lazy to be really good at one or two things. So, they settle for being mediocre at a bunch of things. You can focus on a few things and do well...it is a fallacy to think that you can spread your time between a dozen different projects and do well at all of them.
One thing I haven't been able to understand about STA-21 is when exactly you have to apply to college. I've yet to see that explicitly stated. Is it before or after you submit your STA-21 packet?
No one told me when to apply. Maybe that has changed (it probably has since it sounds like the process is much more organized). The command career counselor should be your guide but mine wasn't a lot of help. I just figured out when I would have to start school and applied before the deadline. You might have to apply before results come out. After the results come out you could probably talk to the NROTC unit, they will talk to the admissions office to get your application fast tracked. At least that is how it worked for me. The school I went to had spots set aside for applicants in the NECP program.
I can tell there are fail-safes against everything here. They know what mistakes students and instructors will make and are ready to prevent them.
I think that is why most "old timers" think power school is easier now. The students were their own failsafe when I went through. The students that made too many mistakes and didn't learn from them failed out. The fail safes are due to an emphasis on low attrition. The problem is that those "fail safes" don't exist in the fleet.