The Ratline

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 purpose of the Rat Line is to assemble a class imbued with honor, discipline, pride, and respect. 

During their first few months at VMI, new cadets are called “rats,” the accepted term (since the 1850s) for a new cadet. 

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 and receive new privileges. 

The term “Rat Line,” refers specifically to the unique 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.

A typical day at VMI is not like a typical day at any other college.

6 a.m. or Earlier

Rats are woken up by their cadre (upper-class cadets). They roll up their “hay” (mattress), get ready, and arrive at the fourth stoop, or floor, of barracks by 6:40 a.m. They must complete some chores before Breakfast Roll Call (BRC).

7 a.m.

Morning formation, uniform inspection, and roll call.


All cadets march to Crozet Hall for breakfast.  Rats eat with rats, then march back to barracks and are dismissed for academic duty.

8 a.m.

Classes begin. The average cadet course load is 12 credit hours, but many cadets take more.


No formation. Cadets eat at Crozet Hall during their lunch break.

Classes Continue to 4 p.m.

Free time between classes is an opportunity to catch up on reading or complete assignments.

4:15 - 6:30 p.m. Activities

Cadets use this time for sports practice, club meetings, band and choir practice, and military activities.  On most Friday afternoons, the Corps marches in parades, which are popular visitor events.

Accountability Checks

Throughout the day and at night, cadets must be prepared for accountability checks. Cadets are expected to be in the right place, at the right time, in the right uniform, doing the right thing. If not in “all right status,” they are bound by the Honor Code to report their violation and accept the penalty.


Each day VMI holds a Retreat ceremony during which the U.S. and Virginia flags are lowered and the evening gun is fired.

7 p.m. Supper Roll Call

Cadets form up in front of barracks and march to supper to drum cadence.

7:45 - 11:15 p.m. Study Time

The end of the day is reserved for studying and academic pursuits. Cadets must be in an approved study area. Rats may study side by side with upper-class cadets, as the Rat Line hierarchy gives way to the demands of academics.

11:30 p.m. Taps

“Lights out,” or the end of duty for the day, is signaled by the playing of Taps at 11:30 p.m. Sunday through Thursday. Lights out on Friday is at midnight.

On Weekends

After Saturday morning activities, most of the Corps is free of any military or academic duty for the weekend. But not rats. Rats are usually confined to post for the entire fall semester. There is little time for recreation or leisure – the focus for rats is on training and academic studies.

On Sunday mornings, cadets may attend a service at a local church or a non-denominational service in the cadet chapel. Some cadets spend time with a local host family or enjoy Sunday afternoon in accordance with their privileges.