An academy is extremely different from the typical college experience, and one will not do well where one does not wish to be. Please, for the sake of his social and academic betterment, do not send him to an academy if he does not want to. Engineering programs benefit A LOT from funding and while MIT is no doubt the best, Univ. of Del. is highly underrated. It gets lots of funding from DuPont. In any case, though, the better the school, usually the higher endowment and the more financial need money they issue. So if you are truly in financial need, they'll cover you. To be completely blunt, though, if his only extra curriculars are boy scouts and some crew, he doesn't have very good chances at MIT.
According to US News the top 10 colleges OVERALL for engineering are: 1) MIT, 2) Stanford, 2)UC Berkeley, 4) Cal Tech, 4) Georgia Tech, 4) U of IL - Urbana Champaign, 7) U of Mich - Ann Arbor, 8) Cornell, 9) Carnegie Mellon and 9) Perdue.
For Mech Eng specifically they are: 1) MIT, 2) U Mich Ann Arbor, 3) UC Berkeley, 4) Georgia Tech and 5) Stanford.
Georgia Tech ranks in the top 5 in more engineering programs than any other university. Other public schools such as: University of Illinois - Urbana Champaign, University of California - Berkeley, University of Michigan - Ann Arbor and University of Wisconsin - Madison also have exceedingly good engineering programs.
Headhunter's son should definitely consider these top tier engineering institutions and see what kind of merit aid is available. They are a great value and have more highly rated programs than some of the well known privates such as: Princeton, Johns Hopkins, Northwestern, Rice, Columbia and Duke.
For many affordability is and should be a decision factor. It was for me.
What else would they want? Some sort of volunteer work? That stuff has always bewildered me btw: what does working in a soup kitchen have to do with engineering?
Checked MIT's site: volunteering isn't a big deal, self-development is higher -- such as earning an Eagle Scout.
First, even if they refuse to admit it, MIT gives more weight to SAT scores than ACT. The SAT is said to assess intellectual capacity whereas the ACT analyzes demonstrated learnings. Have your son take the SAT - consider reporting the score if 2250+.
Second, your son should get a job - Do some networking and help him land a summer position relating to engineering with a local company (or volunteer work supporting the city engineer or some university led engineering project).
At the end of the day, 4.0 unweighted GPAs and perfect superscored test results are quite common for MIT applicants and more than a few are denied admission. Find some impact activities that demonstrate initiative above and beyond the typical perfect applicant. An Impact applicant having a 2250 SAT score with ECs relating to engineering or entrepreneural leadership will likely be chosen over the 2400 SAT (36 ACT) applicant with only mainstream ECs (Eagle Scout is a nice accomplishment but, considered mainstream).
Many of the best private schools have large endowments that allow them to meet 100% of financial need, and do not allow student loans. These schools are looking for alumni donations and students saddled with debt can't donate. Don't make any decisions until you review the actual cost of the schools he gets accepted to and the financial package they offer. a military academy is a very specific school that provides a very specific experience. If your son doesn't respond to that environment he may leave school early and all that work in high school won't matter. Good luck!!