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While it’s common knowledge that basic training sets recruits on the pathway toward becoming an enlisted service member, those with a desire for leadership opportunities and a bachelor’s degree can take another route into a military career — as a commissioned officer.
The Reserve Officers’ Training Corps program for college students and Officer Candidate School or Officer Training School for graduates are great options for those who want to earn a four-year college degree before joining the military. Each service branch offers both ROTC and officer schools as entry points to an officer commission.
The benefits of joining the military after college
Joining the military as a commissioned officer can offer the best of both worlds for those who want the college experience but who also want to serve their country. The benefits include:
- A guaranteed job after college
- A leadership role at a young age
- Higher pay than joining as an enlisted military member
- Greater opportunities for promotion and training
Rising through ROTC
The ROTC program prepares students to become military officers while they pursue a four-year degree at an accredited college. ROTC is offered at more than 1,700 colleges and universities nationwide.
The Army, Navy and Air Force each offer four-year ROTC scholarships to college-bound high school students, and two- and three-year scholarships for students already in college. Navy ROTC students have the option of joining the Marine Corps after graduation.
The scholarships help pay for tuition and books and includes a monthly stipend for living expenses. ROTC students who accept scholarships commit to service as an officer after graduation. The military service obligation varies according to branch, but ranges from three to eight years.
Enrolling in ROTC
Enrollment requirements differ among service branches, but in general, ROTC candidates are required to:
- Be a United States citizen
- Be at least 17 years old and on schedule to receive their college degree before age 27
- Score above a certain minimum on the SAT or ACT standardized tests
- Meet physical fitness requirements for their branch of service
- Receive medical clearance
How ROTC works
While there are differences among each service branch, as an ROTC cadet, you can expect to:
- Take courses in military science, leadership and related topics alongside your regular college curriculum
- Participate in regular drills and summer training activities
- Maintain a minimum grade point average during college
Army ROTC graduates earn a commission as a second lieutenant and continue their training in their specific branch at Basic Officer Leaders’ Course. Navy and Air Force ROTC graduates continue their training at Officer Candidate or Training School before receiving their commission as a second lieutenant.
Learn more about the ROTC program at each service branch:
From officer school to officer
The Army and Marine Corps call it Officer Candidate School. In the Navy and Air Force, it’s Officer Training School. No matter its name, this intensive training program will prepare you mentally and physically for the demands of being a commissioned military officer.
Requirements for officer school
Being a U.S. citizen and having a four-year college degree or higher are the bare minimum requirements for officer school. Beyond that, the selection process is highly competitive across service branches. Candidates must meet physical standards, may have to pass a qualifying test, and demonstrate that they have leadership ability, integrity, dependability, academic discipline and adaptability.
About Officer School
Officer school spans 9 ½ to 12 weeks, depending on your branch of service. During that time, you will begin to develop the qualities of an officer, including military bearing, teamwork and the ability to perform under pressure and under adverse conditions.
Curriculum varies according to service, but in general, training school includes:
- Regular physical conditioning and physical fitness tests
- Academic classes in military subjects, leadership and ethics, and other subjects
- Military training, including inspections and drills
Learn more about Officer Training School and Officer Candidate School by service branch.
- Army Officer Candidate School
- Marine Corps Officer Candidates School
- Navy Officer Candidate School
- Air Force Officer Training School
Other paths to becoming a military officer
Attending officer school after college is just one way to earn a commission in the military. There are other paths as well:
- Attend a military service academy. Each branch of the military has a four-year university that offers full scholarships to its students. Graduates serve as commissioned officers in the military. Acceptance into these academies is highly competitive.
- Advance through the enlisted ranks. Enlistees may use their military education benefits to earn a four-year degree, then apply to officer school.
- Receive a direct commission after earning a professional degree, such as a medical, law or religious studies degree. Direct commission officers are required to attend officer training. This is a good option for civilians who want to serve their country and who have special skills to offer.
You can learn more about joining the military as a commissioned officer by contacting a recruiter from your service branch or calling Military OneSource at 800-342-9647.