The U.S. military is an expansive, sophisticated, and multi-faceted entity. Including active duty and reserve servicemembers, more than two million Americans contribute their knowledge, skills, and abilities to the various branches of our armed forces.
This means that in addition to enlisting as a soldier, you have a wide range of long-term career opportunities within the military itself. This is true whether you’re a college student without service experience, a current servicemember, or a veteran attending college or university with your GI benefits.
The military makes a wide range of opportunities available to you as an aspiring career servicemember. In many cases, these opportunities will require you to complete certain training programs, to meet certain criteria within the context of your service and, increasingly, to hold desirable college and graduate degrees in areas of value to the U.S. armed forces.
Read on to learn about the various opportunities for advancing a long-term military career, including pathways to:
If you’re just at the beginning of your path and are interested in cultivating a long-term military career, your first step should be to reach out to an army recruiter. Whether you’re interested in starting as an enlisted soldier, a military academy cadet, or a university student, get in touch with your recruiting office to discuss career options. This is an opportunity to explore your short- and long-term plans with a recruitment officer and to map out the steps you’ll need to take.
This process can help you decide whether your move will be to a military base, an academy hall, or a college campus.
Find a Recruiter
Begin your recruitment search by reaching out to a recruiter in your selected branch of service:
To explore your options in the U.S. Army, use the Locate a Recruiter portal and make contact with a local Army Recruiter. If you’re planning on attending a college or university, you can use this same portal to find an ROTC advisor.
- Speak with a Navy recruiter
- Speak with an Air Force recruiter
- Speak with a recruiter for the U.S. Marines
- Speak with a National Guard recruiter
- Speak with a Coast Guard recruiter
If you’re interested in joining the Reserves in lieu of active duty service, discuss this preference with the recruiter specific to your branch of service.
The Recruitment Process
GoArmy.com outlines the recruitment process for joining the U.S. Army. This process will help you determine the best path for your skill set, interests, and aptitude. (Use this as a model for recruitment expectations in all branches of the military, but be sure to reach out to your branch’s recruiting offices for branch-specific details.)
- 1. Meet With a Recruiter — Make an appointment to visit your local recruiting station, where you’ll provide personal background information, take a brief Army Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB), and have an entrance interview. You can also determine your service eligibility in advance through online prescreening.
- 2. Prepare Your Required Documents — These will include the following:
- Proof of citizenship
- Social Security card
- Valid Driver’s License/State ID
- Direct Deposit form from your checking account signed by bank official
- Original or Certified copies of marriage certificate/divorce decree/separation order (if applicable)
- Original or certified copies of birth certificates for children under 18/affidavit of support from parents/child or spousal support court documents and direct deposit forms (if applicable)
- If married to service member, spouse’s name, Social Security number, and military address
- Copies of lease agreements/rental contracts for dependents outside of government quarters (if applicable)
- Original or certified ROTC documentation (if applicable)
- Original college transcripts; GED or high school diploma
- 3. Academic Evaluation — You’ll take a fuller version of the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB), a multiple-choice test used to highlight your strength strengths and identify which Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) or Army job best suits you. Click here to take a Sample ASVAB.
- 4. Physical Fitness Evaluation — Schedule an appointment with your local Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS) to determine your level of physical fitness and what roles this fitness might qualify you for.
- 5. Army Careers — Use the Army Career Explorer to find a match between your ASVAB score and one of more than 150 career paths within the military. This is the point in the process where you’ll use your recruitment insights to determine the next steps on your way to a career in the military. This will also give you a sense of whether your next step will be into the military or into a college or university.
- 6. Prep For Basic Combat — If your next step is directly into military service, you’ll begin your preparation for basic combat training, including the U.S. Army Oath of Enlistment, and the initiation of your own week-long Basic Training program. Click here to learn more about Basic Combat Training, including what you’ll need to bring and what you’ll need to know before you arrive.
If your next move is to an academy or college campus, rather than a military base, read on:
Consider Military Academies
If you are at the start of both your military career and your education, or you’ve completed a length of service and are now interested in studying to become a career officer in the military, you may want to consider a military academy. If you gain access into one of these highly-regarded institutions, you will likely receive a full scholarship, which can include funding for tuition, housing, books and even some living expenses.
There are two important factors to consider before you seek admission into a military academy. First and foremost, these are highly rigorous schools, which means that the competition for admission is fierce, as are the academic, physical, and conduct standards you’ll be required to keep during your attendance. Second, admission to one of these academies typically comes with a service commitment of specified length and terms. Be sure that you are prepared to make this commitment before enrolling in a military academy.
Click here for more details and a list of military academies for each branch of service.
Find Military Friendly Schools
Whether you’re a veteran transitioning into an education, or an aspiring cadet beginning both your training and your education at the college level, seek out a school that understands, addresses, and embraces military students. Look for colleges and universities that allow you to best capitalize on your GI benefits, that offer accelerated and part-time programs for working veterans, veterans services and centers, online scholarship options, credits for lifetime/military experience, strong ROTC programs, functional mental health support services, wide selections of entirely online programs, and significant populations of military students.
Start your search here: The Best Online Colleges for Military Personnel & Families.
If you’re uncertain of which path is right for you, or you have any unanswered questions about the process, the benefits, or the opportunities ahead of you, reach out and find a recruiter near you. Use the Army’s Locate a Recruiter portal and get started.
Becoming an Officer
There are several paths to becoming a Commissioned Officer, most of which involve a formal higher education and the acquisition of a pertinent degree. There are some paths to becoming an officer within the context of the military itself, which we’ll outline below. However, a college and/or graduate education is among the most effective ways to initiate a long-term military career with prospects for continuing advancement.
There are essentially three paths to becoming an administrative officer by way of higher education:
Military Academies and Colleges
As noted above, military academies and colleges are among the most direct routes to becoming an officer. These highly selective schools offer free tuition and rigorous training in exchange for a commitment — typically of five years — to serve as an officer. Check out our Military Academies to learn more.
If you plan on attending a college or university that is not directly affiliated with the military, you’ll want to seek one of the United States' 1,700 schools offering a Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC). Founded in 1916, the ROTC prepares students to become military officers. As with attendance at a military academy, when you join the ROTC program, the cost of your college education is covered, including housing and books. You’ll have a guaranteed job the day you graduate college. In exchange, you will be required to commit to a certain period of service in the military. You can make this commitment either upon high school graduation or at any time during your first two years of college. Each branch of the military administrates its own ROTC program. If you do not already have a four-year degree and wish to become an officer, this is the most accessible path to doing so. Follow the links below to find the program that best suits you:
You can also check out The Best Colleges for Military and their Families to learn more about ROTC programs at some of the best schools in the US.
The Coast Guard does not offer an ROTC program but does offer a Coast Guard Split Training Program. If you’re interested in officer training for the Coast Guard and fall between the ages of 17 and 31, Visit the official Coast Guard website to learn more about Coast Guard Split Training and other education and training programs.
If you’re a military veteran making the transition from service to college on your path to becoming an officer, visit our Complete Guide On Using Your G.I. Bill and check out our tips for easing the transition process. These resources can help you move from enlisted service to an educational pathway that can ultimately help you become an officer and leader in the U.S. military.
Officer Candidate School
If you already have a four-year degree, or are making plans to transition from a four-year degree program, and you would like to become an officer, you’ll want to look into Officer Candidate School (OCS). An OCS program will provide you with the knowledge and skills required to serve as an officer in the armed forces. Your education will combine classroom instruction and training exercises designed to arm you with critical leadership skills. Each branch administrates its own OCS program:
Transitioning From Enlisted to Officer
There is one path to a career as an officer even if you don’t have a formal degree. If you’re already serving and you’re interested in pursuing officer training within the context of the military, the following paths offer you opportunities for branch-specific leadership development and career advancement:
- Army Warrant Officers
- Marine Enlisted Commissioning Education Program (MECEP)
- Navy Seaman-to-Admiral (STA-21) Program
- Air Force Airman Education and Commissioning Program (AECP)
- Coast Guard Pre-Commissioning Program for Enlisted Personnel (PPEP)
Filling Specialized Positions
In addition to becoming an administrative officer, the focus of your education and the level of your degree can qualify you for an array of specialized roles. If you’re considering a long-term military career, there are a few key areas with exploring, especially as you make critical decisions about your education.
If you already have your degree in a particular area of interest to the military, you could become an officer by way of Direct Commission. Direct Commission Officers (DCOs) are those with a background and education in certain areas, particularly in law, medicine, religion, and cyber technology. To become a DCO, you’ll need to hold a degree in your area of specialization and complete the officer training program specific to this area. If you’ve already earned the relevant undergraduate and graduate degrees, you can proceed by clicking on the link that applies to your area of specialization. For instance:
- The JAG Corps (Law)
- Health Professions Scholarship Program (HPSP) (Medicine)
- Chaplain Corps (Religious officers)
- Military Cyber (Cyber crime defense and protection)
If you think you’d be interested in becoming a Commissioned Officer, take a look at Go Army’s Interactive Tool and find out if this career path makes sense for you.
You can also begin by exploring high priority areas of recruitment. If you’re interested in exploring a career in any of these areas, you’ll likely need to undergo a recruitment process; earn a bachelor’s degree, or in some cases, a graduate degree; and subsequently complete the relevant military training programs.
Click on the following recruitment links to learn about the expectations, job prospects, and education criteria for each of the following military career areas:
The military also employs a large civilian sector comprised of an extremely wide range of skills sets. Click here to take a look at civilian service opportunities in the military, how you can qualify, and how you can apply.
Click here to view a fuller list of specialized opportunities for career service members.
Click here to explore career opportunities in the Army Reserve.
For more information and resources on getting a quality education, earning a degree, or getting a great job, return to the Military Education Headquarters.