The Best Military Colleges

TBS Staff Writers
Updated February 26, 2024
Military academies provide learners with a complete postsecondary education and leadership training. In return for a four-year degree financially covered by the military.

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If you’re looking to make the most of your time in the military and after service, military academies are a great option.

Military academies can provide education that aligns with learners’ educational and professional goals, including college preparation for high school students. Most military colleges offer traditional degree options with an infusion of military-influenced leadership training, often through Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) programs. Many schools, like maritime colleges, offer programs relevant to specific branches of the military, though some take a more general approach.

Federal military academies offer full-ride funding for students who commit to postgraduate service, while most private and public military academies do not require military commitments from students.

Federal Military Academies

Federal military academies provide learners with a complete postsecondary education and leadership training. In return for a four-year degree financially covered by the government, graduates commit to serving in the military after finishing their training. Enrollees also typically receive free room and board during their studies. Typical postgraduate obligations ask for five years of service.

Students can choose from five federal military academies, each representing a branch of the armed forces. While graduates tend to enlist with their academy’s parent organization, they can also serve other segments of the military. To ensure they enroll only the top candidates, these academies have challenging admission requirements. Enrollees who do not complete their education or their service obligations typically need to repay their tuition to the government.

The five federal military academies vary in their application approaches and admission requirements. In general, applicants need strong academic achievements, physical capabilities, and leadership qualities. Along with academic training, enrollees participate in regular military training and preparation. Readers can find more information on the five federal military academies below.

Senior Military Colleges

Aspiring armed forces personnel can pursue college degrees while receiving leadership training in senior military colleges. Unlike federal military academies, these schools offer traditional higher education programs. Enrollees pay tuition while attending senior military colleges, and they do not commit to postgraduate military service. They can, however, serve with the Navy, Army, or Air Force after graduation. Learners can access branch-specific training, but they do not have to work in that same branch after graduation.

In general, students attend these colleges for four years. They may receive financial aid through the standard channels, including federal financial aid, though some schools offer additional support for junior- and senior-level students.

Admission requirements and programs for each of the senior military colleges vary. Applicants generally need strong grades and leadership potential for entry. Once enrolled, students combine academic and military training, similar to federal military programs, though program rigor varies. The following list highlights the six available senior military colleges.

Junior Military Colleges

Junior military colleges provide students with access to associate degrees alongside military and leadership training, though some may also offer bachelor’s programs. Enrollees typically attend these schools for two years and do not need to commit to postgraduate service.

Students at junior military colleges often pursue traditional financial aid pathways. For graduates who wish to serve in the military, most junior colleges offer branch-specific ROTC training in the Air Force, the Army, and the Navy. Students who want to serve with another branch after graduation can usually move between organizations.

The programs and admission requirements vary by school, but most junior colleges have flexible admission standards. Generally, applicants need a high school diploma or GED certificate, and some schools require SAT or ACT scores. These programs tend to combine traditional associate degree coursework with leadership and character-building training.

Maritime Colleges

Maritime colleges typically function like senior military colleges, but they emphasize maritime education and careers. Students can pursue bachelor’s and master’s degrees in shipping and transportation or take ROTC programs in various military branches. While some maritime colleges offer only Navy or Marine pathways, others also run ROTC programs for ground branches. The programs typically focus on maritime-related studies, often embedding leadership training and sea-term internships in the curricula.

Like other non-federal military colleges, maritime colleges do not offer government-covered tuition. Students can, however, access traditional financial aid options, or they can pursue commissioned pathways that may offer further financial support. While few maritime college programs have postgraduate service obligations, some may require service commitments, and others request that students participate in volunteer service after graduation.

Admission requirements typically align with other military colleges. An applicant typically needs a high school diploma or GED certificate, SAT or ACT scores, and professional letters of recommendation.

College-Prep Military Schools

Like traditional high schools, college-prep military schools help students transition into college. College-prep military schools tend to offer rigorous academic and leadership training, emphasizing character-building and strict codes of conduct. Students typically attend these institutions for 4-5 years.

While enrollees may go on to serve in the military, these schools rarely require postgraduate commitments from students. College-prep military schools have demanding academic and character requirements for admission, but they can equip graduates with the skills and qualifications required to enter some of the nation’s best military and traditional colleges. Some prep academies do offer commissioning options, which may require learners to commit to service or additional training after graduation.

Resources for Military Students

While the above information is a great starting point for aspiring military academy students, it is best to conduct your own research. The following resources offer more information about finding financial aid and transitioning between military or civilian careers.

Frequently Asked Questions

Admission into military academies typically requires a similar application process as admission to traditional colleges and universities. Most schools require applicants to submit high school transcripts, SAT or ACT scores, and letters of recommendation. The most prestigious academies have the most competitive admission standards.

People attend military academies for many reasons. Some students attend these schools to prepare for military service, though not all academies require postgraduate service. Others are more interested in the free tuition offered by federal academies, which do require service after graduation. Many learners attend these schools with no military aspirations at all, instead choosing the institutions for their facilities, programs, or leadership training.

Many students attend college while in the military. Whether they attend military colleges or traditional schools, military professionals can receive an education whenever they like. Many pursue college before entering the military, but active-duty service members can also seek degrees, and individuals deployed in the armed forces can take online courses. It is also common for retired service members to pursue degrees.

Finishing college before entering the military can allow students to pursue their intended professions while in the military, especially for roles like engineer. However, the military offers plenty of options for education during and after service. Service members can finish college before, during, or after joining the military and usually receive financial support for each pathway.

GI Bill® is a registered trademark of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). More information about education benefits offered by VA is available at the official U.S. government Web site at

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