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Before You Serve

Before serving in the Military, there are a few things a young adult can do to prepare. The ASVAB Career Exploration Program can help young adults discover suitable jobs. Likewise, they must meet certain requirements to serve, including age, educational and physical prerequisites. Once committed to service, training begins in the form of boot camp (officially called Initial Entry Training). College students interested in entering the Service as officers may elect to enroll in their school’s Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) program or other service-oriented commissioning programs. Military academies and colleges provide another route to a college degree and officer status.

ASVAB Test


With thousands of different jobs for enlisted personnel and officers, there’s a lot to do in the Military. The ASVAB Career Exploration Program can help young adults identify and explore potentially satisfying occupations and develop effective strategies to realize career goals.

The ASVAB (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery) is one of the most widely used, multiple-aptitude tests in the world, developed and maintained by the Department of Defense. More than half of all high schools nationwide administer the ASVAB test to students in grades 10, 11 and 12 (sophomores cannot use their scores for enlistment eligibility). Students may also take the test at another school or through a recruiter and may retake the test at any time.

The ASVAB consists of the following eight individual tests:

  • General Science
  • Arithmetic Reasoning
  • Word Knowledge
  • Paragraph Comprehension
  • Mathematics Knowledge
  • Electronics Information
  • Auto and Shop Information
  • Mechanical Comprehension

Students are provided with scores on each of these individual tests and three Career Exploration Score composites: Verbal Skills, Math Skills and Science and Technical Skills. The battery takes approximately three hours to complete, and test results are returned to schools in a few weeks.

The Military uses students’ ASVAB scores to identify the occupations that best suit their abilities. Junior, senior and postsecondary school students can use their ASVAB scores for enlistment for up to two years after taking the test

Review Military Entrance Requirements


While the Service branches have similar entrance requirements, each has its own admission standards based on the amount and type of recruits needed. The requirements listed here apply to the U.S. Military as a whole. For more specifics, it’s best to contact a recruiter.

Age Requirements


Each branch of the Service has different requirements. Minimum entrance-age requirements are 17 with parental consent or 18 without parental consent.

Review a chart of age requirements

Keep in mind almost all male U.S. citizens, and male aliens living in the U.S., who are 18 through 25, are required to register with Selective Service.

Learn more about the Selective Service System

Physical Requirements


Because of the varying physical demands on service members in each branch, physical requirements vary greatly. These differences can vary even within each branch of the Service. Generally speaking, potential service members should be in good physical condition, of appropriate weight and able to pass a standard physical screening prior to entry. For more specific information, please contact a recruiter.

Educational Requirements


Success in any branch of the Military depends on a good education, and a high school diploma is most desirable. Candidates with a GED (General Education Development certificate) can enlist, but some Services may limit opportunities. It is very difficult to be considered a serious candidate without either a high school diploma or accepted alternative credential. In any case, staying in school is important for entering the Military.

Citizenship Requirements


U.S. citizens or Permanent Resident Aliens (people who have an INS I-151/I-551 “Green Card”) may join the U.S. Military. For more information about citizenship, visit the U.S. Immigration and Nationalization (INS) website.

Properly documented non-citizens may enlist. However, opportunities may be limited. Contact a recruiter for more advice on a specific situation.

For enlistment purposes, the United States includes Guam, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Northern Marianas Islands, American Samoa, the Federated States of Micronesia, the Marsh Boot Camp


Basic Training – often called boot camp – prepares recruits for all elements of service: physical, mental and emotional. It gives service members the basic tools necessary to perform the roles that will be asked of them for the duration of their tour. Each of the Services has its own training program, tailoring the curriculum to the specialized nature of its role in the Military.

No matter which branch of the Service a recruit chooses, Basic Training is an intense experience. However, 91 percent complete their first 6 months of service. The purpose of this training isn’t to “break” recruits. In fact, the combination of physical training, field exercises and classroom time makes individuals strong and capable. It’s a tough process, but a rewarding one that many service members value for life.

Before Boot Camp


To succeed in boot camp, young adults should prepare themselves physically and mentally. Daily cardio, weight training, push-ups and sit-ups are a must. They should also practice arriving early on a regular basis and sticking to a strict schedule. Finally, potential recruits should delegate personal affairs to family or friends so they can focus on their training. For example, they will need to figure out who will pay the bills, collect the mail and manage any bank accounts while they are at boot camp.

What Not to Bring to Boot Camp


Proper packing can help ease the transition from civilian life to boot camp. The following list of what not to bring can help. Check with a recruiter for a comprehensive list.

Do Not Bring:

  • Family
  • Pets
  • Expensive personal items – laptop, camera, radio, digital music player, jewelry, etc.
  • Nonprescription drugs or drug paraphernalia
  • Weapons of any type, including pocketknives
  • Obscene or pornographic material
  • Alcoholic beverages
  • Playing cards/dice/dominoes
  • Cigarettes/tobacco products

NOTE: This list should only be used as a guideline. For more detailed information, contact a recruiter.

Boot Camp Orientation


While each Service has different training schedules and requirements, the orientation process is basically the same across Services. During this time, new recruits might:

  • Turn in enlistment packages (paperwork from the MEPS)
  • Receive dental and medical exams
  • Get immunizations
  • Receive uniforms and training gear (shorts/sweats, t-shirts, etc.)
  • Receive required haircuts (women can keep their hair long provided it can be worn within regulation)
  • Create direct-deposit accounts for paychecks

Starting at orientation, the actual training begins. This varies from Service to Service and lasts between eight and 12 weeks.

all Islands and Palau.

Boot Camp


Basic Training – often called boot camp – prepares recruits for all elements of service: physical, mental and emotional. It gives service members the basic tools necessary to perform the roles that will be asked of them for the duration of their tour. Each of the Services has its own training program, tailoring the curriculum to the specialized nature of its role in the Military.

No matter which branch of the Service a recruit chooses, Basic Training is an intense experience. However, 91 percent complete their first 6 months of service. The purpose of this training isn’t to “break” recruits. In fact, the combination of physical training, field exercises and classroom time makes individuals strong and capable. It’s a tough process, but a rewarding one that many service members value for life.

Before Boot Camp


To succeed in boot camp, young adults should prepare themselves physically and mentally. Daily cardio, weight training, push-ups and sit-ups are a must. They should also practice arriving early on a regular basis and sticking to a strict schedule. Finally, potential recruits should delegate personal affairs to family or friends so they can focus on their training. For example, they will need to figure out who will pay the bills, collect the mail and manage any bank accounts while they are at boot camp.

What Not to Bring to Boot Camp


Proper packing can help ease the transition from civilian life to boot camp. The following list of what not to bring can help. Check with a recruiter for a comprehensive list.

Do Not Bring:

  • Family
  • Pets
  • Expensive personal items – laptop, camera, radio, digital music player, jewelry, etc.
  • Nonprescription drugs or drug paraphernalia
  • Weapons of any type, including pocketknives
  • Obscene or pornographic material
  • Alcoholic beverages
  • Playing cards/dice/dominoes
  • Cigarettes/tobacco products

NOTE: This list should only be used as a guideline. For more detailed information, contact a recruiter.

Boot Camp Orientation


While each Service has different training schedules and requirements, the orientation process is basically the same across Services. During this time, new recruits might:

  • Turn in enlistment packages (paperwork from the MEPS)
  • Receive dental and medical exams
  • Get immunizations
  • Receive uniforms and training gear (shorts/sweats, t-shirts, etc.)
  • Receive required haircuts (women can keep their hair long provided it can be worn within regulation)
  • Create direct-deposit accounts for paychecks

Starting at orientation, the actual training begins. This varies from Service to Service and lasts between eight and 12 weeks.

Officer Candidate School


Officer Candidate School (OCS), known as Officer Training School (OTS) in the Air Force, is essentially the equivalent of enlisted Basic Training for those interested in becoming officers. There are three types of people who attend OCS/OTS:

  • Graduates from a traditional four-year college or university
  • Enlisted service members transitioning into officer roles
  • Direct Commission Officers (DCOs) with specialized skills or professional degrees

While duration and type of training varies among the Services, all teach military subjects, leadership skills and physical training. The goal is to prepare recruits for the challenges of officer life, from managing others to understanding military culture and law. You can learn more about specific programs and classes by visiting the Service-specific websites listed in the table below.

ROTC Programs


Founded in 1926, ROTC stands for Reserve Officer Training Corps. It’s a college program offered at more than 1,000 colleges and universities across the United States that prepares young adults to become officers in the U.S. Military. In exchange for a paid college education and a guaranteed post-college career, cadets commit to serve in the Military after graduation. As detailed below, each Service branch has its own take on ROTC.

Army ROTC


Army ROTC is one of the most demanding and successful leadership programs in the country. The training a student receives in Army ROTC teaches leadership development, military skills and career training. Courses take place both in the classroom and in the field and are mixed with normal academic studies. Additional summer programs, such as Jump School, may also be attended. Upon completion, an Army ROTC graduate is awarded officer status in the Army.

Learn more about Army ROTC

Navy and Marine Corps ROTC


As the largest single source of Navy officers, the Navy ROTC program plays an important role in preparing young adults for leadership and management positions in the increasingly technical Navy. Offered at more than 160 leading colleges and universities throughout the U.S., the Navy ROTC offers a mixture of military training and normal academic study. Courses take place both in the classroom and in the field. Upon completion, an NROTC graduate is awarded officer status and the ability to choose an officer career in surface warfare, naval aviation, submarine or special warfare.

Aspiring Marine Corps officers also participate in Navy ROTC. The ROTC academic curriculum for a Marine Corps-option student requires classes in national security policy and the history of American military affairs, in addition to the regular academic requirements for the student’s degree.

Learn more about Navy-option ROTC
Learn more about Marine-option ROTC

Air Force ROTC


The Air Force ROTC mission is to produce leaders for the Air Force and build better citizens for America. Headquartered in Montgomery, Ala., the Air Force ROTC commands 144 units at college and university campuses throughout the United States. Air Force ROTC offers a four-year program and a two-year program, both based on Air Force requirements and led by active-duty Air Force officers. Courses are a mix of normal college classes and Air Force ROTC curriculum, which covers everything from leadership studies to combat technique. Upon completion, a student enters the Air Force as an officer.

Learn more about Air Force ROTC

Coast Guard Student Reserve


Unlike other Service branches, the Coast Guard does not have an ROTC program. However, high school seniors, college and vocational students between the ages of 17 and 30 can enroll in the Coast Guard Student Reserve Program, though some Reserve and Officer programs allow you to be older. Enlistees train for two summers and serve one weekend a month during the school year. Schooling continues uninterrupted. They receive pay for their weekend service and, after training is complete, begin Reserve duty. For more information, contact a recruiter.

Service Academies and Senior Military Colleges


For students who would like to experience a military environment while getting a first-class education, the five Service academies – the U.S. Military Academy (Army) in West Point, N.Y.; the U.S. Naval Academy (Navy/Marine Corps) in Annapolis, Md.; the U.S. Air Force Academy (Air Force) in Colorado Springs, Colo.; the U.S. Coast Guard Academy (Coast Guard) in New London, Conn.; and the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, N.Y. – offer an outstanding education and full four-year scholarships. Tuition, books, board and medical and dental care are all fully paid for all four years.

Midshipmen at the United States Merchant Marine Academy receive from the Federal Government their education, room and board, uniforms, and books. However, midshipmen are responsible for the payment of fees for mandatory educational supplies not provided by the government, such as the prescribed personal computer; activity fees (athletic, cultural events, health services, student newspaper, yearbook, etc.); and personal fees (self service laundry, barber shop, and tailoring charges).

The competition to get in is fierce. Admissions criteria include:

  • High school academic performance
  • Standardized test scores (SAT or ACT)
  • Athletics and extracurricular activities
  • Leadership experience and community involvement
  • A congressional letter of recommendation (not required by the Coast Guard Academy)

Graduates of all four academies receive a Bachelor of Science degree and are commissioned as officers in their respective Service branch. In all cases, there is a service obligation of a minimum of five years.

Compare Service Academies

Similarly, the Senior Military Colleges (SMCs) offer a combination of higher education with military instruction. SMCs include Texas A&M University, Norwich University, The Virginia Military Institute, The Citadel, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech), North Georgia College & State University and the Mary Baldwin Women’s Institute for Leadership. SMCs are among the most prestigious and famous education institutions in the world and they offer financial aid packages for eligible students. Every cadet must participate in the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) program, but only those cadets who receive an ROTC scholarship are required to enter military service following graduation. For example, about half of Virginia Military Institute’s cadets earn commissions as second lieutenants (Army, Marine Corps, Air Force) or ensigns (Navy).

Compare Senior Military Colleges

An additional option for students is Maritime academies. The United States Merchant Marine is the fleet of civilian-owned merchant ships that transport cargo and passengers on behalf of the United States. In times of war, the Merchant Marine is an auxiliary to the Navy and can be called upon to deliver service members and supplies for the Military.

Maritime academies also produce shipboard officers for vessels integral to shipping and transportation needs, but a service commitment is not always required.