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Becoming a military officer is common in the career progression of servicemembers. Assuming an officer position in the military requires advanced education, including a four-year college degree, and the ability to make decisions under pressure. 

A promotion to the rank of a commissioned U.S. military officer comes with a variety of benefits, including a salary increase, educational benefits for advanced degrees, and the opportunity to hold a leadership position at an early age. 

To help you along in your journey to becoming a military officer, we’ve created a guide filled with key points to consider.

How to become an officer

Generally, there are four basic paths to becoming a military officer.

  1. The Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) is the most common way to become an officer. The program is offered at 1,700 colleges and universities across the country. Students are provided with leadership training and money for tuition in addition to a guaranteed job upon graduation. 
  2. Officer Candidate School (OCS), known in the Air Force as Officer Training School (OTS), is a program designed for graduates who have a four-year degree, but did not participate in an ROTC program. Additionally, enlisted servicemembers with 90 hours of college credit can enroll in the program to advance to the position of commissioned officer. 
  3. Service academies are the most competitive pathways to becoming a commissioned officer. The Army, Navy, Coast Guard, Air Force, and the U.S. Merchant Marines all offer a high-quality, no-cost, four-year education equivalent to that of civilian Ivy League schools. 

The four military service academies are:

  1. U.S. Military Academy at West Point (Army), West Point, New York
  2. U.S. Naval Academy (Navy and Marine Corps), Annapolis, Maryland
  3. U.S. Air Force Academy (Air Force), Colorado Springs, Colorado
  4. U.S. Coast Guard Academy (Coast Guard), New London, Connecticut

The U.S. Merchant Marine also provides a service academy, operating out of King’s Point, New York. Graduates of the Merchant Marine Academy are committed to serving in the Naval Reserve, although many opt to enlist in active duty upon graduation.

  1. Direct appointments are reserved for professionals, such as doctors, lawyers, and clergy. They receive abbreviated officer training and are then commissioned at a rank based on professional experience.

Officer positions in the military fall within several categories, including:

Commissioned Officers

  • An officer with specialized training and experience in areas such as law, engineering, or healthcare. Officers are required to have a college degree and are assigned positions after completion of an ROTC or OCS/OTS program.

Warrant Officers

  • Highly skilled technical experts in their field, specializing in areas including intelligence, aviation, or military police. Officers are not required to have a college degree, but must attend Warrant Officer Candidate School (WOCS) before receiving an appointment.

Non-commissioned Officers

  • A non-commissioned officer is outranked by commissioned officers. They are given missions and orders from commissioned officers, and they supervise lower ranks to ensure their assignments are done correctly.

General commissioning requirements

Each branch of the military sets its own standards for commissioned officers. The following qualifications provide a general overview of commissioning requirements.

Please note that requirements can change from time to time, so check with recruiting officials or admissions counselors to ensure that you meet the most up-to-date requirements.

Age

Candidates must be between 19 and 29 years of age for OCS/OTS, 17 and 21 years of age for ROTC, 17 and 22 years for the service academies.

Citizenship

Candidates must be U.S. citizens.

Physical Condition

Must meet the following physical standards: 

  • Height: Men must be between 5’ and 6’5”. Women must be between 4’10” and 6’5”.
  • Weight: There are minimum and maximum weights, according to age and height for males and females.
  • Vision: There are minimum vision standards.
  • Overall Health: Must be in good health and pass a medical exam. Certain diseases or conditions may exclude persons from enlistment.

Education

Candidates must have a four-year college degree from an accredited institution. Some occupations require an advanced degree or the completion of a four-year degree from a particular field.

Aptitude

Candidates must achieve the minimum entry score on an officer qualification test (or SAT, ACT, or Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB), depending on service.)

Need help preparing for a military exam? Check out Peterson’s Test Prep for online study courses and practice tests.

Educational Benefits

There are excellent educational benefits available for military members and veterans.

Tuition assistance programs are available to active duty military members, and servicemembers of the National Guard and Reserve. Each service branch has its own criteria for eligibility, and the amount awarded varies.

The Post-9/11 GI Bill is another source of funding for college tuition. The benefit must be used within a certain timeframe of the servicemember’s release from the military. The amount of the benefit is related to the length of time served in the military. Post-9/11 GI Bill education benefits may also be transferred to the spouse and children of the servicemember, and can be used for graduate studies to further the servicemember’s career trajectory.

Military officer occupations

Military officer job responsibilities range from low-level management to senior leadership. Officer occupations usually fall into the following categories:

  • Combat specialty officers
  • Engineering, science, and technical officers
  • Executive, administrative, and managerial officers
  • Health care officers
  • Human resource development officers
  • Media and public affairs officers
  • Protective service officers
  • Support services officers
  • Transportation officers

Advancing your career in the military will require hard work, determination, and a college degree. While the requirements for promotion differ by branch, servicemembers are encouraged to progress through the ranks into leadership positions. For more information pertaining to military servicemembers and veterans, visit Peterson’s Military Resource Center.

Information sourced from Peterson’s Master the Officer Candidate Tests, 9th Edition.