by Lisa Albro, former admissions officer at Goucher College
We recently discussed the relative merits of military academies and ROTC programs as a means to earn a four-year degree and an officer’s rank in the United States military. This week we take a more targeted look at some more specifics of ROTC programs.
If you’re interested in attending a traditional four-year college and embarking on a commitment to serve as an officer in the Army, Navy, or Air Force, you’re in luck! Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) programs can be found on over 1,700 college and university campuses in the United States. (The Coast Guard offers its own program, called the College Student Pre-Commissioning Initiative, or CSPI). In many cases, an ROTC scholarship is a way for students to pay for some or all of their college tuition—in exchange for several years of military service, of course.
How will I know if I’m eligible to participate in ROTC, you may ask. Will you be at least 17 years of age and have earned your high school diploma by the time you start college? Are you a U.S. citizen? If so, you can visit the ROTC website for the military branch that interests you and work on your application. This takes place concurrently with your applications to colleges, by the way. In fact, ROTC applicants need to provide many of the same items that are required for college applications: high school transcripts, recommendation letters, an account of extracurriculars, and standardized test scores. Applicants will also need to interview and pass a physical fitness test and medical exam.
While some students do join the program without scholarships, many seek the ROTC scholarship because it can be so generous. Initial acceptance into an ROTC program does not guarantee continued scholarship benefits, however; each military branch offers scholarships of varying durations, and all are competitive and merit-based. Of the three branches, the Army has the fewest stipulations about what majors and courses students must pursue while in college. The Navy and Air Force are more targeted about funding studies in specific majors, most often prioritizing STEM fields and world languages.
Let’s look at each branch and its respective details:
ArmyROTC is the U.S. military’s largest source of commissioned officers, with more than 1,100 colleges and universities offering programs. The merit-based scholarships provide up to the full cost of tuition, and may be available in two-, three-, and four-year amounts. Additionally, a monthly stipend and allowances for books and fees are possible. Cadets must complete one Army ROTC elective and one lab each semester. The Army requires four years of active duty, and four years of Inactive Ready Reserve from scholarship winners, and three years’ commitment from non-scholarship students. High school juniors may begin the process of applying by setting up a MY GOARMY account. The deadline to apply is no later than January 10 of the senior year in high school.
Navy ROTC students acquire merit-based four-year scholarships that include full tuition, fees, uniforms, a book stipend, and a monthly allowance. They must take coursework in calculus, physics, English, national security, cultural studies, and naval science, participate in weekly drills, and attend Summer Cruise Training. The Navy requires a service commitment of five years (although positions requiring longer training may require additional years of service). Students are encouraged to begin the application process in the junior year of high school. The application deadline is at the end of January of the senior year in high school.
Air Force ROTC awards three different types of scholarships: Type 1 (approximately 5% of four-year scholarships) are awarded to students majoring in technical fields such as engineering, meteorology, and chemistry that are deemed critical by the Air Force. Type 2 scholarships cover college tuition and most fees up to $18,000, and provide a book allowance to students in mostly technical fields. About 15% of AFROTC scholarship winners get Type 2 awards. Type 7 winners receive the cost of college tuition up to the equivalent of a public school’s in-state rate, (meaning that a Type 7 scholarship winner attending a private college will have to fund the difference between full tuition and the in-state rate for a public college), plus a book allowance. In college, students must not earn a grade less than C- in aerospace courses, and must pass Leadership Labs and complete the Air Force Officer Qualifying Test (AFOQT) during their junior year in college. Once commissioned, officers must serve at least four years on active duty. High school juniors should start the application process and will then apply by December 1 of the senior year in high school.
ROTC programs provide excellent training and, often, scholarships that help completely fund, or at least defray, the cost of college. In return, however, students must be willing to commit to years of military service. Students debating this route are encouraged to consider what this will mean for them in the long term.