Commissioned officers generally enter the Military with a four-year college degree or greater, or receive officer training following tours of enlisted service. Officers are generally employed in management roles or highly specialized fields that require professional degrees (e.g., doctors, lawyers and chaplains). An officer’s education often determines which career he or she will have in the Military. In most cases, the candidate will meet with a military advisor or career counselor during college to select a potential job specialty.
An individual interested in serving as an officer has four options: Attend a Senior Military College or Academy, enroll at a traditional college or university with a Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) program, attend Officer Candidate School (OCS) after graduating from college or receive a direct commission after earning a professional degree.
Academies and Colleges
These highly competitive schools are virtually free of charge for those accepted. The government pays for each student’s tuition, room and board, uniform and books. Students are sometimes given a living stipend as well to help cover fees, a personal computer and other class supplies. In return, the student commits to serving as an officer for a set period after graduation, usually five years.
ROTC programs provide officer training for students during college in exchange for scholarship money. In return, the students commit to serving for a set period of time after graduation. ROTC programs are offered at many schools and allow the student to have a traditional college experience while preparing for his or her future as an officer.
Officer Candidate School
After completing a four-year degree, graduates may enroll in Officer Candidate School (OCS). This is also known as Officer Training School (OTS) in the Air Force. OCS/OTS varies in length between Services but generally lasts 9 to 17 weeks. Courses focus on military subjects, physical training and leadership skills.
Direct Commission Officers (DCOs) are civilians who have special skills needed for military operations. These are usually individuals who have earned professional degrees in fields such as medicine, law, religious studies, engineering or intelligence. Groups such as the Judge Advocate General’s (JAG) Corps, Chaplain Corps and Medical Corps frequently employ DCOs.
DCOs are required to attend Officer Indoctrination School (OIS), Officer Development School (ODS) or Direct Commission Officer School (DCO School), depending on which Service they join. Regular age limits and requirements may be waived for some of these positions. Since the Services’ needs change rapidly, it’s best to speak with a recruiter for up-to-date information about direct commission.
Transitioning from Enlisted to Officer
Some enlisted servicemembers make the transition into officer roles. Enlisted servicemembers with the right qualifications may be recommended by their commanding officers for OCS/OTS or ROTC (if they plan to go back to school). Most Services also have transitional programs that help servicemembers make the leap.
In addition, there are two other ways that enlisted servicemembers can earn an officer title. Warrant officers are promoted from the enlisted ranks for technical expertise and rank between the highest enlisted and lowest commissioned officers. Non-commissioned officers (NCOs) are high-ranking enlisted servicemembers who have been given officer-like authority by their superiors. Additional training is provided in both cases.