Joining & Eligibility

Becoming an Officer

Commissioned officers generally enter the Military with a four-year college degree or greater. In certain cases, enlisted service members can advance and transition to officers during the course of their military career as well. 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.

How to Become a Military Officer

An overview of the various ways to become an officer.

Video Published on Aug 7, 2014

Length 2:11 View Transcript


Narrator: When it comes to choosing a career in the Military, it’s important to know what sort of work fits your skills, interests and future goals. Officer careers typically involve leadership roles like planning and directing military operations, strategically working with enlisted service members or serving in specialized medical or legal roles. Officer careers require a college degree. They offer great responsibility and personal satisfaction for those who decide to pursue them. These are the ways to become an officer.

Service academies and senior military colleges offer a four-year higher education experience while fully immersing students in military culture. Service academies offer full scholarships in return for a service commitment after graduation. senior military colleges, while a similar experience, require students to serve after graduation only if they receive ROTC scholarships.

The Reserve Officers' Training Corps, or ROTC, is a great way to see if the military lifestyle is the right fit for you during college. One weekend out of the month, students participate in ROTC training, a combination of field exercises and classroom education. The program offers selective scholarships if a student commits to serve after graduation.

Officer Candidate School (OCS), known as Officer Training School (OTS) in the Air Force, is an officer program for recruits who have a four-year degree and did not do an ROTC program. It teaches leadership skills, military culture and physical training over a 10- to 17-week period.

Direct commission officers 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 and religious studies. Because of their expertise, direct commission officers may have different age and training requirements than the norm.

Whatever path you choose, becoming an officer will begin a career offering a rewarding mixture of thought and action, in which critical skills learned in the classroom are put to the test in the field. And it’s all toward the vital goal of protecting our country.

Lieutenant Karin Evelyn
Lieutenant | Karin Evelyn Coast Guard

The Paths to Becoming an Officer

If you’re interested in serving as an officer, you have five options:

  • Attend a senior military college or service academy
  • Enroll at a traditional college or university with a Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) program
  • Attend Officer Candidate School (OCS) after graduating from college
  • Receive a direct commission after earning a professional degree
  • Advance through the enlisted ranks and then complete officer training

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.

Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) Program

ROTC  is a leadership training and development program that prepares full-time, college-enrolled students for service opportunities in the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force and Space Force. In return, participants commit to serving for a set period after graduation as officers in the Army, Marine Corps (through Navy ROTC), Navy, Air Force or Space Force (through Air Force ROTC). The Coast Guard does not offer ROTC, but does have a similar scholarship program called the College Student Pre-Commissioning Initiative (CSPI) for college juniors and seniors who demonstrate academic and leadership excellence and a desire to serve in the Coast Guard.

Today, ROTC programs are offered at more than 1,700 colleges and universities. Schools that have Army, Navy or Air Force ROTC programs offer four-year scholarships to college-bound high school students, and two- and three-year scholarships for students already in college.

Navy ROTC students have the option of joining the Navy or Marine Corps after graduation. Air Force ROTC students have a similar choice between joining the Air Force or Space Force.

Officer Candidate School (OCS)

After completing a four-year degree, graduates may enroll in 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.

The Marine Corps Platoon Leaders Course (PLC) is another alternative. It offers college students the opportunity to become commissioned officers in the United States Marine Corps.

In each program, students can expect courses that focus on military subjects, physical training and leadership skills.

Direct Commission

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 JAG Corps, Chaplain Corps and Medical Corps frequently employ DCOs.

DCOs are required to attend Officer Indoctrination School (OIS), Officer Development School (ODS) or the Direct Commission Officer Indoctrination Course (DCOIC), depending on which Service they join. College graduates who have been exposed to military training through any collegiate-level program may apply for the Coast Guard's Direct Commission Selected School (DCSS) program. 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 opportunities.

Non-Scholarship Programs

There are two non-scholarship paths to becoming an officer to consider.

The Army offers the Green-to-Gold Non-Scholarship Program. This officer-path option is for Soldiers who have completed two years of college and who complete certain college degree requirements in two years. Benefits of this program include a stipend, pay for attending the Cadet Leadership Course (CLC) and other incentives.

Another option is offered by the Air Force. Called the General Military Course, it is the first section of Air Force ROTC that is offered as a two-year course to college freshmen and sophomores who meet certain minimum requirements. It’s an excellent opportunity for students to try out the ROTC program without any obligation to join ROTC or serve.