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    What is ROTC and Is It a Fit for You?

    By Zach Skillings

    Zach Skillings is the Scholarships360 Newsletter Editor. He specializes in college admissions and strives to answer important questions about higher education. When he’s not contributing to Scholarships360, Zach writes about travel, music, film, and culture. His work has been published in Our State Magazine, Ladygunn Magazine, The Nocturnal Times, and The Lexington Dispatch. Zach graduated from Elon University with a degree in Cinema and Television Arts.

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    Updated: March 8th, 2022
    What is ROTC and Is It a Fit for You?

    For students looking to go to college and join the military, the ROTC is an attractive option. This military training program is a popular choice among students looking to earn a college degree while also jump starting their career in the Armed Forces. Not to mention, college scholarship opportunities are available for students who join the ROTC

    What is ROTC?

    The Reserve Officers’ Training Corps is a program designed to train college students for future service as officers in the U.S. military. ROTC programs are available for the Army, Air Force, and Navy and Marine Corps. In addition to their regular courses, Training Corps students take military science courses to prepare for duty in their chosen branch of the Armed Forces. The ROTC also offers scholarship opportunities, which we’ll explore in the next section. 

    How do ROTC scholarships work?

    In many cases, ROTC scholarships cover the full cost of tuition along with room and board. Book allowances and living stipends are also provided. Scholarships are awarded in two ways. Students can compete for a scholarship during their senior year of high school, 

    or they can join the ROTC in college and apply for a scholarship to fund their remaining years. Keep in mind that not all students who join the ROTC receive scholarships. 

    Students who receive the scholarship in high school receive four years of full tuition. If you’re already in college, there’s two- and three-year scholarships available as well. The scholarship amount depends upon when you apply. Whether you’re a high school or college student, there are a number of scholarship opportunities for the Army, Air Force, and Navy

    To be eligible for a scholarship, students must:

    • Be a U.S. citizen
    • Have at least a 2.5 GPA (3.0 for Air Force ROTC)
    • Meet minimum SAT and/or ACT requirements
    • Have a high school diploma
    • Be at least 17 years of age
    • Meet prescribed physical fitness standards

    Upon accepting an ROTC scholarship, students must fulfill a number of obligations to maintain their scholarship. Let’s take a look at the expectations that come along with an ROTC scholarship:

    Service commitment 

    Accepting a Training Corps scholarship means that you’re committing to serve in the U.S. military once you graduate from college. One of the benefits of being an ROTC graduate is that you’ll join the military at the officer level. This means you won’t have to work your way up through entry-level military positions. Service obligations vary from 3 to 12 years, depending on which branch of the Armed Forces you’re joining. 

    Courses and training

    If you receive a scholarship, you will take ROTC courses in addition to your regular college classes. You’ll learn about the history, structure, and function of the military branch that you’ll be joining. ROTC students also receive military training focusing on leadership theory, field operations and tactics, and physical fitness. 

    Summer programs

    In addition to their on-campus training during the school year, ROTC cadets also attend military programs during the summer. These programs typically last about a month and focus on physical conditioning, weapon handling, and survival skills. 

    See also: Top ROTC scholarships 

    Can I join ROTC without committing to the military?

    Joining the ROTC isn’t automatically attached to a service obligation. Students who aren’t interested in a post-college military commitment can participate in the program for a shorter amount of time. For instance, Army ROTC allows a two-year trial period during which you’re not required to commit to the Army. Just keep in mind that you won’t receive any scholarship money if you’re participating in a trial period. Once you accept a scholarship, however, you’re committing yourself to service after college. 

    Related: What are American Military Universities

    Types of ROTC programs

    As we’ve mentioned, there are a few different types of ROTC programs. Each program tailored toward a specific branch of the military, and presents its own unique opportunities and service requirements. 

      Army  Air Force Navy and Marine Corps
    Availability 1,100 campus programs 1,100 campus programs 160+ campus programs
    Service Obligations  8 years (may be fulfilled through combination of Active Duty and Inactive Ready Reserve) 4-10 years depending on your career 3-12 years depending on your path after college
    Training Topics Army leadership, military tactics, principles of war, and combat survival training Laws of armed conflict, international security, aerospace studies, and field training Summer cruise training, surface warfare orientation, flight time on navy aircraft, and maritime self-defense
    Potential Career Specialties  Infantry, Military Intelligence, Civil Affairs, Medical Corps Air Battle Management, Aircraft Maintenance, Cyberspace Operations, Piloting, and Tactical Air Control Submarine, Explosive Ordinance Disposal, US Marine Corps, Navy Nursing Corps
    Physical Fitness Requirements Scholarship cadets must pass an Army Physical Fitness Test with a minimum of 180 points Scholarship cadets must score at least 75 points on the Physical Fitness Test twice a year. Non-scholarship cadets must take the test, but do not need to pass. Pass the Applicant Fitness Assessment (AFA) before enrolling in this ROTC program
    Academic Requirements  Complete one Army ROTC elective and lab each semester Must not receive below a C- grade in aerospace courses, pass Leadership Labs, and complete the Air Force Officer Qualifying Test (AFOQT) during your junior year. Complete required calculus, physics, English, national security, cultural studies, and naval science courses. Attend Summer Cruise Training.

    JROTC for early interest

    Junior ROTC is a great opportunity for high school students interested in becoming an ROTC cadet in college. Although it’s not a prerequisite for joining, getting involved in JROTC is an excellent lead-in to the collegiate program. Not to mention, students with a JROTC background may have a better chance at earning an ROTC scholarship. 

    It’s important to note, however, that JROTC and ROTC have fundamentally different missions. While the ROTC is designed to produce military officers, the JROTC emphasizes the development of good citizenship through community service. Nevertheless, JROTC cadets participate in military-style drills and competitions that can be helpful in preparing for the Training Corps. 

    Related: How to get into West Point

    Why should I join ROTC?

    Pay for college

    One of the main benefits of joining the ROTC is receiving scholarship money to fund your college education. If you apply in high school, you have the potential to receive a full-ride scholarship. Even if you’re a sophomore or junior in college, you can fund the remainder of your education by earning scholarships. 

    Structured career path

    ROTC is more than simply a way to pay for college. Joining ROTC provides you with a path towards guaranteed employment after graduation. After completion of your program, you’ll skip the ranks of entry-level military positions and enter the Armed Forces as an officer. For anyone looking to jumpstart their career in the military, this is a big plus. The technical training and leadership development you receive during the program will prepare you for a variety of specialized career choices in the military. Not to mention, you’ll also have a college degree that you can use to pursue a civilian career following your service obligation. 

    Opportunity to serve

    Many students are drawn to ROTC programs out of a sense of patriotism and desire to serve their country. ROTC graduates who enter the military are responsible for a number of important duties. As an officer in the Armed Forces, your responsibilities may include safeguarding other soldiers, executing missions critical to national security, and managing millions of dollars in equipment. 

    Is ROTC right for me?

    As you can see, there’s a number of great benefits that come along with being an ROTC cadet. However, the program is a big commitment that shouldn’t be taken lightly. Before joining, you’ll want to make sure you’re ready to commit a significant portion of your early adult life to military service. A serious amount of dedication and discipline is required not only to make it to graduation, but to fulfill the post-college service requirements as well. ROTC is certainly not for everyone, but many find it to be a valuable opportunity. Consider ROTC if you’re looking for a stable route through college, diverse career opportunities, and a rewarding service experience.

    Frequently asked questions about ROTC

    Is ROTC considered military?

    Students who enroll in ROTC courses do not join the army by default. However, some ROTC programs come with a service commitment, meaning that alumni will have to enlist upon graduation, for a set amount of time. Their reduced or free tuition will be contingent on this clause.

    In general, only students who are seriously considering joining the military enroll in ROTC courses.

    What GPA do you need for ROTC?

    Each ROTC program has its own GPA requirements. They range widely in competitiveness; West Point is as competitive as many Ivy Leagues, whereas some military junior colleges hold GPA requirements that are similar to a state school. Most students hold a GPA that will qualify them for at least one of the ROTC programs in the country.

    What is the age limit for ROTC?

    ROTC cadets must between the ages of 17 and 26. Typically, students will enter the program upon finishing high school, at the age of 18 or 19.

    Does ROTC pay for college?

    Some ROTC programs, such as service academies, pay for college. Senior military colleges and military junior colleges, however, do not. That being said, ROTC students are eligible for a wide range of scholarships, so even if your program doesn’t pay directly, you can save money on college through ROTC.

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