The minimum and maximum enlistment age for joining the military differs by each branch of the military. The earliest is 17 with parental consent and the maximum is 39 but see below for the specific age limits by each branch of service.
This does not mean that the age requirements are not similar, but there is no Defense Department-wide standard. Each branch of service sets their own.
Here are things to know about military enlistment age limits and other criteria for joining the military.
Military Age Requirements by Branch of Service
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#1. The Minimum Age Permitted to Join the Military
In all cases except for the Navy Reserve, the minimum age permitted is 17 with parental consent in writing. Those 18 and older are permitted to join the military without parental consent. The Navy Reserve minimum age is 18.
Military Maximum Age Requirements:
Did you know there is an upper age limit for all branches of military service?
Military Age Limits:
- Army Age Limit: 35 for active duty, Guard, and Army Reserve
- Navy Age Limit: 34 for active duty, 39 for Navy Reserve
- Marine Corps Age Limit: 29 for active duty and Marine Corps Reserve
- Air Force Age Limit: 39 for active duty and Guard, 38 for Air Force Reserve
- Coast Guard Age Limit: 27 for active duty, 39 for Coast Guard Reserve
- Space Force Age Limit: Contact an Air Force recruiter for eligibility requirements (1-800-423-8723)
Prior service military members may not be subject to the same age limitations as new recruits depending on age, the nature of military service, recruiting demand, and other factors.
Under federal law, the oldest recruit any military branch can enlist is 42 however each service may set their own policy below that age limit.
#2: Age Requirements Are Supplemented by Education Requirements
In most cases, the minimum age a new recruit may enter military service is 17 (see below). However, a high school diploma or GED is usually required. Some branches of service may, depending on recruiting issues at any given time, offer alternatives such as allowing a new recruit who has a GED with college credits. Having a GED may subject the enlistee to additional standards not applied to those who have high school diplomas.
If the applicant does not meet the stricter standards for GED holders without college coursework, it may be possible to enroll in college (see below) to earn additional credit hours. This may be required by the branch of service applied for so you will need to try again under different standards.
#3: Military Branches Limit How Many Can Enlist without A High School Diploma
All branches of service restrict how many new recruits may enter military service each year without a high school diploma. According to some reports, this is due to statistics which tend to indicate a higher number of unsuccessful basic trainees come from backgrounds that do not include a diploma.
Those who want to enter the military as quickly as possible should know that they may technically qualify to serve, but their status as “without a high school diploma” may push their application to the following year if the quota for non-diploma holders has already been met.
#4: GED Holders Must Score Higher on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB)
Those who do not have a high school diploma will be required to score higher on the ASVAB test, regardless of the branch of service desired.
Some potential new military members may find that the recruiter will upon learning of the GED status of an applicant wish to have the recruit take the ASVAB first. Those who do not score high enough are often encouraged to take a specified amount of college credits before retaking the ASVAB.
The reason for this is that those who have GEDs and college credits are put in the same ASVAB scoring category as someone with a high school diploma. The high school graduates do not get more stringent ASVAB scoring requirements.
Those who have dropped out of high school in the hopes of joining the military as soon as legally permitted should know that the requirement to earn a GED and/or college credits will be necessary to meet the military’s basic education standards. Anyone wishing to enlist at age 17 with parental consent should seriously consider finishing their high school program first.
#5: Not Having A High School Diploma Subjects Your Enlistment to “Further Review”
New recruits who have dropped out of high school, but have completed a GED may find their application for military service requires additional processing. The recruiter wants to know that the applicant is suitable for military service. Those who are eager to get into uniform as early as possible should know that not having a high school diploma could delay their entry into military service.
#6: Selective Service System
For almost all male U.S. citizens and male aliens living in the United States who are ages 18 through 25, there is a requirement to register with the Selective Service System.
#7: Prior Service Enlistments
Each branch of the military has an enlistment option that allows people who separated from military active duty, the Guard or Reserve, to enter full-time back into service. The age limit for prior service enlistment for most of the branches is the same as above, except that an individual’s total previous military time can be subtracted from their current age. For example, if an individual has five years of credible military service in the Army and wants to join the Navy. The Navy could waive the maximum enlistment age to 39. The maximum age of 34 for the Navy, plus five years credible service in the Army).
The Army and Air National National Guard maximum age for prior service enlistment is 59.
The Marine Corps and the Marine Corps Reserve maximum age of enlistment for prior service is 32, after computing the prior-service age adjustment.
If You Haven’t Earned Your Diploma Yet and Want to Join The Military Out of High School
Any recruiter will urge a potential new recruit to complete high school first before trying to enter the military. That said, military recruiting involves something known as the Delayed Enlistment program where those who are not technically eligible to serve yet due to age or school status may enter into a provisional agreement with the service they wish to join.
Delayed Enlistment may put the enlistee into a program to familiarize them with military life, procedures, what to expect in basic training, etc. It can be a big help to those who want to serve, but are not yet eligible to become full-fledged military recruits.
Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News
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