Why do people join ROTC in college? If you look at college websites or even military ROTC sites themselves, you’ll find plenty of marketing hype about joining ROTC as a way to display patriotism, make friends, and get a “best of both worlds” college experience that incorporates military training with campus life.
But let’s be realistic; the reason many want to try ROTC has more to do with scholarships, career options, and fitness. These are pragmatic reasons to consider joining the Reserve Officer Training Corps in college and are certainly good motivations.
How prevalent are ROTC programs in the United States? The U.S. Army alone has ROTC units in more than 270 colleges across the nation. The Air Force has more than 1,000 units. But the Navy has, at the time of this writing, under 100. As you might guess, each branch of military service has its own ROTC units with their own priorities for recruitment, training, and service.
Each branch of service has its own ROTC requirements in terms of duration of service, benefits, etc. There are academic standards, medical requirements, and more. These will vary depending on the branch of service.
What To Know About Joining ROTC
Not all college campuses have an ROTC program, and if you are specifically interested in making ROTC part of your college experience, it is a good idea to locate an ROTC recruiter in your local area or contact the schools in your local area to inquire if they have a program.
Your local recruiting office may be able to help you locate an ROTC program but if you aren’t sure which branch of service to go with, it may be wise to talk to multiple recruiters across the services to learn what the best options for you might be.
Depending on what options you have joining ROTC, you will have a military service commitment to agree to which typically begins at some point post-graduation. Here’s one example of the service commitment options which applies to Army ROTC cadets:
- Army ROTC students who receive an Army ROTC scholarship or enter the Army ROTC Advanced Course must agree to complete an eight-year Army term of military service
- Army ROTC cadets have the option to serve full time in the Army for three years (four years for scholarship winners), with the balance served in the Individual Ready Reserve
- Selected Cadets may choose to serve part time in the U.S. Army Reserve or Army National Guard while pursuing a civilian career
Not all who join ROTC must complete a military service commitment. For example, for those who choose Army ROTC, you are only obligated if you accept an ROTC scholarship. Such rules may vary depending on the branch of service and other issues–be sure to ask what current requirements are and who they apply to.
Another example–the Air Force ROTC rules include the following for those who complete the ROTC program:
“The length of your initial service commitment depends on your career. Most officers have a four-year active-duty service commitment. Pilots have a 10-year active-duty service commitment, and both Combat System Officers and Air Battle Managers have a six-year service commitment…” Those who graduate as nurses serve four years on active duty after completing their licensing examination.
Reasons To Join ROTC In College: Scholarship Benefits
ROTC programs offer scholarship programs in a variety of modes and disciplines. You may qualify for a scholarship via ROTC for general participation in ROTC (service commitments apply) or for taking specific kinds of training.
A good example of the more “general” ROTC scholarship is the Air Force ROTC In-College Scholarship Program, which at the time of this writing offers up to $18,000 per year “in college tuition at any public or private institution with an Air Force ROTC detachment. Scholarship payment is further capped at up to $9,000 per semester or up to $6,000 per quarter.”
Those selected under this program also get living expense stipends and an annual book stipend.
Compare that with the more specific Air Force ROTC program aimed at those who want to attend nursing programs. The Air Force ROTC Nursing Scholarship Program is awarded competitively to undergrads accepted to a nursing program at a college or university accredited by the National League for Nursing Accreditation Commission (NLNAC) or Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE).
Navy ROTC options include two and three-year scholarships that feature certain academic requirements to apply, including:
- Applicants must have at least 30 semester hours but no more than 120 semester hours
- Must have a minimum college GPA of 2.5
- Must be admitted to (or in the process of gaining admittance to) a school affiliated with the Navy ROTC Unit from which they are being nominated
Reasons To Join ROTC: Training And Internships
Some go to college knowing they also want to serve in uniform. ROTC programs offer a way to ease into the military lifestyle but also get important training and preparation to serve. Many ROTC recruiting websites tout the leadership training experience as a key motivator for some to join. ROTC members attend Military Science classes or similar programs to help teach these future officers how to lead.
But military experience and training aren’t the only training opportunities available in an ROTC program; depending on the school and the ROTC program you may have access to “Cadet Command Sponsored” internships.
Army ROTC recruiters are able to boast that program’s offerings which have in the past included internships for select ROTC cadets at the National Forensic Science Technology Center, plus a range of engineering, communications, nursing, and other internship programs.
Not everyone who chooses ROTC and enters military service after college to fulfil an ROTC commitment will decide to make the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, etc. a full time career. Some lawyers, nurses, doctors, and other specialists get their training and initial experience in the military but leave when their service commitment has ended to work in the private sector.
They enter the job market once their military commitment has ended with more than entry-level experience through internships, residencies, etc.
And how much do these ROTC cadets earn once they graduate and enter the military service commitment period? Army ROTC literature reminds, “A Second Lieutenant fresh out of college makes $39,444 in annual pay” in addition to housing allowances and other military benefits. Those who graduate from college and their ROTC program and enter military service do so as officers and not as enlisted members; the pay for officers is markedly higher.
The dreaded “freshman 15” weight gain experience that some struggle with upon entering college is something ROTC cadets are less affected by thanks to the physical fitness requirements of your ROTC program. In addition to group workouts that may be required as part of your ROTC experience, the overall fitness programs in ROTC include training on how to pass military fitness tests.
You may be fitness-tested during your ROTC experience and there are physical and medical requirements that must be met in order to be accepted as an ROTC cadet.
ROTC fitness training assumes you aren’t ready to ship out to boot camp (physically speaking) and need to ease into your training regimen. Fitness is a key part of both ROTC and active duty military service and your program will address that issue with the same attention to detail and progress as your academic work.
Finding An ROTC Program
The DoD official site advises those in search of an ROTC program that it will be necessary to search by branch of service. The United States Marine Corps does not have a separate ROTC program but falls under Navy ROTC. You can get more information about ROTC programs from the official sites of the military service branches:
Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News