Becoming an Officer

Officers are the primary managers within the Military, supervising activities and personnel in almost every occupational specialty. Unlike enlisting, becoming a military officer requires extra training, education or expertise. In exchange for increased responsibility, officers receive superior benefits and excellent credentials valued by both military and civilian employers. And for someone with a four-year college degree, it can be the real-world experience necessary to advance a career. Search for officer careers in the Military

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Types of Officers

There is more than one kind of officer in the Military, but all of them are in positions of leadership.

  • Commissioned officers typically enter the Military with a four-year college degree or greater and have completed officer training.
  • Warrant officers are typically promoted from the enlisted ranks for technical expertise and rank between the highest enlisted and lowest commissioned officers (all Services except Air Force).

A third position of authority you may have heard of is noncommissioned officers (NCOs). Despite the title, NCOs are actually higher-ranking enlisted personnel.

Becoming a Commissioned Officer

There are several ways to become an officer. Where you are in your education and career will help determine the best route for you.

Officer Candidate/Training School (OCS/OTS)

This program helps college graduates with no prior military training become military officers. It is also the way for an enlisted service member with 90 hours or more of college credit to advance to commissioned officer.

Requirements and training vary based on Service. Find out what it takes to become an officer by exploring the OCS/OTS websites for each of the Armed Forces:

Army OCS

Marine Corps OCS

Navy OCS

Air Force OTS

U.S. Coast Guard OCS

Direct Commission

For trained professionals in fields such as medicine, law, engineering, intelligence or religion, the Military offers direct commission opportunities. These officers typically earn a higher entry salary, due to their expertise, and may be required to participate in either an indoctrination course or Basic Training (similar to enlisted Basic Training), depending on the Service.

Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC)

The ROTC is the most common way the Military accepts officers. Offered at more than 1,700 colleges and universities across the United States, ROTC is an elective curriculum that prepares young adults to become officers in the U.S. Military.

ROTC programs (Today's Military)

Attending a Service Academy

Service academies combine general education with special military training. Service academies can be extremely hard to get into; attendees receive full benefits, a full four-year scholarship and, upon graduation, a commissioned officer rank in exchange for a minimum five-year service obligation.

Learn about each Service (Today's Military)

Attending a Senior Military College

Senior Military Colleges (SMCs) offer a variety of majors, valuable leadership training and financial aid packages for eligible students. Those who attend SMCs participate in the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC), but cadets at SMCs are not required to serve in the Military after graduation, unless they have received ROTC scholarships. If they do choose to serve, they will become commissioned officers.

Learn more about each Senior Military College (Today's Military)

Becoming a Warrant Officer

Warrant officers are highly skilled, technical and tactical leaders with specialized careers in one specific area. Although warrant officers make up only a small portion of the Armed Forces, they hold a great deal of responsibility. Only the very best enlisted personnel, typically with five to eight years of experience in a specific technical field, are selected to become warrant officers. Enlisted service members and, on rare occasions, civilians have to apply to become warrant officers, and must meet the following minimum requirements:

  • Be a U.S. citizen
  • Be at least 18 years old
  • Earn a General Technical (GT) score of 110 or higher
  • Pass a three-event physical fitness test

If the preceding requirements are met and a candidate's application is accepted, he or she may attend Warrant Officer Candidate School (WOCS). Upon completing WOCS, he or she is appointed as a warrant officer.

The Benefits of Becoming an Officer

Becoming an officer in the Military offers far-reaching benefits, including increased salary and better housing. Perhaps of even greater value are the intangible benefits: leadership development, management and increased real-world experience. Such characteristics can prove helpful in both the Military and professional civilian work forces.


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