Military service isn’t for everyone.
But before you disregard the help that the U.S. military provides to college students, let’s look at a few details about it.
The U.S. military awards generous four-year college scholarships to students who:
- Are U.S. citizens between the ages of 17 and 26
- Have high school diplomas or the equivalent
- Meet certain physical standards (I’ll explain what these physical standards are below)
- Have scored at certain minimum levels on the SAT and ACT
- Have a high school GPA of at least 2.50
- And can agree to accept a four-year active duty commission in the military followed by an additional four years serving as part of the Individual Ready Reserve (IRR).
ROTC scholarships are available to both undergraduate students and graduate students.
What’s college life like for a student on an ROTC scholarship?
Students who attend college on ROTC scholarships have the exact same college experience as non-ROTC college students, with just a few exceptions.
ROTC students wear an Army uniform one day a week, on the day they attend “drill” (which usually takes about three hours), and ROTC students take one ROTC class and one ROTC lab per term. These classes “involve hands-on fieldwork as well as classroom work,” but at the same time they are “standard college classes that fit into a normal academic schedule.” In addition, ROTC students usually get up very early at least three days a week to participate in Physical Training (PT).
How difficult is Army PT (Physical Training)?
You can find out exactly how difficult Army PT is (and maybe even get a head start on getting into shape for Army service if you’d like to) by downloading the Army PT guide here.
Don’t Army ROTC students also do some training during the summer?
Yes they do. During college summer breaks, ROTC students may participate in extended training activities that take up multiple summer weeks. Some of the summer training offered to Army ROTC cadets are:
Cadet Troop Leader Training (CTLT)
Combat Diver Qualification Course
Culture and Language Program (CULP)
Leaders Training Course (LTC)
Nurse Summer Training Program
United Kingdom Officer Training Camp
What’s the difference between a regular college student and a student on an Army ROTC scholarship?
Other than the uniform, the weekly three hour drills, the specialized classes and labs each semester, the Physical Training (PT), and the additional summer training, ROTC students are pretty much just ordinary college students. They have just as much fun as regular college students. They pledge fraternities and sororities at the same rates as regular college students, they participate in community service projects, and they play varsity team and individual sports.
The big difference is that ROTC students experience far fewer financial worries. This is especially true if they’ve enrolled at a college or university that offers ROTC students free room and board for four years (a fantastic benefit for future ROTC students to look for when they’re shopping for colleges to attend).
What financial benefits do ROTC students get?
ROTC students receive two-, three-, or four-year scholarships that pay full tuition and fees. They receive a separate allowance for books, payment of certain travel expenses, free clothing including shoes and hats, free good quality military style travel bags, and—surprising to many students—a tax-free stipend of up to $5000 a year to spend on personal expenses while they are in college.
Plus, ROTC scholarship recipients know that they have jobs waiting for them after graduation, and they also enjoy the possibility that the military may pay for their grad school or med school education as well when that time comes.
What do ROTC students do after college? How much money do they make?
After college, ROTC students accept a four-year active duty commission in the military followed by an additional four years serving as part of the Individual Ready Reserve (IRR). Soon after college graduation they complete ROTC training at the Army’s five-week Leadership Developmental and Assessment Course (LDAC) at Fort Lewis, Washington, and afterward they are commissioned as Second Lieutenants in the US Army and are paid as such. In 2015 that pay was $2,784 per month (with raises up to $3,503 per month after 3 years of service) plus medical and dental care, 30 days paid leave (vacation) per year, and housing and subsistence (food) allowances that could bump that total salary and benefit package up to over $50,000 per year. Add to that the fact that many ROTC graduates are able to leave college debt-free and so aren’t tied to $950.00 per month student loan payments, and ROTC can make for a very attractive financial option.
So when an ROTC student leaves the military—then what?
When ROTC students finish their military service commitment they are free to leave the military and become a part of the civilian workforce. When they do, they bring with them a hefty resume that lists five straight years of documented management and leadership experience. As the Army ROTC website says: “Army ROTC is one of the only college programs that teaches leadership. This training is invaluable for any career that involves leading, managing, and motivating people or fostering teamwork. Young Army officers are typically responsible for hundreds of soldiers and millions of dollars in equipment; this kind of management experience can be very attractive to post-Army employers.”
When should students apply for ROTC scholarships?
Students are advised to apply for ROTC scholarships 12–15 months before they want to start college classes. The application season for ROTC scholarships opens on or about June 12th each year. High school students should apply for ROTC scholarships as early as possible during the summer after their junior year of high school, and then finish all associated paperwork and updates by February 28th of the following year.
If your child applies for ROTC and is only awarded a two-year scholarship, she could ask ROTC if the scholarship could be held for her for two years while she lives at home and works her way through community college—making sure that every community college class she takes will transfer to a four-year college or university with an ROTC program. If ROTC agrees, she can transfer all the credits she’s earned to that four-year college and use her two-year ROTC scholarship to pay for the remainder of her four-year degree. One student who did this happily reported that at his four-year college graduation he “had no debt.…over $10,000 in the bank and I was commissioned into (a paid position in) the Reserves.”
What if a student wants a different branch of the military?
Every branch of the military has slightly different ROTC requirements and benefits. Most of what I’ve discussed here is Army specific, since the Army 1) has the largest ROTC program in the U.S. (20,000 cadets in 273 ROTC programs) 2) allows its cadets to major in nearly all academic areas and 3) offers a wider range of career opportunities (in more places around the world) than any other U.S. military branch at this time. For specific information on Navy, U.S. Coast Guard, and Air Force ROTC, contact local Navy, Coast Guard, and Air Force recruiters.
Can you show me a list of colleges and universities with Army ROTC programs—organized by state?
Yes. Visit http://www.goarmy.com/rotc/find-schools.html. As you look at individual colleges on this site, give extra careful consideration to those that offer the “room and board incentive.” Free or reduced price room and board could save your child thousands on living expenses over four years of college.
Where can I find out more information about Army ROTC scholarships?
Jeannie, are you advocating Army ROTC for every college student?
No I am not. Military service is not for everyone. What I’m advocating is that students and parents look at actual facts before writing off an ROTC scholarship as “not one to consider.”
Students who take the Strong Interest Inventory (one of the three assessments I suggest every student take in 10th grade) and rank high on “Realistic” might be especially good fits for some amount of military service.
Below, learn the fastest, easiest way to fill out large numbers of scholarship applications.
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Who is Jeannie Burlowski?
Jeannie is a full-time academic strategist, podcast host, and sought-after speaker for students ages 12–26 and their parents and grandparents. Her writing, speaking, and podcasting help parents set their kids up to graduate college debt-free and move directly into careers they excel at and love. Her work has been featured in publications such as The Huffington Post, USA Today, NerdWallet, and US News and World Report, and on CBS News.
This article was originally posted here on August 15th, 2015. It was updated on October 23rd, 2019.