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What is the ROTC? How This Military Scholarship Can Help You Avoid Debt and Earn a Career

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With student loan debt at an all-time high, many prospective college students are turning to the Reserve Officer Training Corps, or ROTC, as a path to education and a post-graduation career.

The ROTC is a college-level military program offered at colleges and universities in the US. Participants, called cadets, are given scholarships, skills training in a variety of fields, and post-graduation career placement in exchange for military service after graduation.

 ROTC graduates include chairmen of the joint chiefs of staff, several Army chiefs of staff, two Cabinet secretaries, an astronaut, and Supreme Court justice Samuel Alito Jr

Curious about ROTC? Here’s what you need to know.

Joining the ROTC Is Not the Same as Joining the Military

Instead of signing up with the military and undergoing basic training, cadets who take advantage of the ROTC scholarship program will undergo military training during their time in college and graduate with officer status. 

Your time in the ROTC will not interfere with your education, meaning you won’t be pulled out of school to serve or deploy. And if you join the ROTC Basic Course for the first two years without a scholarship, there is not a military service requirement.

You will, however, have to follow military requirements to join and remain in the ROTC scholarship program. You must be 29 years old or younger at graduation and you must be a full-time student. You will also be expected to abide by certain military standards, such as a uniform during class and training times and military hairstyle guidelines.

It Is a Popular Option, Especially in Times of Economic Uncertainty

ROTC scholarships can foot your full tuition. US Army ROTC scholarships are based on merit, not financial need, and are awarded up to $100,000 plus a $1,500 stipend and an additional $1,200 for books.  

With the average student loan debt hovering around $30,000, a full or partial scholarship courtesy of the ROTC program can mean the difference between decades of student loan payments and starting your career with a clean financial slate. For high school students not sure how they are going to tackle the cost of college as they enter their junior or senior year, this four-year scholarship can be a tempting offer.  

The ROTC program looks for students with good grades and extracurricular activities, including sports, volunteer work, part-time employment, or student government.

Graduating as an officer in the military also means guaranteed employment after graduation and the leadership skills included with ROTC training and military service make you that much more likely to command a higher civilian salary after your service is complete. 

You Can Sign up With Any Military Branch

While the Army may be the most widely known branch of ROTC in the United States, you can also sign up with the Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force ROTC. There are also Junior ROTC, or JROTC, programs at many high schools for students to begin learning about military fitness and leadership.

Each ROTC branch has its own service requirements and college availability.

Army ROTC Navy and Marine Corp ROTC Air Force ROTC
College Availability More than 1,100 colleges and universities.  Offered at 77 colleges and universities. More than 1,100 colleges and universities. 
Scholarship Service Commitment Eight years. This may be fulfilled serving four years on active duty, followed by four years in the Inactive Ready Reserve. Four years for the Marine Corps and Navy Nurse Corps or five years for the Navy. Most officers have a four-year service commitment.

You Can Apply to the ROTC Program for Grad School

ROTC — and its scholarships — is also available for grad students. While most ROTC students are undergraduates, 32% use their ROTC scholarships for a master’s degree. As with the undergraduate program, ROTC grad students combine academics with military training and graduate with the same post-graduation service requirements.

There are two- and three-year Master’s degree ROTC scholarships as well as the Army’s Green to Gold Active Duty Option that provides a scholarship that can be used for a master’s degree. While not specifically for ROTC cadets, there’s also another option in the Tillman Scholar Program, which offers military veterans and their spouses an average of $10,000 in award money to get their master’s or professional degree. 

ROTC Is Not for Everyone, and That’s Okay

Being accepted into your school’s ROTC program is an honor that comes with an incredible scholarship and career opportunities. But it may not be the best choice for everyone. 

There are demands — physical, academic, and otherwise — that are rigorous and non-negotiable. In addition to their regular courses, Army ROTC cadets will study Army history, tactical operations, military instruction, leadership, and command. Other ROTC branches have their own military courses, such as land, air, or sea navigation. 

Cadets are required to participate in physical training three times per week to meet and maintain Army standards of physical fitness and endurance. Each branch also has its own physical fitness test as part of the scholarship requirement. 

 For the Army, this includes push-ups and sit-ups for two minutes each plus a two-mile run. For the Navy and Marine Corps ROTC, you will have to complete pull-ups, crunches, and a three-mile run.

Whether or not the ROTC is right for you, whether or not you envisioned yourself with a military career or even just a few years of service, it is an option worth considering. The financial and career stakes may be high, but so are the rewards. 

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Disclaimer: This blog post provides personal finance educational information, and it is not intended to provide legal, financial, or tax advice.