How to pursue a military-focused education

By Suzanne Shaffer

My son and daughter participated in their high school Junior ROTC (Reserve Officers Training Corps) program. It taught them discipline, honor and commitment, and also provided the option of being nominated to a service academy by their ROTC commander.

Neither of them took this route. My son enlisted directly in the Marines after high school and my daughter decided that she was not the military type.

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High School Parent | College Parent

Is your high school student interested in an education with structure and commitment, and considering a career in the military? A military focused education could be the perfect fit.

There are three distinct kinds: service academies, military colleges, and college ROTC programs. Each leads to different post-graduate opportunities. Some students like the teamwork and discipline that accompany a military focused education but do not choose to serve in the military, while others choose a path leading to active military service after graduation.

The United States Military Service Academies

There are five military service academies maintained by the Department of Defense for the preparation of officers in the Air Force, Army, Navy or Marines, Coast Guard and Merchant Marines. If your student receives a coveted offer of admission, tuition, room and board are covered along with a military stipend.

The service academies offer some of the best and most intense higher education experiences in this country. The lifestyle at each of the academies is one of rigorous academics and physical readiness. Students study hard and there are strict guidelines regarding appearance, leadership, and adherence to military regulations. Students are commissioned upon graduation.

story-icon-bar-convo-3Your student can improve his chances of being accepted to an academy by applying to more than one, but each requires a separate application. It is also recommended that students attend the summer session at one of the academies between junior and senior year.

Space in these academies is limited and the competition is great. Your student should start — no later than spring of junior year — by contacting the academy liaison officers or the academies directly for a Pre-Candidate Questionnaire.

The Department of Defense suggests applicants follow these guidelines:


The application process begins in the spring (or earlier) of junior year. Students should visit the applicable website to request a Pre-Candidate Questionnaire:

Students must complete this form to receive a formal application which consists of several components: the application, a physical aptitude test, a personality test, a personal statement, recommendations and other printed materials.

A key component of the application is the Department of Defense Medical Examination Review Board physical. In order to be admitted on schedule, your student must be prompt in arranging for this physical. It’s common for potential candidates to be denied admission because their physical was overdue. Schedule the physical as soon as the application packet is received!

In addition, candidates seeking admittance to a service academy must be nominated. Most students receive that nomination from their congressional representative. Schedule an interview or request an appointment by letter promptly. For more information about the process, click here.


Successful appointment to a service academy is based on three criteria: completion of the application, a physical, and a nomination. Candidates in the top 10 percent of their class with solid SAT scores who have demonstrated leadership in school and in the community are the strongest candidates for admission.

Military Colleges and Universities

Military colleges are unique, having a culture built on tradition and proven practices of ceremony, self-discipline and pride. Students live together and are part of a student-led group that helps each member with academics, team dynamics, and leadership. Students learn the importance of self-discipline, time management, and teamwork. These colleges are either stand alone colleges like The Citadel, or a part of a college or university that also serves non-military students, such as Texas A&M.

There are Senior Military Colleges (4 year) and Military Junior Colleges (2 year). Cadets participate in formation, rigorous physical training, and are expected to wear uniforms. These colleges all offer programs leading to commissioning that include an obligation to the military. However, none of these programs are mandatory and many students participate in the school’s Corps of Cadets without incurring an obligation. The decision whether to accept a commission is normally made at the beginning of a student’s junior year.

For more information about the specific programs, click on the following links:

ROTC (Reserve Officers Training Corps) Programs

ROTC programs allow students to earn a degree at a college or university while receiving financial support from the military, with the stipulation that the student begins active military service upon graduation. Students take classes in their major, as well as courses related to the branch of the military they choose to serve: U.S. Army, Air Force, Navy or Marine Corps.

Each branch has its own requirements. Not all colleges and universities offer an ROTC curriculum, but has a comprehensive list by state and branch of service.

Students should investigate ROTC programs and speak with the contact person on campus while visiting colleges. Once a decision is made, applications are available online for each individual program:

College ROTC programs offer scholarship opportunities along with other financial support including stipends for living expenses. Some students receive full funding for tuition, books, housing and personal expenses for four years of college. These scholarships are based on academic performance, not financial need.

Graduates who participate in the ROTC program at their college are expected to serve in the military. This can range from four to ten years, depending on the branch of the military and the agreed upon commitment. If your student accepts an ROTC scholarship and later decides the program isn’t right for her, the military will allow her to keep the funding during freshman year. Any funding received beyond freshman year will be revoked.

In retrospect, I wish my son had taken one of these routes. He would have entered the Marines as an officer with an education and a career.

Students who are considering the military after graduation should investigate a military focused education. The benefits are clear: students receive a college education along with military training and enter the military upon graduation as an officer.

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