How ROTC Scholarships Work

By Susan Landis-Steward , last updated December 22, 2011

If you plan to attend college and then join the military, an ROTC scholarship may be the way to get your education paid for and give you a step up the ladder when you finally join the service. In addition to up to $180,000 for college tuition, you will learn valuable leadership skills.

ROTC stands for Reserve Officer Training Corps and the program offers full or partial college scholarships to those who qualify. If you receive the scholarship, you are obligated to serve as an officer for several years. The length of time varies based on your branch of the military. In addition to coursework toward your degree, you will also take part in ROTC-specific classes, fieldwork, and summer programs. During these classes and programs, you will study military subjects including combat techniques and military tactics. Other courses include leadership training, national security, and military affairs.

Some ROTC programs look for particular majors that will benefit the military. This might include business, sciences, engineering, foreign languages, pre-med or pre-law, and nursing. There are many other options as well. In some cases, the military will also pay for advance program such as medical school.

The Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marines all offer ROTC scholarship programs. You can join ROTC while still in high school, or apply when you enter college. Acceptance is based, as in most scholarship program, on merit, grades, citizenship, age, and physical fitness. Over 1,300 colleges and universities participate in the ROTC program. The scholarships will generally cover tuition, books, and fees, and you may get a monthly allowance and travel expenses. The program usually does not cover room and board while in college so you will have to figure out how much you will need to have or borrow to fill the gap between what the military pays and what you will be responsible for.

Army ROTC is considered to be one of the most demanding leadership programs in the United States. Most Navy and Marine Corps Officers are graduates of ROTC programs. The Air Force ROTC program offers a two-year and four-year program. Again, you enter the service as an officer. The Coast Guard does not have an ROTC program, but it does offer a Coast Guard Student Reserve program. They are paid for summer training and one weekend a month of service during the school year. Upon graduate, they begin Reserve duty.

The Army requires a commitment of eight years, four of them on active duty, and the rest in the Individual Ready Reserve. The Air Force requires four years of active duty, ten years for pilots, and six years for Combat Systems Officers. Nursing graduates agree to serve four years in the Air Force. ROTC cadets in the Air Force who are accepted to medical school within one year of graduation will have their medical school paid for. Navy ROTC requires five years of active duty service.

If you plan to do both college and a military career, ROTC is a smart way to go. You get your education paid for up front, you enter the service as an officer, and your overall earnings opportunities are better.

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