The Corps of Cadets

Updated: April 26, 2021

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    The Corps of Cadets (or just the Corps) is a military organization that exists on college campuses. The Corps is designed to prepare you for a military career by instilling discipline and teaching you how to be a future leader of the military. The Corps of Cadets dates back to the establishment of West Point in 1802, and is the organization that all future military academies and ROTC programs emulated.

    The Corps Of Cadets When the six Senior Military Colleges (SMC) were established, each created its own Corps of Cadets. The Corps of Cadets is cadet-led and enforces its own rules and regulations governing how cadets are trained and organized. Each Corps is supervised by active duty or retired members of the U.S. military.

    If you’re looking to earn your degree and want a truly immersive military experience, then you’ll want to read this article. We’ll explore the three ways to can get your bachelor’s degree while being part of a military environment that will prepare you for a career in the military. Your choice of school will determine how immersed you’ll be in the military-like structure of the Corps of Cadets. All of the programs covered in this article have the same goal: preparing you for a military career while getting your degree.

    How Do I Become A Member Of The Corps Of Cadets?

    There are three ways to get your college degree and be part of the Corps of Cadets: attend one of the federal military service academies, attend one of the senior military colleges (SMC), or participate in the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) at a college or university. You must apply and be accepted to attend one of the military academies (roughly 15% of those who apply get accepted). Depending on the SMC or ROTC program, there may be basic qualifications (academic, medical, physical) to be part of the Corps. Some of the SMCs are 100 percent Corps, so that means you have to join the Corps to attend that college (see which SMCs are 100 percent Corps below).

    Military Academies

    Senior Military Colleges

    ROTC Programs

    Do I Have To Accept A Commission In The Military If I Join The Corps Of Cadets?

    The answer is yes and no. If you graduate from one of the military academies, you must accept a commission as an officer. If you attend a senior military college or join an ROTC detachment, you can choose whether to accept a commission (if you are on an ROTC scholarship, you must accept a commission). If you earn your commission as an officer, you will have a military service commitment.

    Do I Have To Wear A Uniform If I Join The Corps?

    Yes. But the amount of time you wear your uniform depends on the program. If you attend one of the military academies, you’ll wear your uniform almost all of the time. You’ll wear it to class and to all military functions. As you progress through the ranks, you’ll get a chance to wear your civilian clothes.

    If you attend one of the SMC’s, you’ll actually be part of an ROTC program. Life at an SMC is much different than ROTC programs at other institutions. Traditional ROTC programs are more like an extracurricular activity, and you’ll wear your uniform once or twice a week. SMC’s are very similar to a military academy in structure and intensity. You’ll be part of a Corps of Cadets and live and study in an immersive military environment. You’ll wear uniforms at all times, attend military training, and participate in physical training and conditioning. You’ll also have to follow strict military rules and live by the cadet code of conduct.

    If you are part of a traditional ROTC program, you’ll be part of the student body, but take an extra course based on your branch of service. You’ll wear your uniform to class one day a week and take part in military drill and physical training weekly.

    What’s The Difference Between “Regular” ROTC And The Corps Of Cadets At An SMC?

    While they both offer a path to a military commission and offer scholarships, the military environment varies in intensity.

    A traditional ROTC program is just a small part of a typical college campus. You can choose to join the Corps of Cadets and attend a couple of military classes each semester. You’ll have to go through summer field training if you choose to seek a commission. Once you are accepted into your junior year of ROTC and earn your commission as an officer upon graduation.

    In the Corps programs at SMCs, you’ll wear a uniform on campus and all week both on and off-campus. You’ll have less freedom than a traditional ROTC program. Physical training and military drill are daily, compared to weekly in a regular ROTC program.

    If I Attend An SMC, Am I Required To Join The Corps?

    No. The size of the Corps of Cadets at SMCs varies. At some schools, the student population is 100-percent Corps, while at others, the Corps is part of the student body.

    Here Is How The Corps Is Organized At The Six SMCs:

    • The Citadel is state-supported, and 100 percent of undergrad students are in the Corps.
    • Virginia Tech and Texas A&M are public schools and host the Corps as part of a civilian university.
    • Virginia Military Institute (VMI) is a state military college, and 100-percent of the students are in the Corps.
    • The University of North Georgia (UNG) is a state military college and only offers Army ROTC. At UNG, 100 percent of the students are in the Corps.
    • Norwich University is a private military college with both a Corps of Cadets and a civilian student body.

    What Are The Benefits Of Being A Member Of The Corps?

    The biggest benefit of being part of the Corps of Cadets is the opportunity to earn a guaranteed commission in the Armed Forces. Another bonus that cadets state as a benefit to Corps life is the comradery among the members.

    Cadets say that friends made while being in the Corps last a lifetime. There are also many financial advantages to joining the Corps. If you attend a military academy, your four-year education is paid for by the U.S. Government. There are also many scholarships available to students who participate in the ROTC programs at SMCs and civilian institutions.


    About The AuthorJim spent 22 years on active duty, climbing the ranks from Airman Basic to a decorated Air Force Major. Stationed all over the world, he held many high-level posts, including Chief of Foreign Military Sales at the U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Jim earned his Ph.D. through the Montgomery Era GI Bill and spent 13 years teaching African Studies in Pennsylvania. Jim is also an award-winning travel writer.


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    Written by MilitaryBenefits