Are You Eligible To Join The Military?

Updated: February 14, 2021

Table of Contents

    Are you eligible to join the United States military? If you are exploring your options for the first time, you might find the requirements a little confusing depending on what branch you wish to join, whether you want to enlist or join as an officer, or if you need to choose between active duty and the Guard or Reserve.

    Are You Eligible To Join The Military?Some Basics About Joining The Military

    There are some general rules that apply no matter where you wish to apply; Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, Space Force or Coast Guard. The first of these is the high school requirement. It is extremely rare for modern-day recruits to be accepted into the uniformed services without either a high school diploma (ideal) or a GED or other equivalency (not as ideal, but still workable with your recruiter’s help).

    A high school student struggling to decide whether to complete high school or quit school and enlist will soon learn that such a concept is an old-fashioned holdover concept from the mid-20th century and is NOT an option today. For best results, finish your high school program before enlisting. Those who have dropped out should expect to be required to get a GED and possibly attend community college classes as a condition of enlistment.

    Those who wish to become officers should know that there’s a basic, entry-level requirement for officer candidates–you need a Bachelor’s degree to be accepted as an officer. There is also additional training required, but this happens after you are accepted into an officer program.

    In order to be considered eligible to join any branch of military service, the following should generally apply:

    • You must be a U.S. citizen. The Army and Air Force official sites include statements that the applicant must be a citizen or a legal permanent resident with a valid Green Card.
    • You must be at least 17 years old.
    • You must have a high school diploma (see above).
    • You must pass a physical.

    The Process

    You might think you are eligible to join the military and you may be correct. But some try to enlist or get commissioned without fully understanding what it takes to be approved to join. Standards will vary depending on the branch of military service you’re joining but in general you should expect a process with a variety of stages. For Army recruits (space prevents us from listing all processes for all branches) the road to becoming an enlisted soldier includes the following:

    Those interested in becoming Army officers should expect a similar process. There are four different ways you can become an officer in the Army–attending college as a member of ROTC, get directly commissioned, attend Officer Candidate School, or attending a U.S. military academy. Generally speaking, all potential Army officers should expect some form of the following steps:

    • Take a standardized test such as the ACT or SAT
    • Pass an Army physical
    • Talk to an Army representative
    • Attend a commissioning program (see above)
    • Graduate with a degree
    • Pass the Army Basic Officer Leader Course
    • Join your unit

    In both cases, (officer and enlisted) applicants are required to have to pass a physical designed to screen out people who have medical issues that may make them unfit for military duty. Why?

    Certain kinds of asthma and other health issues could be a barrier to entry depending on the nature and severity of the individual case. The military members and civilian doctors responsible for doing such screenings have sets of criteria that inform decisions to accept, deny, or request a waiver for a potential recruit with certain medical issues.

    Are You Eligible To Join The Military?

    What follows is basic information about joining the various branches of military service. Each service has different standards in certain areas and these rules are always subject to change because of mission requirements, legislation, changes in federal policy, executive orders, etc. Always discuss your needs with a recruiter; never assume the information you have now is current indefinitely.

    Before discussing the various branches of service and their requirements, it’s good to know a few basics about things that can disqualify you from military service. Those who have certain legal entanglements, large amounts of personal debt, substance abuse issues, unresolved parental custody issues, or other complications will be required to resolve such problems prior to enlisting.

    In fact, it’s best to delay your plans to apply to join the military until such problems are fully resolved as they can act as a barrier to entry. The Department of Defense won’t permit you to enlist unless these areas have been properly dealt with and there is documentation to support that.

    Remember that there may be modified requirements for what’s listed below if you are trying to join as a Reservist or Guard member. You should discuss entry requirements with a Guard/Reserve recruiter especially if you are interested in joining the National Guard as standards may be under review or have recently been reviewed in light of changing missions, operation tempo, etc.

    Are You Eligible To Join The Army?

    To become an enlisted Soldier, applicants must:

    • Prove U.S. citizenship or permanent residency (using a Green Card)
    • Be between 17-32 years old
    • Achieve a minimum score on the ASVAB test
    • Meet medical, moral, and physical requirements
    • Be a high school graduate or equivalent

    To become an officer in the Army, applicants must:

    • Prove U.S. citizenship or permanent residency (Green Card)
    • Be a college graduate by the time you are commissioned
    • Be between 18 and 34 years old
    • Meet medical, moral, and physical requirements
    • Be eligible to qualify for a secret security clearance

    Are You Eligible To Join The Air Force?

    (Editor’s note: Those interested in joining Space Force should know that at the time of this writing, this is a process you will need to discuss with an Air Force recruiter–there are no separate Space Force recruiting offices at press time that function the same as an Air Force recruiting office, etc.)

    To become an enlisted Airman in the United States Air Force, applicants must:

    • Prove U.S. citizenship or permanent residency (Green Card)
    • Be between 17 and 39 years old
    • Pass an Air Force physical
    • Meet medical, moral, and physical requirements
    • Those joining with a GED instead of a high school diploma are required to earn a minimum ASVAB score of 65 and meet other requirements. GED holders “must wait for GED applicant slots to become available, and this can sometimes mean waiting periods of up to one year.”

    To join as an Air Force officer, applicants must:

    • Prove U.S. citizenship or permanent residency (Green Card)
    • Be between 18 and 39 years of age
    • Pass an Air Force physical
    • Meet medical, moral, and physical requirements
    • Have a four-year college degree “or be within 365 days of attaining your bachelor’s degree when you apply”
    • To join as a healthcare or ministry professional, you cannot be younger than 18 or older than 48 years of age

    In all cases, Air Force recruiting literature reminds that married applicants who have legal and physical custody of up to two children may enlist; those who apply with three children a waiver may be required.

    Are You Eligible To Join The Navy?

    To become an enlisted Sailor in the United States Navy, applicants must:

    • Prove U.S. citizenship or permanent residency (Green Card)
    • Be between 17 and 39 years old
    • Pass a Navy physical
    • Be willing to serve on ships, able to work in and around water, etc.
    • Meet medical, moral, and physical requirements

    To join as a Navy officer, applicants must:

    • Prove U.S. citizenship or permanent residency (Green Card)
    • Be between 19 and 42 years of age
    • Pass a Navy physical
    • Be willing to serve on ships, able to work in and around water
    • Meet medical, moral, and physical requirements
    • Have a four-year college degree “or be within 365 days of attaining your bachelor’s degree when you apply.”
    • Earn a qualifying score on the Officer Aptitude Rating (OAR) and Aviation Selection Test Battery (ASTB)

    Are You Eligible To Join The Marines?

    The Marine Corps official site provides fewer details about its entrance requirements but in general for both officer and enlisted you must pass a criminal background check, have no felony convictions, and pass an initial strength test that includes crunches, pushups or pullups, and a run.

    Enlisted members must meet the following requirements:

    • Be a legal U.S. resident
    • Have a high school diploma
    • Be between 17 and 28 years old
    • Score at least 31 on the ASVAB

    Marine Officer candidates must meet the following requirements:

    • Be a legal U.S. resident
    • Be between 20 and 28 years old
    • Have both a high school diploma and a Bachelor’s degree
    • Score at least 31 on the ASVAB

    The Marine Corps recruiting official site does not mention the GED in sections listing their requirements, but under the ASVAB section of the official site, the following information is current at press time:

    To pass (ASVAB), aspiring Marines must achieve a score of 31 or higher, and those with nontraditional degrees or a GED must score at least a 50.” Discuss your high school diploma issues (where applicable) with a Marine Corps recruiters to learn what current GED policy might be at application time.

    Are You Eligible To Join The Coast Guard?

    At press time, the Coast Guard lists the following general requirements to join:

    • You must be a U.S. citizen or a Resident Alien
    • Be between the ages of 17-31
    • Be willing to serve on ships, work in and around the water
    • Reservists must be between 17-40. Prior-service personnel should contact their local recruiter for specific programs
    • Have a high school diploma. GEDs are “accepted in special circumstances”
    • Have no more than three dependents
    • Earn a qualifying score on the ASVAB
    • Pass a military entrance medical exam

    The Coast Guard recruiting page for officers lists the same general requirements as above. A four-year degree is required to become a Coast Guard officer–talk to a CG recruiter about other requirements.


    About The AuthorJoe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News


    Related Articles
    How Military Recruiting Works Top Reasons Gen Z Should Join The Military
    Physical Preparation for Basic Training Top 5 Benefits of the Army Reserve
    Which Military Branch Has The Best Benefits Introduction to Military Careers
    Written by MilitaryBenefits