Officer Candidate School

Updated: March 21, 2021
In this Article

    If you’re looking for a challenging and rewarding career, you may want to serve as an officer in the US military. But, this is not an easy path. Only the most qualified candidates are accepted to Officer Candidate School. As such, we’ll use this article to explain the general considerations for Officer Candidate School: about, requirements, process, and how to become an officer.

    Specifically, we’ll discuss the following: Officer Candidate School

    • Officer Candidate School Overview
    • Officer Candidate School Eligibility Requirements
    • Officer Candidate School Application Process
    • I’ve Been Accepted to Officer Candidate School: What Happens Next?
    • Becoming an Officer and Determining Military Specialty
      Final Thoughts

    Officer Candidate School Overview

    Of note, each of the US military branches offers its own version of Officer Candidate School, or OCS. However, as the Army is the largest branch of the US military, we will discuss Army OCS specifically in this article. With that said, many of the general characteristics outlined below apply to all branches of service.

    The Army began its version of OCS during World War II as a means of quickly commissioning infantry officers. In its current version, the program creates Army officers in all military specialties – not just the infantry.

    OCS consists of a 12-week program completed at Fort Benning in Georgia. During this 12-week period, Army instructors put civilians and select enlisted troops through rigorous leadership and military training to mold them into Army officers. As such, upon completion of OCS, service members commission as second lieutenants in the Army.

    Of note, civilians entering OCS must first complete the Army’s Basic Combat Training, or BCT. Unofficially referred to as “boot camp,” BCT introduces officer candidates to the fundamentals of Army service.

    The Army essentially has a three-pronged approach to creating officers. OCS represents one prong, with the US Military Academy (West Point) and the Army Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) representing the other two.

    Officer Candidate School Eligibility Requirements

    OCS eligibility requirements hinge on how you plan on joining Officer Candidates School. Broadly speaking, three categories of applicants exist: civilian college graduates, civilian specialty graduates known as direct commissions (e.g. lawyers, doctors, chaplains etc.), and currently enlisted soldiers. And, while only approximately 60% of applicants receive OCS spots, candidates from these separate categories do not compete against each other. Rather, candidates only compete for spots against individuals within the same category.

    We’ve outlined the OCS eligibility requirement for each type of officer candidate in the below section.

    Civilian College Graduates

    • A U.S. citizen
    • A college graduate with at least a four-year degree
    • Between 19 and 32 years old (you must enter active duty or ship to training by your 33rd birthday and accept commission prior to age 34)
    • Eligible for a secret security clearance

    Direct Commissions

    In general, direct commissions face similar eligibility requirements to standard civilian college officer candidates. But, the particular direct commission specialty will outline the specific requirements for that field. Of note, many of the direct commissions allow older applicants, providing for a wider range of potential candidates.

    Currently Enlisted Soldiers

    • A college graduate with at least a four-year degree
    • Must not have more than six years of Active Federal Service (AFS) upon arrival at OCS
    • Between 19 and 32 years old (you must enter active duty or ship to training by your 33rd birthday and accept commission prior to age 34)
    • Eligible for a secret security clearance

    Officer Candidate School Application Process

    The application process for OCS depends on which path you pursue. That is, civilians will follow a different application process than current troops.


    As with enlisting in the Army, candidates begin the OCS application process by meeting with an Army recruiter. And, in the Army, OCS candidates must first enlist to attend BCT, the aforementioned prerequisite for attending Officer Candidate School.

    Assuming candidates meet the above eligibility requirements, they’ll follow the below OCS application steps:

    • Step 1, Apply: Candidates apply for an OCS spot with their local Army recruiter.
    • Step 2, Review: Following your application, the Recruiting Battalion will confirm that you do, in fact, meet all OCS eligibility requirements. Next, your application will be reviewed by the Recruiting Battalion OCS Board. This board of three commissioned officers will conduct an in-person interview reviewing your personal history, general training, and experience. Each of these three officers will provide an independent appraisal of your fitness to commission.
    • Step 3, Acceptance or Rejection: If the above board recommends rejection, you will be informed. If the members recommend acceptance, your application package will be reviewed by the Army Recruiting Command OCS Review Board. This board provides the final approval, and, if selected, assigns an OCS class date.
    • Step 4, Enlistment: Once approved by the Review Board, you will enlist into the Army’s Delayed Enlistment Program (DEP). This program allows you to schedule a BCT date, which you will complete before attending OCS.

    Current Enlisted Troops

    Active-duty enlisted troops must complete a different application process than their civilian counterparts. While specific procedures will vary by individual soldier and unit, all soldiers must complete the below OCS application steps:

    • Step 1, Confirm Chain-of-Command Support: To apply as an enlisted soldier, you will need the support of your chain-of-command. As such, make sure that you have their support before applying.
    • Step 2, Submit Your Application Package: This includes an Army-standard application form along with supporting documentation. You will submit this up the chain to your unit commander, who will then review and approve or deny the application. If approved, the application package will be forwarded through any intermediate commanders to the installation commander.
    • Step 3, Installation OCS Interview: If the installation commander approves your application, he or she will convene an OCS interview. Similar to the civilian one, this will include three commissioned officers who will review your application and assess your fitness for commissioning.
    • Step 4, PERSCOM Approval and Branch Assignment: If the above board approves you, your application package will be forwarded to Army Personnel Command (PERSCOM). At PERSCOM, an OCS selection board will review the application package and make the final selections. If selected for OCS, PERSCOM will assign you a branch at the same time.

    I’ve Been Accepted to Officer Candidate School: What Happens Next?

    As stated, before attending OCS, all candidates must attend the Army’s Basic Combat Training. Current soldiers will have already met this requirement, and civilians will complete BCT before moving on to OCS.

    At OCS, training focuses on general military education and training in small unit leadership and tactics. To accomplish these training objectives, the Army divides OCS into two phases. In Phase 1, candidates learn the basics of serving as a commissioned officer, with particular focus on leadership and accountability. In Phase 2, candidates are tested in everything they learned during Phase 1. This testing includes a rigorous 18-day, leadership-focused training exercise.

    Becoming an Officer and Determining Military Specialty

    Upon completing OCS, officer candidates commission as second lieutenants in the US Army. However, this begs the question, when do candidates find out what they’ll actually do in the Army. As outlined above, PERSCOM determines the branch to which prior-enlisted officer candidates will be assigned. But, what about civilian officer candidates?

    This assignment involves a process known as “branching.” Early in their time at OCS, candidates rank their top military branch preferences. During the OCS training, these same candidates receive a ranking against their peers, known as the Order of Merit List, or OML. Ultimately, the needs of the Army dictate where candidates will be assigned. However, candidates at the top of the OML typically receive their first choice for branch.

    At approximately the midway point of OCS, candidates attend their Branching Ceremony. This is when they find out their future military service branches – regardless of where they actually ranked those branch preferences.

    Final Thoughts

    Applying to, being selected for, and successfully completing Officer Candidate School is not an easy process. But, for individuals looking for a challenging and rewarding career, this may be a path for you.

    About The AuthorMaurice “Chipp” Naylon spent nine years as an infantry officer in the Marine Corps. He is currently a licensed CPA specializing in real estate development and accounting.

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