Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC)

Updated: March 29, 2021
In this Article

    As a high school or college student, you probably heard the term ROTC thrown about as you sat through career or scholarship counseling sessions but didn’t know anything about it. The acronym stands for “Reserve Officers’ Training Corps.” ROTC programs offer you the chance to get a college education and serve in the military after graduation. The goal of ROTC is to provide you training to serve as a commissioned officer in one of the branches of the armed forces. ROTC is one of the ways of filling the need for commissioned officers in the military.

    This article will tell you what ROTC is, why it may be the right career path for you to follow, where you can find ROTC programs, and what to expect as an ROTC cadet.

    What Is ROTC?

    Today’s ROTC programs date back to 1916, when the National Defense Act created the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) and Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (JROTC) programs. You can find ROTC programs on over 1,700 college and university campuses nationwide. ROTC lets you “train as you learn” by taking military science classes alongside your regular college courses.

    While ROTC programs are very similar, each one prepares you for a career in their military branch. You must meet minimum age and academic requirements and pass medical and physical fitness standards to be commissioned in the armed forces. You may also qualify for ROTC scholarships based on your academic performance. Once you commit to and complete an ROTC program, you’ll earn a commission as an active duty or reserve officer in the U.S. Army, Navy, Marine Corps (an option under Navy ROTC), or Air Force upon graduation.

    What Are The Basic Requirements To Join ROTC?

    Qualifications to join ROTC programs vary depending on the military branch, but all three programs have these minimum requirements:

    • Have a high school GPA of 2.5 or better
    • Be accepted to a college or university that has an on-campus or cross-town (nearby) ROTC detachment
    • Be a U.S. Citizen
    • Be between the ages of 17 and 23 when beginning the ROTC program

    How Long Does It Take To complete An ROTC Program?

    Typically cadets participate in ROTC all four years of college. But if you decide you want to pursue a military career after you have been in college for a year or two, you can still join an ROTC program, compete for scholarships, and be commissioned in the U.S. military.

    What Military Branches Have ROTC Programs?

    ROTC programs for the U.S. Army, Navy, and Air Force are available at more than 1,700 colleges nationwide. The Navy has a Marine option if you want to enter the military as a U.S. Marine Corps officer.

    Where Can I Find An Army, Navy, or Air Force ROTC Unit?

    You can find ROTC detachments on most major colleges and universities. If you attend a school that does not have an ROTC unit on-campus, your school may have an agreement with a nearby school that does, allowing you to join their ROTC program.

    Why Should I Explore An ROTC Program While In College?

    Many famous Americans like U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell have participated in ROTC programs. ROTC alumni cite various reasons for joining the program, such as helping pay for college, gaining valuable leadership skills, and serving their country upon graduation.

    Here are just a few benefits to joining an ROTC program:

    • A chance to develop leadership skills
    • A guaranteed career after college
    • Scholarships that cover tuition, fees, books, and some spending money

    Do ROTC Programs Offer Scholarships?

    Yes, they do. Depending on the military branch, ROTC scholarships are offered both while you are in high school or once you begin your college career. You can compete for two, three, and four-year scholarships that pay up to 100 percent of your college tuition and fees at any public or private institution with an ROTC detachment. You may also receive stipends (income) that cover some of your living expenses and help pay for books. You will incur a military service obligation if you accept an ROTC scholarship.

    What Is Life Like As An ROTC Cadet?

    You’ll split your time in college between pursuing your degree and honoring your commitment to the ROTC cadet corps. During the semester, you’ll take a military class based on your year in college, participate in physical fitness training, and once a week, participate in a two-hour “leadership lab” that is run by cadet corps leaders. Leadership lab gives you the chance to demonstrate leadership skills and take part in military activities like physical training, wearing your uniform, and marching.

    You’ll also go through summer “field training.” This usually happens once you have signed a contract with the military and occurs between your sophomore and junior years, or junior and senior years (depending on the military branch). Once you complete summer training, you will be expected to take a leadership role in the cadet corps. This will prepare you for life as a military officer. You can also take part in advanced training like airborne, freefall, and Navy afloat programs.

    What Is My Service Obligation If I Graduate From An ROTC Program?

    Once you get your degree, your military service begins. You’ll begin military life as a Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Army, Air Force, or Marines, or an Ensign in the U.S. Navy. Most ROTC graduates have a service commitment of four years. Depending on the branch, you may be commissioned into the military reserves in addition to serving on active duty.

    If you are accepted into special programs like as a pilot, your commitment will be longer. After you complete your service obligation, you can leave the military or continue your military career. Many officers stay on for 20 years and retire from the military.

    What Is Junior ROTC (JROTC) In High School?

    The Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (JROTC) program prepares high school students for leadership roles while making them better American citizens. It provides an incentive for them to graduate from high school and offers instruction and opportunities that will help the student, their community, and the nation.

    You can find Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps JROTC programs at more than 3,000 high schools all over the country. Programs are elective courses taught by retired military officers and enlisted personnel. The JROTC curriculum emphasizes citizenship, character development, leadership development, and community service. You will be introduced to elements of military leadership, drill instruction (marching) and ceremonies, customs, uniform wear, physical fitness training, marksmanship, and military history. You’ll be required to participate in civic service and wear your uniform at least twice a month.

    JROTC Units:

    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.

    Written by Team