Two ROTC army students in uniform talking with two civilian students on campus

A Quick Guide to ROTC: How to Know if It's Right for You

Joining an ROTC program is a commitment that comes with many benefits to your college life and future career. Find out if it's the right choice for you!

Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) is a college-level program that trains students to become commissioned officers in the various branches of the United States Armed Forces. Joining this prestigious organization can be a fulfilling opportunity for undergraduates who are interested in getting a head start in a military career. If you’re curious about enrolling at one of the 1,700 colleges and universities in the US that offer an ROTC program, here’s what you need to know.

The basics of ROTC

ROTC programs are designed to train future US military officers at universities across the nation. The program provides students the opportunity to earn a bachelor’s degree while simultaneously preparing for life in the US Armed Forces. Most choose to join because they seek a career in the military, while others are more interested in how it can help them with their higher education expenses.

Regardless of motive, students who enroll in the prestigious program enjoy a complete college experience alongside their ROTC training. They attend academic classes, partake in clubs and extracurricular activities, and live in dorms. The only difference is that participants have an ROTC commitment, which includes physical training, classroom time, and leadership labs. Upon graduation, cadets receive a commission and choose to enter into active-duty service or Reserve or National Guard duty. It’s critical to understand that once you enter an ROTC program, which often includes accepting a scholarship, you are legally required to serve in the military for a specific number of years after graduation. So before joining, consider these benefits and drawbacks associated with an ROTC program.

Related: ROTC x3: Schools With Army, Navy, and Air Force ROTC

Pros

  • Academic funding: You could receive financial aid incentives and scholarships that cover tuition, fees, books, and other student necessities. (Scholarships are awarded based on grades and merit.)
  • Professional development: Students benefit from long-term career guidance, service experience, and continued professional education.
  • Prestige: It’s considered an honor to participate in an ROTC program.
  • Rank: After graduation, you’ll enter the military at the officer level instead of having to work your way up through the ranks.
  • Specialized military training: Training includes leadership development and basic military and adventure training, which take place both in the classroom and in the field. Your service experience and management skills will be highly marketable to civilian employers after your service is complete.
  • Fitness maintenance: Participating in the program helps you stay active and healthy.

Cons

  • Long-term commitment: Joining an ROTC program is a serious commitment that can range from three to 12 years, and it requires signing a legally binding contract.
  • Consequences of dropping out: If you drop out or get expelled, you may be forced to serve as an enlisted soldier on active duty, face potential legal action, or be required to pay back any scholarship money you received.
  • More responsibilities: If you choose to enter the program, you’ll have more academic commitments than the average college student. You’ll be required to take classes for your ROTC training in addition to the courses needed for your major.

Is ROTC right for you?

Participation can be demanding, so it’s imperative to consider how an ROTC program and active military service would fit into your future goals before signing your contract. There are many academic, physical, and medical requirements you’ll also need to meet in order to enroll. Students interested in joining a branch of the ROTC should be:

  • Dedicated to the program and our country
  • Prepared to pass a physical fitness exam
  • Disciplined in reaching their goals
  • Driven to succeed despite any obstacles they may face
  • Committed to keeping their scholarship throughout their college career

Related: United States Service Academies: Is One in Your Future?

If you think a future in the military is right for you, an ROTC program can be a great opportunity to gain fundamental leadership skills and get a jump-start on a rewarding and honorable career.

Planning to join an ROTC program? Use our Scholarship Search tool to find money exclusively for ROTC students.

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About Jeremy Silverstein

Jeremy Silverstein is Vice President of Operations and Vehicle Dispatching at Veteran Car Donations. Since he’s been with the organization, he’s become quite an expert in the industry and has handled tens of thousands of donated vehicles.

 

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