The Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) offers generous college scholarships—in exchange for a very serious commitment. Here's what you need to know to get started.
What Is ROTC?
The ROTC is a leadership training program for college students who plan to serve in the U.S. military after college. While completing their bachelor's degrees, ROTC "cadets" are training to become officers in the Army, Navy, or Air Force. Marine Corps cadets participate in the Navy ROTC. The U.S. Coast Guard does not offer ROTC.
How Can the ROTC Help Pay for College?
In exchange for their commitment to serve in the military after graduation, some ROTC cadets receive scholarships covering the complete costs for tuition, fees, and textbooks for four years of college, plus a monthly stipend for personal expenses. The actual amount of the scholarship and stipend will differ depending on the school you attend and the military branch providing the scholarship. You may still apply for and receive additional non-ROTC scholarships for college if you have additional financial need.
You can join the ROTC without receiving an ROTC scholarship. In fact, non-scholarship cadets may be eligible for stipends and cash bonuses, depending on the specific program and the amount of training they complete.
Your Service Commitment
Students who accept an ROTC scholarship must agree to serve in the military after graduation. The Army requires eight years of service (four years of active duty and four years in the reserves.) The Navy requires four to five years of active duty. The Air Force requires four to six years of active duty; ten years for cadets trained as pilots.
If you accept the scholarship, but later decide the ROTC isn't for you, you may forfeit the scholarship after your freshman year. The ROTC will cover its share of your freshman expenses with no further obligation on your part.
Special Training and Classes
During college you will take elective ROTC courses along with your general studies. These include classes in the history, structure, and function of the military branch providing the scholarship; instruction in leadership and military operations; and rigorous physical training.
You will be required to take part in special programs, camps, and competitive "challenge" courses throughout the year. For example, some programs require cadets to train over the summer with active-duty military personnel and reserve units. Others, such as the Naval ROTC, require cadets to wear their military uniform to classes once a week, and participate in on-campus drills.
Demanding, Generous, and Hard to Get
In addition to the military service commitment, ROTC scholarships have other requirements and qualities you should know about:
- ROTC scholarships are very hard to get, even if you have excellent grades and test scores. There are a limited number of scholarships available, and a limited number of colleges participating in ROTC.
- They are strictly merit-based, not need-based, so you have to do well in your high school classes to even be considered.
- Preference is usually given to students majoring in subjects that will be of value to the military, such as engineering, computer science, specific foreign languages, or nursing.
- Most ROTC scholarships are four-year scholarships for new freshmen; however, a limited number of two- and three-year scholarships are available for students already in college.
- You must plan to attend a four-year college that participates in ROTC. Some colleges offer ROTC training on their campus, or they partner with universities in the region that offer the training. You can find schools that host and participate in an ROTC program on the recruitment websites of the Army, Navy, and Air Force, or by talking to your academic advisor.
- Required ROTC courses might not be held on your college campus, but at a college providing ROTC training for several schools in the area. Some ROTC cadets must commute across town daily to attend required classes or training.
How to Qualify and Apply
The scholarship requirements vary slightly between the military branches, but basically to qualify you must meet the following criteria:
- Be a U.S. citizen
- Be at least 17 years of age
- Meet GPA requirements
- Meet SAT and/or ACT requirements
- Have a high school diploma
- Meet physical fitness standards
If you meet the qualifications, you can apply for an ROTC scholarship online at any of the military branch websites, or through your local Army, Navy, or Air Force recruiting offices. (Students interested in Marine Corps ROTC scholarships must apply through the Navy ROTC.)
On your application, you will be asked to submit several colleges that you are applying to and would be willing to attend, plus a list of majors that you would like to study. The colleges on your list must participate in ROTC and offer the majors you indicated. The military recruiting websites provide lists of approved majors and colleges.
If you receive a scholarship offer, it will be restricted to one of the colleges and majors you provided on your application. You must be accepted to the college and to the major in order to use the scholarship.
It's important to apply for ROTC scholarships as early as possible, preferably during your junior year of high school. Deadlines differ by military branch, but may fall anywhere between December 1 and January 31 of your senior year. Confirm deadlines with your local recruiter's office.
Do You Have What It Takes?
Because it requires such a serious commitment, ROTC is not for everyone. Graduates will enter military service as officers, and with this comes considerable responsibility—possibly during times of war—for the lives of other soldiers, for missions critical to national security, and for millions of dollars in equipment. Success in such a position requires a rare combination of academic aptitude, physical prowess, leadership and management skills, political acumen, courage, and patriotism.
The skills you might gain from ROTC are highly valued both inside and outside of the armed forces, and can lead to many opportunities—whether you choose to stay in the military or opt for a civilian career. If you are considering ROTC, make sure you research your options carefully and understand the requirements of the program.
For more information about ROTC programs and scholarships, visit the recruitment websites of the U.S. Army, Air Force, or Navy. Most colleges that host ROTC programs also post information about ROTC scholarships on their websites. Search for other military scholarships using CollegeData's Scholarship Finder.