Become a Commissioned Officer: Step-by-Step Career Guide
Learn how to become a commissioned officer in the U.S. Armed Forces. Research education requirements, training and tests you will need to start a career in the military.
Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree
Individuals who want to become a commissioned officer in any branch of the U.S. Armed Forces must have a bachelor's degree from a public or private university or from a U.S. military service academy. All commissioned officers must be citizens of the United States. Candidates must also meet age restrictions, physical requirements and other qualifications for each branch of service.
Step 2: Enroll in Your Campus Reserve Officer Training Program
A student attending a university or college may want to consider joining the campus Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) if the school has one. The Army and the Air Force have individual ROTC units, while the Navy and Marines have a combined program. These programs are generally required at military colleges and are voluntary at public and private schools.
Step 3 Attend a Military Service Academy
Another way to become a commissioned officer is to attend and graduate from a military service academy such as the Air Force Academy in Colorado. These four-year schools prepare students to become military officers while also providing them a college education. These programs are highly selective and typically require Congressional nomination.
Additionally, several military junior academies train individuals in 2-year programs. Graduates are then required to complete their bachelor's degrees at 4-year schools before accepting their commissions as active duty officers.
Step 4: Enter Officer Candidate School
Applicants who have already earned their bachelor's degrees as civilians or while serving as enlisted personnel in the U.S. military may attend officer candidate or training schools to receive their commissions. These schools have programs that may require up to 17 weeks of rigorous physical and mental training. Upon completion, candidates become commissioned officers.
Step 5: Become a Commissioned Officer
Once the person completes officer candidate school or graduates from a military service academy, she or he will be required to serve on active duty for a set number of years as a commissioned officer. In the Army, Marines and Air Force, individuals earn the rank of second lieutenant. In the Navy and Coast Guard, they earn the commission of ensign.
Salary and Employment Outlook
The U.S. Armed Forces calculate an officer's pay based on a number of factors, including the person's rank, responsibilities and years in the service. According to the 2013 Active Duty Basic Pay Charts, the starting salary for a junior grade officer with less than 2 years of experience is $2,876.40 per month. Each branch of the U.S. military starts with this figure when calculating pay before including various bonuses and incentives.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expected strong employment growth for all branches of the U.S. Armed Forces between 2010 and 2020.
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