Military Colleges and Academies

Learn about military schools and service academies, which train future officers, doctors, engineers and other military professionals.

Military Colleges and Universities

The U.S. military operates many types of schools to train members of the U.S. military, foreign militaries, and civilians in certain fields. The military academies are colleges that train future officers.

The military also operates its own medical school, the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USUHS). Students pay no tuition or fees, and receive a salary and military benefits.

Some of the military schools include:

Senior Military Colleges

Senior military colleges are civilian schools that combine higher education with military instruction.  Students participate in the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) program and can go on to become commissioned officers following graduation.

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Become a Military Officer

Commissioned Officers

Commissioned officers are the military’s managers and highest-ranking leaders. They oversee plans, direct operations, give orders, and command units. Some are doctors and lawyers. They typically have at least a bachelor’s degree.

Officers have authority over enlisted members. They have broader responsibilities and accountability. But they rely upon enlisted members’ technical skills and experience to get the job done.

Junior officers may lead platoons and command patrol boats. But a senior enlisted member is often their second in command.

Officers must get promoted at certain points to remain on active duty. This can be true for enlisted members too. But it is guaranteed for officers at a much earlier stage of their careers.  In return for officers’ greater accountability and less job security, they get higher pay and some extra benefits. View a pay chart for officers (O) and enlisted members (E).

Ways to Become a Commissioned Officer

There are four paths to an officer commission:

  • Service Academies and Senior Military Colleges

  • Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC)

  • Officer Candidate School (OCS)

  • Direct Commission

Service Academies and Senior Military Colleges

There are five service academies. Entrance to these schools is highly competitive. Applicants for every academy but the Coast Guard’s need a nomination from the vice president or a member of Congress.

Students attend the service academies for free. In return, they agree to spend the next several years as military officers.

Senior military colleges are civilian schools that combine higher education with military instruction. Students can become commissioned officers after graduating. But they only have to join the service if they’re received a military scholarship.

Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC)

Colleges and universities nationwide offer the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) program. The program pays for students’ tuition and prepares them to be military officers. In return, students commit to serving in the military afterward. Each service has its own ROTC program.

Officer Candidate School (OCS)

New four-year college graduates go to Officer Candidate School (OCS) to join as officers. Each service has its own OCS, which lasts around three to four months. Enlisted members can also apply to attend OCS and graduate as commissioned officers.

Direct Commission

Direct commission officers are professionals with advanced training who join as military officers. They are usually doctors, lawyers, dentists, engineers, or chaplains.

Contact a recruiter for the service branch you’re interested in to learn more about officer programs:

Warrant Officers and Non-Commissioned Officers

Warrant officers are officers who advance from the upper enlisted ranks. They stay in their career fields. They rank above enlisted members and below commissioned officers. A Marine Corps E5 can compete for warrant officer. In the Army, Navy, and Coast Guard, you must be an E6. The Air Force doesn’t have warrant officers.

Non-commissioned officers (NCO) are higher-ranking enlisted members with demonstrated leadership abilities. Most services consider enlisted members at pay grade E4 to be NCOs. In the Air Force, you are an NCO at E5. The Army has two ranks at paygrade E4 - specialist and corporal. But a corporal is an NCO while a specialist is not.

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Last Updated: November 15, 2018