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.

Should I Become a Commissioned Officer?

Commissioned officers are leaders in all branches of the U.S. Armed Forces. 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. Many attended one of the military service academies but others obtained bachelor's degrees in civilian schools and then entered the military.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Bachelor's degree or higher.
Degree Field Various fields.
Training Military training may be had in ROTC programs, officer training schools or in one of the service academies.
Key Skills Leadership skills are essential for all commissioned offices. Other required skills vary widely among service branches and duty assignments.
Salary $34,862 per year for lowest ranking army officer (Second Lieutenant)

Source: GoArmy.com website (Based on 2014 pay tables)

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 and meet all other requirements 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.

Step 5: Advance Your Career

An officer who remains on active military duty and successfully completes current duties will be steadily promoted. Many senior military officers hold advanced degrees from civilian universities or military organizations such as the Army's War College. Military officers who leave the service are frequently prized and sought after by civilian employers.

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