Become a US Marine: Education and Career Roadmap

Learn how to become a U.S. Marine. Research the job descriptions and the education requirements, and find out how to start a career in the Marine Corps. View article »

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  • 0:00 U.S. Marine Career Info
  • 1:40 Choose a Path
  • 3:39 Enlist or Apply to…
  • 5:03 Go to Boot Camp
  • 6:39 Choose an Occupational…
  • 7:09 Become a Commissioned Officer

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Video Transcript

U.S. Marine Career Info

The U.S. Marine Corps (USMC) is the elite, rapid-response branch of the U.S. Armed Forces. The Corps' various units must be prepared for a wide range of actions, from humanitarian to combat missions. Individual Marines may serve on active duty or in the reserve, and may be enlisted service members or officers. Marines serve in hundreds of specialty roles in ground combat, logistics, aviation, and central command.

Marines' work environments vary by rank, along with many other factors. Marines can be exposed to danger, especially during deployment, and time away from family can be difficult. Military bases provide comfortable homes for Marines and their families, and a military career offers job security. Other incentives include pride in serving, deployment or combat pay, a stipend for education, and retirement benefits once your service agreement has been fulfilled.

Degree Level High school diploma or GED; officers must have a bachelor's degree
Degree Field No specific fields required
Key Skills Physical fitness; strong belief in the core Marine values of honor, courage, and commitment; a sense of discipline and responsibility
Additional Requirements Between 17 and 28 years old; U.S. citizenship or legal residency
Salary (2016) Pay for marines varies based on rank and time in service. It can range from $1,566 per month to $16,072 per month

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2016)

Choose a Path

To enlist in the U.S. Marine Corps, applicants must have a high school diploma, be in the process of earning a diploma, or have a General Educational Development (GED) certificate. They also need to be 17-28 years old and either a U.S. citizen or legal resident of the U.S. To become an officer, applicants must have a bachelor's degree, be between ages 20 and 27 when they earn their commission, and be a U.S. citizen. Both groups must be physically fit and able to pass an initial strength test.

The USMC is composed of enlisted personnel and officers who serve on active duty or in the reserve. Officers must meet more stringent requirements than enlisted service members, but initial qualifications are the same for both active and reserve duty. One may become an officer after serving in the enlisted ranks or by directly entering an officer training program. Officer training is available in the Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps (NROTC), at the U.S. Naval Academy, or in the Marine Corps' own training programs. Marines in the reserve serve on a part-time basis for eight years, unless called up to active duty. Reservists, whether enlisted or an officer, must go through the same training and work in the same occupational specialties as active duty members.

Those interested in the career might want to take the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) before entering the recruitment process. The ASVAB is used by all of the U.S. military to channel new enlisted recruits into appropriate occupational specialties. The test is available to high school students and others who have not yet signed up to serve and the results remain valid for two years.

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Enlist or Apply to Training Program

Individuals who are qualified and ready to enlist should speak to a recruiter. The recruiter will ensure they understand the service options and negotiate an enlistment contract, covering duty-time obligations, pay, details of training, and other specifics. Duty time is normally four years, but may vary depending on the options chosen. Along with signing a contract, an enlistee must also pass a physical. Recruiters may be contacted through the USMC's recruitment website.

Aspiring officers should first contact a USMC Officer Selection Officer to discuss their suitability for the various training options. Those who want to get officer training in an NROTC program while in college or by attending the U.S. Naval Academy will need to meet these institutions' particular requirements. Both programs are highly selective and cover most of the costs of earning a bachelor's degree.

Individuals in college or who possess a bachelor's degree may apply to receive officer training in one of the Marines' own summer courses, either the Platoon Leaders Class or the Officer Candidate Course. Acceptance to these programs is based on screening that considers physical, mental, and moral fitness for serving as an officer.

Go to Boot Camp

Enlisted recruits undergo 12 weeks of rigorous training, known as boot camp. Training involves both mental and physical discipline generally, and specific skills like self-defense and handling guns. Boot camps are held at Marine Corps Recruit Depots in Parris Island, SC, and San Diego, CA. Recruits must learn military discipline, bayonet assault, martial arts, rappelling skills, weapon safety, and firing practice. In later weeks, Marines-in-training learn teamwork and practice tactical situations. In the 11th week, the training culminates in a 54-hour physical and mental endurance test. Survivors of boot camp attend an emblem ceremony that marks them as Marines.

The USMC has boot camp for officers-in-training at its Officer Candidate School (OCS) in Quantico, VA. OCS tests physical stamina, academic abilities, and leadership capacity. All officers have to complete this boot camp to earn a commission. Newly commissioned officers then receive a final six months of general training at the Basic School, also in Quantico. The Basic School's classes and field exercises provide a more detailed look at the Marine Corps itself and practical skills such as mentoring and training enlisted Marines, tactical decision-making, and directing patrols and combat operations.

Choose an Occupational Specialty

After boot camp, U.S. Marines pick an occupational specialty and receive advanced training at various facilities around the U.S. There are hundreds of specialties within the core areas of logistics, ground, and aviation. They include infantry, aircraft maintenance, and explosive ordnance disposal. Available roles open to an individual depend on his or her scores on the ASVAB, performance in training, and the Corps' needs at the time.

Become a Commissioned Officer

Enlisted Marines who show strong leadership potential may become commissioned as an officer through two USMC programs. The Enlisted Commissioning Program is for individuals who earned a bachelor's degree before or during active duty. If accepted, they attend Officer Candidate School and receive an officer's commission.

For those interested in working towards a bachelor's degree while serving in the Marines, the Corps provides generous educational benefits that may cover the entire cost. Alternatively, there is the Marine Corps Enlisted Commissioning Education Program. This option enables enlisted Marines to study full-time for a bachelor's degree in a NROTC program, attend OCS during a college summer, and gain a commission after graduation.

To quickly recap, a U.S. Marine's educational and training requirements vary, but typically marines must earn a high school diploma or GED before completing additional training, while officers need a bachelor's degree.

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